Russian RMBS: Safe, For Now

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The Russian ruble is in freefall — it’s down more than 50% since January — and interest rates are climbing on the back of the Bank of Russia’s aggressive efforts to shore up the embattled currency.

But Russian mortgage-backeds are apparently not in danger.

At least not yet.  

That seems to be the message from Moody’s Investors Service, whose press office sent out on Tuesday a report published back in May that pointed out that while rising interest rates erode mortgage affordability in Russia, the rates on loans in outstanding deals are unaffected since they’re fixed and not floating.

There's another cushion as well: the earnings of the average borrower in securitized pools is above the corresponding regional average salary in all but one region.

But given the economic distress facing Russia due to falling oil prices and sanctions by the U.S. and the EU, what about a potential drop in housing prices?

Moody's noted in the May report that an increase in lending rates could lead to a "long-term slowdown" in the growth of housing prices. In most regions, housing prices had been growing as of mid-year.

But that was when the key lending rate was 7.5%. Now it’s 17%.

If Russia's economic stress intensifies, anxiety will grow that the country is headed towards a crisis of the magnitude it suffered in 1998, when the government defaulted on domestic debt and required support from multilateral institutions.

The result back then was an economic contraction of 5.3%, according to World Bank data.

But even in this extreme scenario, the picture may not be so grim for Russian RMBS.

Declines in housing prices primarily matter for outstanding RMBS because once a borrower's underwater, they're more prone to stop paying their mortgages.

Russian deals tend to have very low LTVs. Local law, in fact, prohibits ratios of over 80%.

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