July 23, 2014 / 9:27 AM / in 4 years

FX COLUMN-Russia sanctions fear may see sterling dip vs Swissie

-- Neal Kimberley is an FX market analyst for Reuters. The opinions expressed are his own --

By Neal Kimberley

LONDON, July 23 (Reuters) - Sterling may have some room to fall versus the Swiss franc if fear of tougher sanctions sees Russian investors shift cash from Britain to Switzerland.

Russian investors, who have poured capital into Britain, notably into its high-end real estate, will have noted British Prime Minister David Cameron’s call for new sanctions on Russia in the wake of last week’s downing of a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine.

The European Union said on Tuesday Russia could face harsher sanctions that could inflict wider damage on its economy but delayed action for a few days. Minister agreed to widen the list of individuals targeted by asset freezes and visa bans.

Sterling was a beneficiary of capital inflows from Russia earlier in the Ukraine crisis, with a significant part of the 6 billion pounds worth of liquid Russian capital exported in April said to have ended up in Britain.

Any Russian who might consider they could inadvertently end up on an EU sanctions list may take the hint and move capital out of Britain and the wider EU while they can.

One destination for that money might be Switzerland, whose approach toward Ukraine-related sanctions on Russia has been solid but, so far, more nuanced.

While Switzerland said in March it would not be “abused” by those wanting to circumvent Western sanctions against Russia, it stopped short of adopting its own measures.

The Swiss government fleshed out its stance on April 2 stating that 33 individuals subject to personal sanctions by the EU would not be allowed to use Switzerland to avoid those EU measures.

But Switzerland, a global commodity trading and private banking hub, is popular with Russia’s wealthy elite and is reluctant to take steps that could compromise its cherished neutrality or damage closely-nurtured trade ties with Moscow.

Yet equally, the Swiss would surely fall into step with any extended EU list of specifically sanctioned individuals, as alluded to by Britain’s Cameron, though only after the event.

The earliest any extended list will be released is Thursday.

Russian investors who might fear their names could be included on such a list may take the rational decision to shift liquid capital from British pounds into Swiss francs and accounts while they still have the opportunity to do so. (Editing by Nigel Stephenson and Gareth Jones)

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