U.S. funds warn of risks from sanctions against Russia

BOSTON Sun Apr 20, 2014 7:10am EDT

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BOSTON (Reuters) - U.S. fund managers warned this month of risks shareholders could face from current or future Western sanctions against Russia, underscoring the stakes for emerging-markets investors arising out of the turmoil in Ukraine.

Securities filings since April 4 outlined potential problems for funds including the $124.6 million ING Russia Fund (LETRX.O), the $841.1 million SSgA Emerging Markets Fund (SSEMX.O) and a number of iShares exchange-traded funds offered by BlackRock Inc (BLK.N).

An April 4 filing for the SSgA fund, for instance, noted that current or future sanctions by the U.S. or the European Union could result in the devaluation of Russian currency, a downgrade in its credit rating, and a decline in the value and liquidity of Russian stocks. Sanctions also could lead to a freeze of Russian securities, it stated.

An April 10 filing for ING Russia Fund gave similar cautions if the U.S. imposes economic sanctions against companies in various sectors of the Russian economy such as financial services, energy or mining. The fund could seek to suspend redemptions if it could not dispose of securities or determine the value of net assets, the filing states.

A representative for the U.S. distributor of ING Russia Fund, Voya Financial Inc (VOYA.N), declined to comment, as did BlackRock Inc. A spokeswoman for State Street Corp (STT.N), parent of the SSgA fund, said executives were not available to comment. The funds represent only a small portion of total assets the firms manage.

U.S. securities regulators contacted fund firms with holdings in Russia last month, to make sure they were properly managing risk and disclosing the assets to investors.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission declined to comment about this month's filings.

International negotiators in Geneva reached a deal on Thursday to defuse the East-West crisis in Ukraine, but tensions have not abated and U.S. officials have threatened further sanctions on Moscow if the stalemate continues.

On Friday, U.S. national security adviser Susan Rice said: "Those costs and sanctions could include targeting very significant sectors of the Russian economy."

Washington, with the European Union, has since March imposed sanctions such as visa bans and asset freezes on a small number of individuals. Targets have included Russian government officials and separatist leaders in Crimea, the peninsula taken over by Moscow last month.

Some EU states are reluctant to do more, fearing it could further provoke Russia or end up hurting their own economies, which rely heavily on Russian gas and oil. Meanwhile, Russia's economy is already stagnating and rising tensions have shaken investor confidence, driving down stock indexes.

Technically the warnings by the fund firms this month supplement filings the managers had already made outlining risk factors for the emerging market funds, an sector that can be volatile.

<A sample of the disclosures is here: here

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(Reporting by Ross Kerber in Boston. editing by Gunna Dickson)

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