State pension funds wrestle with Russian investments
Several U.S. public-sector pension funds are being asked to get rid of whatever holdings they may have in Russia – from stocks and bonds to property and other investments.
The funds have relatively small exposure, but unwinding such assets is complex and could mean losses as they are trading at deep discounts and liquidity is scarce. Many of the largest retirement systems, which invest billions for teachers and other public servants, are adopting a patient approach.
“Considering that Russia amounts to about 2% of the global economy, whether a pension fund or other institutional investor would want to get out of an entire index fund in order to divest Russia holdings would be a questionable approach,” said Keith Brainard, research director of the National Association of State Retirement Administrators.
The wait and see approach may work fine when there’s no war underway, let alone sanctions that have effectively shuttered – and thus stranded – any Russia assets these funds may have owned.
And the problems for those assets are about to get much worse. According to Reuters:
Russia’s stock market is “uninvestable” after stringent new Western sanctions and central bank curbs on trading, making a removal of Russian listings from indexes a “natural next step”, a top executive at equity index provider MSCI said on Monday.
“It would not make a lot of sense for us to continue to include Russian securities if our clients and investors cannot transact in the market,” Dimitris Melas, MSCI’s head of index research and chair of the Index Policy Committee, told Reuters.
“It is obvious to all of us that the market is very difficult to trade and, in fact, it is uninvestable today.”
Univestable today doesn’t mean univestable forever. But the thesis behind holding Russian assets even without a war invited many questions investment officials seem unprepared to answer.
For example: why invest in a country where the rule of law is highly suspect, the government is a known bad actor, and what rules do exist are entirely at the whim of the dictator?
Hmmm. Sounds a bit like mainland China, too….