Moscow city to tap bond market despite Russia's sanction risks

MOSCOW, April 13 (Reuters) – The City of Moscow plans to tap the bond market in April for the first time since 2013, raising up to 70 billion roubles ($907.62 million) to cover budget shortfalls caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Deputy Mayor Vladimir Efimov said.

The Moscow bonds will be of the same investment-grade quality as Russian state OFZ bonds, but their lower profile and volume means they will carry a lower sanctions risk, potentially giving foreign investors a safer instrument to invest in.

Ties between Russia and the West are at a post-Cold War low and Washington is weighing new sanctions against Moscow over alleged political meddling and hacking, allegations Russia denies.

Efimov, in charge of Moscow’s economic policy, said the capital city was aligning its borrowing plans with the situation on Russia’s state debt market, which has deteriorated in the past months because of external political factors.

“I think we will be ready to tap the market in April … We have set guidance for 6% annual yield, but we are bargaining for a lower rate,” Efimov said in an interview with Reuters.

The size of the planned bond issuance on the Moscow Exchange is nowhere near Russia’s state debt programme. The finance ministry last week raised a larger sum at a single OFZ bond auction.

But if the West imposes sanctions on buying Russia’s OFZ treasury bonds, Moscow could postpone its bond placement by a couple of months, Efimov said.

OFZ government bonds took a hit recently as fears grew of fresh U.S. sanctions that could go further than existing restrictions, which include a ban on U.S. banks buying state Eurobonds directly from Russia.

The share of foreign investors among holders of Russia’s OFZ treasury bonds last month slumped to its lowest level since August 2015 after President Joe Biden said that his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, would “pay a price” for efforts to meddle in the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

Moscow, which has the same ratings as Russia — “BBB” from Fitch and “Baa3” from Moody’s — returned to the idea of borrowing after it saw its finances deteriorate in 2020 as coronavirus lockdowns suffocated business activity.

Efimov said Moscow, a city of more than 12 million people, may also issue green bonds for up to 90 billion roubles this year to finance purchases of electric buses and other transport infrastructure.

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