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Currencies
Rouble strengthens ahead of Putin speech
From the Financial Times of Thu, 18 Dec 2014 07:55:33 GMT
SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 07: Russian President Vladimir Putin waits in the presidential lounge to be introduced at the opening ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at the Fisht Olympic Stadium on February 7, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by David Goldman - Pool/Getty Images)©Getty

The rouble strengthened further on Thursday ahead of President Vladimir Putin’s annual press conference in which he is expected to address the financial turmoil that has triggered wild gyrations in the currency this week and prompted some panic buying by consumers.

At 0705 GMT, the rouble was 2.8 per cent higher against the dollar at 58.00 after opening more than 1 per cent higher. The currency was also 4.1 per cent stronger versus the euro at 72.00.

On Wednesday, the Russian currency rose 12 per cent after falling more than 10 per cent on Monday and Tuesday when it hit a record intraday low of 80 to the dollar.

Russia’s central bank said on Thursday that it did not intervene in the foreign exchange market on Tuesday. So far this year, it has spent more than $80bn defending the currency and has about $410bn in foreign reserves.

Investors have been cheered by measures the Bank of Russia announced on Wednesday to support the banking sector after queues formed at bank branches as citizens rushed to convert their roubles into dollars and euros.

These included liquidity injections, looser capital requirements and the prospect of significant recapitalisations.

The turmoil has prompted some Russians to question Mr Putin’s authority for the first time and the president has said little on the crisis ahead of his press conference. On Wednesday, his spokesman said it was “time to roll up our sleeves” and that “a number of measures” would be announced in the next few days.

The central bank’s relief package would allow Russian banks to largely ignore the recent market turmoil when calculating their capital adequacy ratios: they would stop marking securities portfolios to market, avoid writing down loans to companies affected by western sanctions and delay making provisions against non-performing loans.

Also on Wednesday, the finance ministry announced it would sell off $7bn in surplus dollar holdings and the government said it would take tighter control of state companies’ foreign exchange operations.

The rouble’s slide has been driven by declining confidence in the central bank, western sanctions over Russia’s intervention in Ukraine and a plunging oil price that on Tuesday dipped below $60 for the first time since July 2009. Brent on Wednesday recovered more than 4 per cent to trade at $62.52.

Alexander Tkachev, governor of the southern region of Krasnodar, one of Mr Putin’s most loyal lieutenants, said on Wednesday the currency crisis was retribution for Russia’s annexation of Crimea. “We are reaping the fruits of our conquest, of our country’s political victories. This is the price both the economy and the citizens sooner or later had to share with the president.”

Although Mr Tkachev’s remarks raised eyebrows, they were not meant as criticism of Mr Putin but rather as a call for the country to face reality, in itself a sign of how financial upheaval is starting to transform Russia’s political debate.

Meanwhile, Vladimir Yevtushenkov, the chairman and main owner of Russian conglomerate Sistema who had been under house arrest since September, was freed on Wednesday ahead of Mr Putin’s press conference. The billionaire’s arrest had shocked members of Moscow’s business community and dealt a blow to investor confidence.



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