US banks led by Goldman Sachs gain in Russian capital markets revival

US banks led by Goldman Sachs gain in Russian capital markets revival
Wall Street lenders are among investment banks in Moscow benefitting from a revival in the Russian capital markets
By Jason Corcoran in London April 21, 2017

Wall Street lenders, led by Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan, are among investment banks in Moscow benefitting from a revival in the Russian capital markets, bne IntelliNews can reveal.

Fees from Russian dealmaking in equities, bonds, loans and mergers surged by 32% in the year to April 20 compared with the same period a year ago, according to analysis by New York-based Freeman & Co with underlying data provided by Thomson Reuters.

Kremlin-sponsored champion VTB Capital is again the market leader with a fee share of 18%, or about $16mn so far in 2017. But in a surprising turnaround, two Wall Street titans have broken into the top three ranking for the first time in five years. JP Morgan has leapt into second spot with an 11.4% share, or about $10mn, from sixth overall last year. Goldman Sachs, the most profitable investment bank in the world, surged into third spot, having failed to make the top 10 over the past three years during a barren run of dealflow.

“If you’re looking at the post-sanctions short-term, the market looks pretty strong,” Jeffrey Nassof, a vice-president at Freeman, tells bne IntelliNews. “Interestingly, we even saw the Western banks getting on some of the major deals this year – Goldman, Credit Suisse and Morgan Stanley led the Detsky Mir IPO a couple of months ago.”

IPO and bond window reopens

US banks such as Goldman, Morgan Stanley and Citi were largely locked out of last year’s reopening of Russia’s capital markets. Bond and equity markets seized up for more than two years after the US and the EU imposed sanctions in 2014 following the Kremlin’s incursions into Ukraine. When the IPO and bond window reopened, Russian issuers were cautious about using foreign arrangers, while US banks were nervous about incurring the wrath of their own regulators by advising on deals.

A recovery in Russia’s equity, bond and loan markets comes as commodity prices have rallied amid an agreement between the oil producing cartel Opec and the Kremlin to cut oil production. The pact, which largely appears to be complied with, has led to a bounce in energy prices and has helped Russia to emerge from a two-year recession. 

Demand for Russian bonds continues to boom as investors capitalise on the highest returns in emerging markets. Fees from bond deals for the first months of 2017 hit $54mn, which easily outstrips the $18mn earned by bankers for the same period last year.

In March, energy behemoth Gazprom saw strong demand for its £850mn sterling bond sale even as the UK government triggered its notification to leave the EU. Gazprom mandated JP Morgan, Deutsche Bank, Gazprombank and VTB Capital as lead managers. Earlier in the same month, the company sold its first bond denominated in US dollars since the annexation of Crimea three years ago, in a $750mn 10-year issue.

Fees raised from equity capital placements have also shot up as companies line up to list shares in Moscow rather than London. Bankers have already earned $17mn so far this year compared to just $1mn for all of 2016. 

The total value of initial and secondary share offerings raised in Moscow reached $1.2bn since the beginning of 2017, hitting a six-year high. Companies that sold shares during the period include children’s goods retailer Detsky Mir, which attracted $335mn in an IPO, Russia’s largest producer of steel pipes TMK, which raised $180mn in an SPO, and phosphate fertiliser major Phosagro and aluminum producer Rusal, whose SPOs brought them $250mn and $240mn, respectively.

Loan deals continue to grow at a steady pace with $10mn pocketed by banks so far this year. M&A continues to stagnate, particularly as consolidation of Russia’s once-bloated and corrupt banking sector came to a halt. Fees from M&A deals slid by more than 50% to $8mn during the first four months compared to $19mn for the same period last year.

Trump boom hopes fade

However, hopes that this renewed boom for US and European bankers in Moscow will continue are fading fast. Prospects for a rekindling of ties between Russia and the US under President Donald Trump have diminished after Russia’s support of the regimes in Syria and North Korea. And initial hopes that US and European sanctions would be relaxed this year have also largely evaporated.

“A big question is whether the US banks will remain at the top given the political situation now,” said Nassof. “The geopolitical mood seems to be trending in the wrong direction since the optimism we saw earlier in the year.”

Meanwhile, claims by VTB deputy chief executive Yuri Soloviev in the FT that his bank controls the lion’s share of the market seem wide of the mark.

Speaking to the UK newspaper, Soloviev said the bank had shrugged of the effect of sanctions and was increasing its share of the pie. “At some point our market share in all investment banking services was between 50 and 70 per cent, which is totally abnormal – and which we were thrilled about,” he said.

But the bank, which is restricted from raising Western debt with more than 30 days of maturity, actually saw its share of fees drop this year to 18% from 23% for all of last year. “Our data has VTB as the clear number one for the last several years, but there has definitely been no noticeable further increases in 2017,” said Nassof.