Showing posts for "Sanctions"
At last week’s World Bank and IMF meetings, I heard sharply divided views about the future path of sanctions and what lessons should be drawn from their use against Russia. Have they been successful, and at what cost to the West? Should sanctions be extended to the payments system, which enhances their power but risks damaging a global public good? What signal does it send to other countries? With growing evidence that sanctions are materially damaging the Russian economy, concerns have been raised that sanctions could become too easy an option for U.S. policymakers.
There are many reasons cited for this week’s market turndown and risk pullback, including concerns about global growth, Ebola, turmoil in the Middle East, and excessive investor comfort from easy money. What has been less commented on is the role played by last weekend’s IMF and World Bank Annual Meetings. Sometimes these meetings pass uneventfully, but sometimes bringing so many people together—policymakers and market people—creates a conversation that moves the consensus and as a result moves markets. It seems this year’s was one of those occasions. As the meetings progressed, optimism about a G-20 growth agenda and infrastructure boom receded and concerns about growth outside of the United States began to dominate the discussion. The perception that policymakers—particularly European policymakers—were either unable or unwilling to act contributed to the gloom. Time will tell whether macro risk factors that markets have shrugged off over the past few years will now be a source of volatility going forward. But if that is the case, perhaps these meetings had something to do with it.
This week’s Annual Meetings of the World Bank and IMF will have a lot of discussion but little action. Here are five things that I anticipate will capture some headlines.
Time will tell whether new sanctions on Russia announced by the United States and European Union last week will be a game changer. The most significant development concerns oil, as the new measures go much further than previously understood to shut down ongoing exploration and production of new Russian supply. While triggered by events on the ground in Ukraine, from a policy perspective this is a catch-up action, closing loopholes and bringing market practice more in line with the harsher intent of earlier measures. As such, I view the steps as an incremental, if logical, next step in the effort to punish Russia for its actions in Ukraine. Still, compared to what some energy companies thought they would be allowed to do, the new measures look to be material in terms of their effect on ongoing exploration, development and investment in securing new oil.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (“incursion” is far too polite a term) represents a major intensification of the conflict and should cross all red lines the West has established. The logic of the earlier, incremental approach—put modest sanctions in place, and let the threat of worse create a chilling effect on investment and trade—has reached a dead end. Whether President Putin seeks a stalemate within Ukraine or something more menacing, full sectoral sanctions (including, importantly, Russia’s access to payments systems) should now be put in place as a firm signal of western resolve. The real cost-benefit to be done is not the costs on the West compared to Russia. Rather it is those relative costs contrasted against doing nothing and risking a situation that brings us closer to either armed conflict or acceptance of a new rule that states can redraw boundaries by force. German President Merkel has signaled that further sanctions are on the agenda for the September 30 EU leaders summit, and I expect the Obama Administration will move with them if not before.
The Europeans look set to surprise us with significant economic sanctions against Russia (see here and here) that exceed in some respects U.S. measures. The United States likely would expand their sanctions in parallel. I yesterday published an op-ed on what we should make of the moves, and assuming reports of an agreement are true, I think it is worth highlighting four takeaways from that piece and recent developments:
The United States has taken what, on first read, looks to be a significant step today, extending sanctions ( see also here) to block new debt and equity issuance by a number of energy, financial and military companies. It is not quite full “sectoral” sanctions–both because it is limited in what it blocks (new debt and equity of maturity greater than 90 days) and because it excludes Sberbank, which holds the majority of Russian deposits. But I would argue that the reach of this new executive order in terms of institutions covered is sufficiently broad that the effects on the Russian financial system could be systemic.
There are reports this morning that the Obama administration is contemplating extending economic sanctions against two large Russian banks– Gazprombank and Vnesheconombank (VEB). This is a step I have called for here and here. If true, this is a significant event and, given the magnitude of Russia’s links to global financial markets, introduces a new era in the use of economic sanctions. It also makes sense to do this now, as the current strategy is not working to deter Russian aggression against Ukraine.
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