Russia's VTB pushes ahead with London investor forum

Russia's VTB pushes ahead with London investor forum
VTB London forum to defy the sanctions gloom on investing in Russia.
By Jason Corcoran in London May 9, 2016

Russian state-controlled lender VTB is going ahead with its first London investor forum in three years after almost getting cold feet amidst pressure on clients not to attend. 

The London event is set to take place on May 17-18 after being postponed from the original planned dates of April 18 to 19, VTB insiders told bne IntelliNews.   

"It's going ahead after all," said one staffer. "We hope to put on a good show and attract a good turnout from our key clients."

The bank cancelled investor conferences in London and New York after it was sanctioned in mid-2014 by the EU and US over Russia's actions in Ukraine. Pressure is believed to have been applied on large investment houses not to attend this year's event as the US Treasury successfully scuppered Kremlin's $3bn sovereign Eurobond and put pressure on investors and banks not to participate in forthcoming privatisations.     

Spokespeople from VTB's investment bank VTB Capital didn't return emails seeking comment.

This year's event has been clouded in secrecy amidst fears that it may be hit by protests. Yevgeny Chichvarkin, a Russian businessman turned opposition figure, staged a small protest outside the Russia Calling London forum in 2011. 

The bank's last event in London in 2013 attracted hundreds of investors and featured Alexei Ulyukayev, then deputy governor of the Central Bank of Russia (CBR) and now economy minister, former finance minister Alexei Kudrin, and London Stock Exchange CEO Xavier Rolet.

VTB's shares tumbled 18% on March 3, 2014 after Putin's troop invasion in Crimea led to the biggest sell-off in Russian stocks for more than five years.

The bank, along with Sberbank and a host of other state lenders and officials, was sanctioned months later. EU and US prohibitions have restricted Russian banks in ways that go beyond the initial design, which was to restrict their ability to borrow on international markets. Leading Western investors reined in all trading activities with VTB Capital and other Russian brokerages for fear of drawing regulatory scrutiny and fines.

VTB CEO Andrei Kostin, who mulled removing the bank's listing from the London Stock Exchange in favour of China, previously warned that he doesn't expect US sanctions to be lifted until 2018. The EU prolonged its measures against Russia in January by six months and is expected to roll over sanctions in June despite some opposition from Greece and France.

A number of domestic and international investment banks are planning Russia events in the coming months to try to entice clients back to the domestic securities market, which has rallied on the back of rising oil prices.

Swiss bank UBS is planning a Russian corporate day in Moscow in late August while Goldman Sachs has earmarked a Russia event for clients in Frankfurt during September, investor relations sources told bne IntelliNews.

Sberbank, the Russian lender which is also sanctioned, hopes to run its 'Russia: The Inside Track' event on May 24-25 in Moscow. Renaissance Capital, the brokerage controlled by billionaire oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov, has scheduled its Moscow investor conference for June 22 to June 23.

The Russian government is going ahead with it 20th St Petersburg International Economic Forum (Spief) on June 22-23. However, the Foreign Ministry in Moscow on May 6 condemned what it said were US government efforts to deter Swiss participation.

The event, which is a Putin showpiece in his hometown, moves to new digs this year but many senior industrialists and bankers from the West have shied away since Russia's annexation of Crimea.