Story updated from 3:12 p.m. to include information on exporters.
The United States government's move to ease sanctions on Russian intelligence agency FSB on Thursday spurred a surge in Russia ETFs.
The U.S. Treasury Department said it will allow U.S. companies to make limited transactions with the Russian Federal Security Service, known as the FSB, easing sanctions imposed by the Obama administration in April 2015 and strengthened in December over accusations Moscow interfered in the 2016 U.S. election. Russia ETFs traded publicly in the U.S. rose in reaction to the news.
Shares of the Market Vector Russia ETF Trust (RSX) - Get Report gained as much as 2.2% soon after the news broke, and the iShares MSCI Russia Capped ETF ERUS surged 2.4%. The Direxion Shares Exchange Traded Fund Trust (RUSL) - Get Report jumped 6.2%.
Shares of all three ETFs settled back down later in the day but remained up modestly.
Russian mining and steel company Mechel PAO (MTL) - Get Report was up 1.67% to $6.10 in mid-afternoon trading Thursday. Shares of both Qiwi PLC (QIWI) - Get Report and Mobil'nye Telesistemy PAO (MDT) - Get Report were down.
The Treasury Department license, issued by the Office of Foreign Assets Control and signed by acting director Andrea Gacki, authorizes certain transactions "requesting, receiving, utilizing, paying for, or dealing in licenses, permits, certifications, or notifications issued or registered" with the FSB, including cyber security sales. It limits payments to the FSB to $5,000 per year.
It excludes activity having to do with the Crimea region of Ukraine, which Russia seized in 2014.
U.S. intelligence agencies accused the FSB of involvement in the hacking of Democratic Party entities during the last election in an effort to undermine faith in the American democratic system, hinder former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump win.
The biggest beneficiary of the Treasury Department's move is not Russia but instead American companies that export to Russia.
When the Obama administration strengthened sanctions against the FSB in December, it inadvertently hurt U.S. exporters that sell computers, phones, encryption tools and other technological items to Russia in the normal course of commerce. It barred companies from paying administrative fees to, seeking approvals from and even notifying the FSB in order to export to Russia.
ExportLawBlog in January noted the dilemma.
Press Secretary Sean Spicer denied the White House was easing sanctions on Russia.
"We're not easing," he said. "It's fairly common practice for the Treasury Department, after sanctions are put in place, to go back and look at whether or not there needs to be specific carve-outs for different, either industries, or products and services, that need to be going back and forth."