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Picture: BLOOMBERG
Picture: BLOOMBERG

Russia eased a key capital control that’s underpinned the rouble’s recovery as the currency’s blistering rebound picked up pace Monday. 

The share of foreign-exchange proceeds that exporters are required to sell is being reduced to 50% from 80%, the finance ministry said in a website statement. 

It cited “the stabilisation of the exchange rate and the reaching of adequate levels of foreign-currency liquidity on the domestic market”. 

The rouble is more than 30% stronger against the dollar than it was before Russia sent troops into Ukraine on February 24, triggering harsh sanctions from the US and its allies. The currency’s gains are threatening to hurt budget revenue and exporters. 

Authorities have been gradually easing the strict limits on foreign-exchange operations imposed in the days after the invasion to stem a sharp drop in the currency.  

The restrictions, combined with a collapse in imports amid the sweeping sanctions the US and its allies imposed on Russia, all but eradicated demand for foreign currency just as supply surged thanks to high prices for largely unsanctioned energy exports. 

The economy ministry said late on Monday that the rouble’s appreciation is reaching a peak and capital flows and imports will adapt, taking pressure off the rate, the state-run Tass news service reported.

A full “lifting of capital controls would return the rouble to the range of 70-80 vs the dollar that would be much more comfortable for the economy,” said Tatiana Orlova of Oxford Economics. “This level of the FX rate is already included in prices. Therefore, the return to this range would not fuel inflation.”

The latest bout of rouble strength appears to be fuelled by European companies complying with President Vladimir Putin’s demand that they switch to paying in Russia’s currency for natural gas.  

In just four trading sessions the rouble has jumped about 15% against the euro, climbing as much as 7.8% on Monday alone. Against the dollar, the Russian currency trimmed earlier gains slightly to trade up 4% at 57.9350, poised for its strongest close since April 2018. 

Sanctions on the central bank’s reserves mean it can’t conduct the foreign-exchange purchases it did regularly before the invasion. 

“The rouble is solely trade-driven, and we are probably sitting at the peak of the current account surplus,” Tatha Ghose of Commerzbank wrote in a note on Monday. “Under most scenarios, the exchange rate would be weaker in the coming quarters.”

‘Regulatory burdens’

Still, Russia’s big-business lobby has raised the alarm about the rouble’s rally, announcing the creation over the weekend of a special working group to monitor the currency situation. 

“Excessive regulatory burdens on businesses in the area of currency regulation and control must be avoided,” the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs said in a website statement. 

Rouble strength is also potentially bad news for the budget, which gets a substantial chunk of revenues from energy taxes denominated in foreign currency but spent in roubles.

“The stronger the rate, the bigger the deficit will be,” said Evgeny Kogan, a professor at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics. “And it makes things harder for exporters, raising costs and reducing revenue” in rouble terms.

“If this lasts for, say, half a year, it will be extremely unpleasant,” he said, noting that a more “comfortable” rate for the economy would be about 75-80 per dollar.

The press offices of the Bank of Russia and the finance ministry didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.  

Bloomberg News. More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com

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