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Breaking down the numbers: Divesting Montana from Russian assets

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Posted at 6:03 AM, Mar 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-14 19:07:23-04

BOZEMAN — Nearly two weeks ago, Governor Greg Gianforte announced he wants Montana to divest all Russian assets in the state investment pool.

That has not actually happened yet. Here’s why: first, it’s a big job just to identify those assets.

Dr. Vince Smith at Montana State University explained that it is a complex task. He said, “That’s because we just don’t know what the total portfolio of the oligarchs is, we really don’t know what the total portfolio of major state-managed companies in Russia actually are.”

However, the Executive Director of the Montana State Board of Investments, Dan Villa, said the state did manage to track it all down.

“We were able to identify through our custodial bank where our assets are and were, in the case of Russia,” said Villa.

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Dan Villa, Executive Director of the Montana State Board of Investments

Here’s how it breaks down: $15 million is invested in Russian companies. Another $200,000 is invested in Belarus and $4.2 million is invested in Ukraine. The Ukraine investment is important because it is at risk of losing value due to the Russian invasion.

There is also a second problem in getting rid of those investments.

Villa said, “There’s either restrictions on the American side or restrictions on the Russian side that are basically prohibiting us from selling these assets.”

Villa explained that Russian stocks are plunging in value, “Since Russia has become all but un-investable that has shrunk relatively quickly.”

So, even if Montana could sell those assets now, it wouldn’t be worth it. Villa says the Investment Board will instead take a long view and wait until it is legal and more financially responsible, to make a move. Besides, The State of Montana has a $15 billion investment portfolio. With less than $20 million in question, the Investment Board says only six-ten thousandths of one percent of the money is at risk.

Villa confidently said, “So, this won’t be felt by the people of the state of Montana.”

The Investment Board says most of the money is in pension funds. A very small amount is in the Montana State Fund.

Economist Smith says while the state can’t immediately sell its Russian assets, announcing the desire to do so, is still important.

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Dr. Vince Smith, Montana State University

“In a way, it’s a symbolic effort that is important for many, many folks. We have a significant Ukrainian population that is within Montana,” said Smith.

He added, “Taking serious action is a great advertisement for the state in this moment in time. It’s saying we care about a country that is seven or eight thousand miles away from us and the people of that country who are being tragically abused by a war-mongering, irresponsible, dictator.” He went on to say, “That’s a great message to send to folks who are thinking of moving here, businesses who are thinking of locating here.”

According to a new CBS News poll, there is overwhelming support in the U.S. for sanctions on Russia’s oil and gas. In the poll, 77% say they support the sanctions. That support stays strong at 63% even when people learn that doing so may drive up gas prices. Plus, the willingness to pay more as a result cuts across race, region, and even income.

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The poll shows 82% of those in favor of the sanctions say they want to help Ukraine and punish Russia. 34% say it is for patriotic reasons. 26% say they do not drive enough to be affected and 19% say they can afford to pay more for gas. That totals more than 100% because people were allowed to give more than one reason for supporting sanctions.

Smith said Montana’s desire to divest its Russian assets shows the state has a global view.

He added, “We’re standing up for Democracy around the world.”

Extended interview - Dr. Vince Smith on divesting from Russian assets

Extended interview - Dr. Vince Smith