MOSCOW – The US House has approved a bill hardening sanctions against Russia, but European resistance to some of its toughest new measures means the impact on companies will be muted, according to Goldman Sachs Group and Deutsche Bank.
As it stands now, the most negative aspect of the bill for Russia, according to analysts, is that US President Donald Trump can no longer ease or revoke the sanctions unilaterally, a possibility that boosted appetite for Russian assets after his election last year.
Even that’s less of a concern after Russia’s economy “rebalanced and adjusted” to the penalties, which were originally imposed as punishment for Moscow’s role in the Ukraine crisis in 2014, according to Julian Rimmer at Investec Bank in London.
“If Russia were offered a choice of sanctions and $60 oil or no sanctions and $50 oil, chances are they would opt for the former,” he wrote in an emailed note.
The benchmark stock index closed up 0.5% in Moscow on Wednesday at 1 933.10 as crude advanced, while the ruble added 0.8% after dropping by the most in a month at the start of the week.
The bipartisan bill empowers the president in coordination with the US allies to sanction any entity that provides technology, services, investment or any support valued at $1-million or more to Russian export pipeline projects. Section 257 of the bill also stipulates the US government will “continue to oppose” Gazprom’s $10-billion Nord Stream 2 natural-gas link with Germany, potentially endangering European energy companies Engie, Royal Dutch Shell, OMV, Uniper and BASF, according to Alex Brooks, an analyst at Canaccord Genuity.
Still, after a threat of retaliation this week from the European Union, the limits are unlikely to be applied, Goldman Sachs economist Clemens Grafe said.
“The text only provides for sanctions imposed in consultation with US allies,” he said. “There is little appetite in large parts of Europe to contemplate such an extension.”
The bill limits lending to Russian-sanctioned banks, such as Sberbank and VTB Group, the nation’s biggest lenders, to 14 days from 30 days. Deutsche Bank analyst Elina Ribakova says that’s largely a symbolic step with “little practical impact on banks’ business.”
Similarly, the bill tightens earlier sanctions by reducing the duration of loans to sanctioned companies in the energy sector to 60 days from 90 days, a compromise compared with the 30 days originally proposed by the Senate.
Under the new bill the Treasury will be able to impose sanctions on State-owned mining, metals and railways companies. While that could pose a threat to Alrosa, the world’s largest diamond miner, it won’t affect Russia’s biggest metals producers, MMC Norilsk Nickel, Novolipetsk Steel and Severstal , because they aren’t state-run, according to BCS Global Markets and Kapital Asset Management.
Any penalties will hit the global diamond market and Alrosa hopes “common sense will prevail,” CEO Sergey Ivanov said Wednesday. Sanctions won’t affect operations because the diamond miner doesn’t borrow overseas or use US or European technologies, he said.
The bill removes Russia’s shipping industry from the list of sectors that was targeted in the earlier, Senate-approved version. That’s good news for Sovcomflot, whose initial public offering was delayed by the government in June.
The latest bill softens the wording of a clause that originally prohibited energy companies from joining international projects where Russian companies have any holding. Amid fears they would buy a symbolic stake to keep US competitors away, the rule was changed to apply only to ventures where sanctioned Russian entities have at least a 33% interest.
This allows developments like the Shah Deniz project in Azerbaijan, where BP is the main operator and Russia’s Lukoil has a 10% stake. The change also appears to give a green light to the Sakhalin 1 oil fields in Russia’s far east, where Exxon Neftegas, a subsidiary of Exxon Mobil is partners with Rosneft.