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Russia, Ukraine, and Forex Trading

Adapted from my blog. Original post May 2, 2014.
One of the biggest advantages of trading forex is that global political events often turn themselves into excellent market opportunities. Take, for instance, the turmoil in Ukraine. As the instability in that region grows, and capital flows out of Russia seeking safer havens, such opportunities are on the horizon. If you’re not familiar with what has been happening there, here’s a brief rundown of the past few months.
Putin Outplays the West
February 22nd- Ukranian President Viktor Yanyukovich is removed from office and flees the country.
March 21st- Following weeks of protests for secession, Russia annexes the ethnically Russian Ukranian region of Crimea. The US immediately sanctions several prominent Russian politicians and business leaders.
April 4th(ish)- Russia masses 40,000 troops on Ukraine’s Eastern border.
April 25th- Russia raises the ruble’s interest rate to 7.5%.
May 2nd- Ukrainian army forces clash with pro-Russian separatists in the Eastern cities of Odessa and Slovyansk.
What Happens Next?
Amid all the sabre-rattling and mindless media coverage, one can discern a pattern to Russia’s behavior in Ukraine that has been used recently in other conflicts. In 2008, Russia invaded Georgia and all but annexed the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossettia. Putin then employed a similar strategy of fostering political unrest before invading the region to ‘liberate’ ethnic Russian populations, and repeated the process in Crimea. It stands to reason he will do so again in Ukraine’s industrial, and Russian speaking east.
This is assuming Putin doesn’t fear the threat of economically damaging and sweeping sanctions from the West. After all, Russia’s largest exports – oil and natural gas – have willing buyers in India and China, if not Eastern Europe. Putin has been in power for 14 years in Russia – long enough to turn his gaze beyond domestic squabbling and toward a more global stage, and the short term pain these sanctions would cause may not be enough to deter his advance.
So Where Is the Trade?
There are two outcomes I see as likely. Both offer excellent trades in the near future.
1) Russia invades Ukraine, or continues to support pro-separatist rebels in the east. This prompts expansive Western sanctions on May 25th and the ruble continues its decline. Investors will flock to more stable, high-yielding currencies like the NZD and to a lesser extent the TRY (whose issues will pale in comparison to the ruble), providing extended carry-trade opportunities for speculators.
2) Russia somehow avoids Western sanctions and looks to attract foreign investment once more with the ruble’s tasty 7.5% interest rate. Short USD/RUB will become an attractive mid-term trade as the ruble bounces back from its long decline of early this year.
Either way, opportunity is on the horizon! We will certainly be keeping an eye on the events in Ukraine to determine where best to invest our capital, and will keep you updated on the blog and twitter as the situation unfolds.
Agree with my analysis? Disagree? Let's hear it, forex!
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