COPENHAGEN/FRANKFURT (Reuters) - A deepening economic standoff between Russia and the West over the future of Ukraine has rippled through trading floors and boardrooms, with exporters scrambling to protect revenues and some global financial firms halting services.
U.S. President Barack Obama’s threat to target major sections of the Russian economy should President Vladimir Putin follow up his annexation of Crimea with further incursions in Ukraine has caused alarm in Europe.
Denmark’s foreign ministry held a special briefing for about 130 companies, including drugs firm Novo Nordisk and brewer Carlsberg on Friday after being inundated with inquiries about the business implications of the crisis.
In an email to Reuters, Carlsberg’s chief executive said he was monitoring the situation closely and would act if sanctions had a direct impact on his drinks group’s business. The company produces and sells local beers in both Ukraine and Russia.
“Until now it has been business as usual. We produce, sell and distribute our products to the market without problems,” said CEO Jorgen Buhl Rasmussen. “Our focus is on our employees and our breweries.”
Lemken, a German manufacturer of ploughs and other farm machinery, has seen a big drop-off in orders from Russia, its second-biggest export market after France, in recent weeks as a sliding rouble raises their sale price.
With Moscow vowing to retaliate against the West’s sanctions, Anthony van der Ley, managing director of the family-run business, is taking no chances. He is sending machinery to Russia now in case the border closes or import charges are hiked.
Profine, a plastic windowframe manufacturer with annual revenues of 700 million euros ($965 million), has so far managed to compensate for the rouble slide by increasing sales but won’t be able to do that forever.
“If there are further sanctions, that would be poison for the economic development of our partners,” said Peter Mrosik, the German firm’s managing partner.
In Canada, Bombardier Inc said the airplane maker’s planned joint-venture with Rostec, the Russian state-owned industrial and defence conglomerate, was likely to be delayed because of sanctions being considered by Canada and other Western countries. A related deal for Bombardier to sell 100 short-haul Q400 NextGen aircraft was also likely to be held up.
Obama unveiled sanctions against members of Putin’s inner circle on Thursday as well as against Bank Rossiya, partly owned by a Putin ally.
In response, Visa and MasterCard, both based in the United States, stopped providing services for clients at Rossiya and another bank SMP, whose co-owners, two brothers, are also on Obama’s list.
Western Union Co, the world’s largest money transfer company, said it had suspended services through Bank Rossiya branches but was continuing services at more than 20,000 locations and self-service terminals in Russia.
SMP described the move by Visa and MasterCard as unlawful.
What bankers and business people fear is an escalation of measures that would choke off international payments and trade, halt investments and stymie deals. Germany’s main trade body warned on Friday that full-blown economic sanctions would be a “real catastrophe”.
In a worst-case scenario, Washington would stop banks doing business with Russian counterparts and corporates, similar to the sort of sanctions that were imposed on Iran.
Germany’s “wise men” council of economic advisers said this week that the Ukraine crisis was the biggest threat to growth globally, and especially in Germany, because of Russia’s importance as an energy exporter.
“What has been announced so far is really nothing. It’s purely cosmetic,” said a French banker based in Moscow.
“The biggest risk is tougher sanctions and really the potential impossibility of transfers in U.S. dollars,” said the banker, who declined to be named because of official sensitivity around the restrictions.
Bank exposure to Russia link.reuters.com/xej67v
Russia's main trade partners link.reuters.com/jup77v
Russia's EU trade ties link.reuters.com/rup77v
State-owned Russian banks and companies are expected to repatriate funds from overseas after Putin told them this week to bring their assets home. But foreign bankers in Russia said things would have to deteriorate further before they would reconsider their investments there.
“It would have to be a lot worse than this. We are waiting for the response from the Russian side,” said a Western banker in Moscow. “I haven’t heard of any Western companies pulling out of Russia,” the banker added.
Even before the Crimean crisis blew up last month, international banks such as HSBC, Credit Suisse and Barclays had pulled out of dozens of markets because the risk of falling foul of financial crime rules and sanctions outweighed the returns.
The cost to banks of cleaning up an array of misdeeds that have come to light since the global financial crisis, including sanctions busting, has soared to over $100 billion.
Since the U.S. and European sanctions so far focused on wealthy individuals close to Putin, private banks which cater to powerful Russians are under the spotlight.
Switzerland, the global hub for private banking and a bolt-hole for wealthy Russians, has yet to impose any restrictions but its banks, such as UBS and Credit Suisse, still have to be aware of sanctions when they deal with clients.
Vasili Brokvo, the head of communications for Russia’s state defence conglomerate Rostec, made the corporate case for peace.
“We hope and our international partners also hope that political differences over certain issues won’t annul or destroy everything we’ve built and all previous agreements with foreign partners will be successfully implemented,” he said on a business trip to Chile this week. ($1 = 0.7255 Euros)
Additional reporting by Shida Chayesteh in Copenhagen, Lionel Laurent in Paris, Megan Davies in Moscow, Katharina Bart in Zurich, Ben Hirschler in London, Alexandra Ulmer in Santiago and David Henry in New York. Writing by Carmel Crimmins; editing by David Stamp, Paul Taylor and Ross Colvin