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Ruble slumps on first trade day after New Year holidays as oil price falls

January 12, 2015, 16:08 UTC+3 MOSCOW

The ruble’s new slump comes after the government took urgent measures last December to stabilize the national currency amid a fall in world oil prices and Western sanctions against Russia

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© TASS/Sergei Konkov

MOSCOW, January 12. /TASS/. The Russian currency slumped on the first day of trading on the Moscow Exchange on Monday after two-week New Year holidays amid failing world oil prices and fears of Russia’s rating cut below the investment level.

Russia’s Central Bank lowered on Monday the official ruble/dollar exchange rate by 6.5 rubles to 62.74 and the ruble/euro rate by 5.99 rubles to 74.36.

The ruble’s new slump comes after the government took urgent measures last December to stabilize the national currency amid a fall in the world price of oil, a major foreign currency revenue earner for the budget, and Western sanctions against Russia over its stance on the Ukraine crisis, barring Russian companies and banks from raising medium and long-term financing on international capital markets.

On December 16, the Russian Central Bank hiked its key rate to 17% from 10.5% to ease pressure on the ruble.

The Russian government also instructed the country’s major exporters to sell foreign currency on the domestic market more evenly to meet the corporate sector’s growing demand for foreign currency to make foreign debt repayments.

This measure has helped the ruble strengthen by 28% against the dollar and 30% against the euro by December 29 and get away from its all-time lows of 80 rubles against the dollar and 100.74 rubles against the euro.

Meanwhile, the international rating agency Fitch announced on January 10 it had downgraded Russia’s long-term rating to BBB- from BBB, just one notch above the speculative level.

"The economic outlook has deteriorated significantly since mid-2014, following sharp falls in the oil price and the ruble, coupled with a steep rise in interest rates," Fitch’s statement said.

Fitch’s move to downgrade Russia’s sovereign rating may be followed by S&P and Moody’s, which will create further pressure on the ruble and intensify capital outflow.

Meanwhile, the price of the benchmark Brent crude fell below $49 per barrel on the Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) in London on Monday. Brent futures dropped by 2.2% as of 07:35 GMT to $48.97 per barrel.

The Russian regulator said earlier the key rate will be lowered as soon as the situation on the domestic financial market comes back  to normal. However, the latest developments on the world oil market and fears of Russia’s sovereign rating downgrade make the key rate cut unlikely soon.

At the same time, Citigroup Chief Economist for Russia Ivan Chakarov has said the current situation in Russia can hardly be compared to the financial crisis of 1998.

In 1998, Russia was confronted with insurmountable macroeconomic pressure when the country’s budget deficit amounted to 3.7% of GDP, the current account deficit equaled 2.2% of GDP and the country’s foreign currency reserves plummeted to as low as $10 billion, he said.

Today, however, Russia has a balanced fiscal position, a current account surplus and foreign currency reserves at around $400 billion, the expert said.

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