Goldman and JPMorgan are the first big U.S. lenders to pull out of the country.
Wall Street heads for the exit
Goldman Sachs yesterday became the first major global bank to say it was quitting Russia, followed shortly after by JPMorgan Chase. The Wall Street giants join a growing list of multinational companies that have pledged to stop doing business in Russia. “None of us can fail to see this for what it is: the invasion of a sovereign state,” David Solomon, Goldman’s C.E.O., wrote in a memo to employees.
Big U.S. banks had pulled back from Russia after its 2014 annexation of Crimea. The only major U.S. bank that kept a significant presence is Citigroup, which has about 3,000 employees there and previously said it had nearly $10 billion in exposure to Russia. Citi said on Wednesday that it would “assess our operations in the country”; it had put its consumer division in Russia up for sale last year.
Goldman’s presence in Russia is small in relation to the $1.5 trillion bank’s global operations: Its total credit exposure was $650 million at the end of 2021. The bank has about 80 employees in Russia and is arranging for the departures of those who have asked to leave. (Some have already moved to Dubai.)
JPMorgan said it was “unwinding Russian business” and wouldn’t pursue new ventures there. The bank, which holds assets for some clients in the country, has more than 100 workers there, but the business was not big enough to rank among its top 20 markets.
Wall Street banks haven’t fully cut ties with Russia. Goldman, for example, is reportedly selling Russian debt to hedge funds. Trading in secondary markets is allowed under U.S. sanctions. A Goldman spokesperson told NBC News that the bank is “not engaging in any new bond trades with Russian onshore entities.”
European banks are more enmeshed with Russia. Deutsche Bank’s C.F.O., James von Moltke, said yesterday that it was not “practical” to close its Russia business: “We’re there to support our clients.” (The bank is taking heat for that stance today.) Deutsche added that Russia accounts for just 0.3 percent of its loan book. Other European lenders are far more exposed.
Asset managers are on the hook for huge writedowns. BlackRock is sitting on $17 billion in losses on Russian securities held by its clients, according to the Financial Times. The financial reverberations from sanctions-induced turmoil could also hit financial firms without direct exposure to Russia, as volatility, inflation and other effects cast a cloud over global markets.
More on the Russia-Ukraine war:
Facebook and Instagram will allow users in certain countries to call for violence against Russian soldiers in the context of the war.
HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING
Inflation sets a new four-decade high. Prices rose by 7.9 percent in February, driven by rising costs of food, rent and gas. For now, Americans appear to agree with President Biden’s argument that Vladimir Putin bears significant blame.
Congress approves $1.5 trillion in new federal spending. The Senate cleared the bill, which will increase spending on domestic programs, allocate nearly $14 billion in aid to Ukraine and avert a government shutdown.
U.S.-listed Chinese stocks tumble over delisting fears. Shares in Chinese companies traded on Wall Street fell sharply after the S.E.C. named five that could be delisted unless they turn over audit information to American regulators.
Rivian shares drop after a disappointing delivery forecast. The electric carmaker said it could make only 25,000 vehicles this year, citing supply chain problems. It is the latest challenge for Rivian, which has faced headwinds after a highly successful stock market debut in November.
The baseball lockout is over. M.L.B. and the players’ union struck a new collective bargaining agreement that includes higher pay for younger players. That means opening day will be April 7.
Trading Russia’s debt crisis
International sanctions are raising the possibility that Russia’s government, for the first time since the Bolsheviks disavowed the Czar’s debts in 1917, will default on a foreign bond. That presents another major test for the credit default swap, an insurance-like derivative that played a starring role in the 2008 financial crisis. Amid Russia’s financial turmoil, some warn that C.D.S. contracts could amplify losses and disrupt markets.
A quick primer on the C.D.S. market: Credit default swaps are like insurance but for bonds. Unlike typical insurance, there are no underwriters, and prices are set by buyers and sellers. Buyers get protection for their bonds, and sellers get money upfront but are on the hook to pay if there is default. What’s more, in most C.D.S. markets the buyers don’t have to own the bonds to buy the insurance. Supporters say the swaps lower borrowing costs and hedge risks, but critics say they have created a market of side bets, multiplying losses in times of distress.
How much does Russia owe? International investors hold roughly $20 billion in Russian government bonds. As of mid-February, the latest available data from the clearing house D.T.C.C., there was $40 billion in swaps tied to Russian debt.
What are the chances Russia could default? Russia has $117 million in foreign-currency coupon payments due Wednesday, and if it misses that or future payments, there is a 30-day grace period before default is declared. As of last week, insurance on $100,000 of five-year Russian bonds cost about $45,000, ten times more than a month ago. “It looks almost inevitable they will have to miss a payment now given the restrictions,” Richard Briggs, an investment manager at GAM in London, told DealBook.
If Russia defaults, will the swaps pay out? The $40 billion in insurance implied by C.D.S. contracts might not actually cover bondholders’ losses. Russia has suggested it may pay its foreign bondholders in rubles instead of dollars, which could avoid triggering a default, even though sanctions make it impossible for foreigners to handle rubles. Concerns that the contracts won’t pay out have “reduced significantly over the past few days,” Briggs said, “though it is still a risk.”
“It is a lesson that if you don’t want a recession to have really long-lasting bad effects, you spend a bunch of money and you prevent it.”
— Louise Sheiner, an economist with the Brookings Institution, on the roughly $5 trillion in pandemic stimulus spending approved by Congress since 2020. Here is a snapshot of where all the federal money has gone so far, and a report on how cities and counties are debating how best to spend the windfall of relief funds.
Weekend Reading: The coder takeover
On Wednesday, President Biden signed an executive order on regulating cryptocurrency, a signal that the technology is serious business. The crypto journalist Laura Shin — host of the podcast “Unchained” and author of a new book, “The Cryptopians: Idealism, Greed, Lies and the Making of the First Big Cryptocurrency Craze” — spoke to DealBook about what the future may hold. The interview has been edited and condensed.
The Russia-Ukraine War and the Global Economy
What’s the significance of the executive order?
It shows that the highest levels of government recognize that the development of this technology is inevitable and that, for that reason, it’s important to have a coherent strategy for its adoption — because it will be adopted.
Is a coherent strategy possible given the rapid growth in crypto?
I do think that it will work out. The internet was similarly messy and similarly “Wild West” in the beginning, yet the internet is something we all use every day, and I think it’s going to be the same for blockchain and crypto over the next couple of decades.
How will we be using crypto and blockchain technology in the future?
We have so many ways of communicating with each other now. In the future, it’s going to be the same for financial transactions or digital objects we own. There will just be many more financial transactions between different people across the globe across multiple different platforms — the way that now we have lots of communication. We’ll be earning interest or investing on this or that platform and voting in their DAOs, participating in these different online communities and having our voices heard in this little democracy, whatever its mission.
What does this mean for business?
My book demonstrates how power has shifted. It’s shifting further away from businesspeople, finance and Wall Street, to coders and developers and programmers. They have the power because they’re building things. It’s reflective of a much larger trend that’s been happening over decades, where Wall Street used to be the power center and recently it’s been Silicon Valley, and now Silicon Valley executives are jumping ship and going to crypto and a lot of the successful crypto people are in other parts of the world. There’s a decentralization of power.
So will this create a “cryptopia”?
People talk about blockchains as these trustless technologies, these machines. But my book explores Ethereum’s history and definitely shows the human drama, how egos and greed play a role and how there’s just a lot of opportunists in this space because it involves money and they see that they can get rich quickly. Despite all that, I actually think Ethereum has accomplished a lot. So despite all the “salacious details” I uncovered — as one of my readers put it — it doesn’t make me pessimistic or doubtful of Ethereum or crypto in general.
THE SPEED READ
Savage X Fenty, Rihanna’s lingerie company, is reportedly working with Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley on an I.P.O. that could value it at $3 billion. (Bloomberg)
Didi Global is said to have halted its plan to list in Hong Kong after failing a Chinese cybersecurity examination. (Bloomberg)
Private equity firms’ fortunes have soared as they have expanded beyond, well, private equity. (NYT)
Alphabet, Apple and Meta joined the list of companies that oppose Texas legislation that would treat gender-affirming medical treatment for transgender children as abuse. (Axios)
“Amazon’s Washington Strategy Wins Few New Friends in the Biden Era” (WSJ)
British and E.U. antitrust officials will formally investigate an advertising deal between Google and Facebook. (WSJ)
Best of the rest
Microsoft reported a rise in carbon emissions, months after pledging to become carbon negative by 2030. (NYT)
Goldman Sachs is reportedly working with John Foley, Peloton’s co-founder, to restructure loans backed by his own shares in the at-home fitness company. (Insider)
“A Two-Year, 50-Million-Person Experiment in Changing How We Work” (NYT)
Apple has challenged singer-songwriters, school districts and food blogs for trying to trademark names or logos featuring an apple — or a pear or pineapple. (NYT)
Elon Musk and Claire Boucher, his on-again off-again romantic partner who goes by the stage name Grimes, secretly had a second child together: Meet Y, sister of X. (Vanity Fair)
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