The Market Vectors Russia ETF (NYSEArca: RSX) are taking another, perhaps unwanted turn in the spotlight again Friday after the Bank of Russia announced a 200-basis point interest rate reduction, taking the country’s benchmark lending rate to 15%.
That move comes barely more than a month after the Bank of Russia, in a bid to prop up the flailing ruble, boosted its benchmark interest rate to 17% from 10.5%. Even at 15%, Russia’s benchmark interest rate is still 700 basis points above where it was in early December. [An Interesting Day for Russia ETFs]
RSX, the largest Russia ETF, is down 2.8% at this writing, bringing the fund’s weekly loss to nearly 7%. After plunging 47.2% last year, enough to make it one of 2014’s worst-performing non-leveraged ETFs, RSX started 2015 in decent form, but since Jan. 22 the ETF has lost more than 13% amid a spate of challenging headlines.
Those challenges include Monday’s news that of Standard & Poor’s slapping the first junk rating on the country’s sovereign debt in a decade. S&P lowered its rating on Russian debt to BB+, the highest junk rating, from BBB-, the lowest investment grade. Russia is now the only member of the BRIC quartet with a non-investment grade rating from S&P. The ratings agency has sovereign ratings of BBB- on Brazil and India. [Russia ETFs Hit by Russia Downgrade]
Earlier this month, Moody’s Investors Service lowered its rating on Russian sovereign debt to one notch to Baa3 from Baa2. That was after Fitch Ratings lowered Russia’s sovereign credit rating to BBB-, the lowest investment grade, with a negative outlook. Fitch previously rated Russian sovereign debt BBB.
Friday’s action in RSX and other Russia ETFs sends a clear signal that financial markets believe the Bank of Russia’s credibility is dwindling. Currency markets feel the same as highlighted by the U.S. dollar jumping 1.8% against the ruble, sending the Russian currency to its lowest levels since December.