Going the Wrong Way With Russia ETFs

The same song keeps repeating with exchange traded funds holding Russian stocks, but it is not a pleasant one for investors.

The Market Vectors Russia ETF (NYSEArca: RSX) fell almost 3.6% Thursday, touching a new 52-week low in the process. However, RSX, the largest and most heavily traded Russia ETF, was joined in the new club by the Market Vectors Russia Small-Cap ETF (NYSEArca: RSXJ), SPDR S&P Russia ETF (NYSEArca: RBL) and the Direxion Daily Russia Bull 3x Shares (NYSEArca: RUSL). The iShares MSCI Russia Capped ETF (NYSEArca: ERUS) is just pennies away from joining the new 52-week low group, too.

Falling oil prices are having a crippling effect on energy-heavy Russia ETFs. Russia, one of the largest non-OPEC producers in the world, benchmarks to the Brent contract, bad news as theUnited States Brent Oil Fund (NYSEArca: BNO) has tumbled 27.1% over the past three months. Even that is not keeping investors from putting new money to work with Russia ETFs.

Since the start of this month, RSX has seen $239.3 million of inflows, keeping its torrid asset-gathering pace alive. That while falling 5.6%. [Broken Record for Russia ETFs]

There are obvious and significant headwinds to near-term upside for Russia ETFs because at least one key component of the bull case for these funds is incurring damage: Dividends. Russia is one of the largest dividend-paying countries in the emerging world. Tepid, or worse yet, no dividend increases from Russian firms represent a blow to President Vladimir Putin’s bid to force Russia’s highly profitable firms to pay out at least 25% of net income in the form of dividends in an effort to stoke foreign investment in the country. [Russia Tries to be a Dividend Player]

Amid tumbling oil prices and crimped profitability due to Western sanctions, analysts are projecting a murky near-term outlook for Russian dividends, particularly from the energy sector.

Markit expects Russian energy names to pare dividends by 6% while forecasting a 14% drop in payouts by the country’s financial services firms. Those sectors combine for 55.5% of RSX’s weight. Markit said it expects that the only major Russian companies affected by Western sanctions that will boost payouts next year are Lukoil and Novatek. Those firms combine for nearly 14% of RSX’s weight. [Sanction Cripple Russian Dividends]