Last Friday’s bounce for the Market Vectors Russia ETF (NYSEArca: RSX) could prove to be short-lived.
Already down almost 11% since Feb. 28, RSX, the largest and oldest Russia ETF, is becoming a favored target of bearish options traders. “Open interest on put options giving investors the right to sell the ETF reached about 283,000 on March 13, almost double the four-week average and up from a 2014 low of 54,000 in January,” report Halia Pavliva and Nikolaj Gammeltoft for Bloomberg.
News of increased put options activity in RSX comes just a week after it was reported that bearish traders were upping their bets against the ETF despite the rising cost of doing so. Earlier this month, Russia’s benchmark Micex Index, which suffered through its one-day performance since the collapse of Lehman Brothers on news of the country’s invasion of Ukraine. [It’s Expensive to Bet Against Russia ETFs]
Results of the weekend’s referendum in the Crimea region of Ukraine could benefit traders betting against RSX. On Sunday, officials said that 95% of counted ballots support Crimea joining the Russian Federation. The White House rejected the results of the referendum and the U.S. and other Western nations are threatening economic sanctions against Russia.
Despite the turmoil, investors allocated capital to Russian stocks last week. “Global investors poured money in Russian equity funds for a second week as of March 12, injecting $133.2 million and ending 11 weeks of declines,” Bloomberg reported citing EPFR data. Perhaps due to valuations that are among the lowest in the developing world, investors have put money to work in RSX over the past several weeks even as tensions in Ukraine have escalated. [Evaluating Eastern Europe ETFs]
Still, there is evidence plenty of traders believe lower is the path of least resistance in the near-term for Russian stocks. For example, the Direxion Daily Russia Bear 3x Shares (NYSEArca: RUSS) has traded on above average volume nearly everyday this month.