Investors start buying Ukraine, Russia bonds
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Investors are starting to buy Ukrainian and Russian bonds that plummeted to discounted prices, betting that they will recover if the war between the two countries comes to an end.
The trade is high-risk, given uncertainty over what Ukraine will look like after the war and how long the financial cordon around Russia will last. It also poses reputational dangers because of the human cost of the conflict and the increasing unwillingness of many financial institutions and corporations to be associated with Russia in any way.
The investment team at Gramercy Funds Management LLC held an extraordinary meeting Saturday, Feb. 26, to discuss the impact of the invasion on macroeconomics and the firm’s portfolio. Mohamed El-Erian, Gramercy’s chair and a former top executive at Pacific Investment Management Co., participated alongside Gramercy founder Robert Koenigsberger, who has been a player in Argentine government bond restructurings.
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One idea the firm considered was buying Ukrainian government bonds, which had fallen to around 45 cents on the dollar. The firm had the capacity to buy because it had sold all of its Russia and Ukraine bonds about a month earlier.
Ukraine would likely remain independent in some form after the war and would receive massive financial aid from Europe and the U.S., Gramercy analysts believed. But they were unsure how much debt that bond investors would be asked to forgive in a potential restructuring and decided to wait given the uncertainty.
"We had to be cautious about not buying too fast," Mr. Koenigsberger said.
Ukraine made an interest payment, raised a new bond and told investors it plans to honor its debt, but prices kept falling as Russia’s army advanced. The country’s bonds fell to 22 cents on the dollar on March 2, and Greenwich, Conn.-based Gramercy started to buy.
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Prices could drop further, but the risk of missing out on a rebound is greater, Mr. Koenigsberger said. "When it feels really scary, you still have to plan the trade and trade the plan."
Now is the right time to start buying Ukraine bonds, but many clients are hesitant to participate, said another emerging-markets fund manager who bought the country’s bonds in recent days. "We actually had two of our larger investors contact us to say no Russia and maybe no Ukraine because it could become part of Russia," he said.
Gramercy and the emerging-markets fund manager said they aren’t considering buying Russian government debt, but others are dipping in, or at least trying to.