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Report: Russian central banker sees no return to capital controls

September 18, 2014, 14:39 UTC+3 MOSCOW
Eliminating restrictions on the flow of money was a “political decision” that Russia’s central bank won’t seek to reverse
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Sergei Shvetsov, First Deputy Chairman of the Central Bank of Russia

Sergei Shvetsov, First Deputy Chairman of the Central Bank of Russia

© ITAR-TASS/Sergei Fadeichev

MOSCOW, September 18. /ITAR-TASS/. Russia’s central bank is looking to buttress its financial system against sanctions over the Ukrainian conflict without returning to the capital controls it abandoned eight years ago, First Deputy Chairman Sergei Shvetsov told Bloomberg Thursday.

Eliminating restrictions on the flow of money was a “political decision” that Russia’s central bank won’t seek to reverse, Shvetsov said. At the same time, the bank is discussing “measures to reduce the vulnerability of the Russian financial market,” he said.

Policy makers are trying to shore up markets and reverse an economic slowdown that has been exacerbated by U.S. and EU sanctions against Russia. The ruble has plunged 10% in the past three months to a record low, sparking concern that President Vladimir Putin’s government could impose controls that it had done away with in 2006. That move made Russia the only one of the four biggest emerging-market economies to allow unfettered flows across its borders.

“It’s a great shame; we are disappointed that Russia’s integration in the global market is being used against it,” Shvetsov said. “It’s another lesson that makes us stronger and wiser and forces us to ever-so-slightly adjust our requirements for ensuring our infrastructure works without interruption.”

Critical Services

Since June, the ruble has been the worst performer in global currency markets, a rout that has driven up the price of imports and helped push annual inflation to 7.6% in August. The economy, meanwhile, is in danger of posting its first contraction since 2009.

Shvetsov’s comments come after the Finance Ministry proposed legal amendments aimed at tightening oversight of suppliers of “critical” financial services, including the Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication banking transaction system, or SWIFT.

When Putin’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula sparked the first round of U.S. and EU sanctions in March, Visa and MasterCard blocked some transactions in Russia.

The UK planned to press EU leaders to consider blocking Russia’s access to SWIFT, a British government official said in August. While the system is not critical for the local market since lenders can use bank-client systems instead, it’s “convenient and cheap,” Shvetsov said.

Not Catastrophic

Penalties against Russia were increasing speculation that Russia may impose capital controls in response to accelerating outflows, Citigroup economist Ivan Tchakarov said today.

Net capital outflows reached U.S. $74.5 billion in the first six months, exceeding the $59.7 billion registered in all of 2013. The central bank expects another $20 billion of outflows in the second half and $90 billion in 2015.

Foreign debt sales by Russian companies tumbled about 70% this year compared with the same period in 2013, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

The central bank has taken steps to shore up markets, including 250 basis points of interest-rate increases to stem the ruble’s slide as the sanctions triggered outflows. It will provide $3 billion of foreign currency daily through swap operations in a bid to alleviate a liquidity squeeze, according to a statement on Tuesday.

Russian companies aren’t facing “catastrophic” repercussions like the liquidity freeze that followed the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings in 2008, Shvetsov said. “The Russian banking system is quite capable of replacing the foreign financing that will leave,” he added.

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