Thursday, December 25, 2014

25/12/2014: Ruble Crisis: Stage 1 Capital Controls

In a recent post on Ruble Crisis (, I have promised to post my comments that were forthcoming in Portuguese Express. Here they are, in English:

Q: Did Russian Government impose capital controls last week?

Yes. Both de facto and de jure, the new requirement on state-owned companies and a softer request for larger private companies to reduce their foreign exchange holdings constitute capital controls. However, the reduction is relatively benign and will not present a material risk to these companies' operations. 

The reason for this is that the benchmark holdings set at October 1, 2014 levels of reserves mean that the new restrictions cover primarily build up in foreign exchange reserves accumulated during the acceleration of the currency crisis. In a sense, these were precautionary accumulations of foreign exchange that have little to do with operational demands of the companies involved. A more material restriction could have been limiting reserves to a fixed proportion of revenues. In the 1998 crisis, Russian authorities forced exporters to convert all foreign exchange earnings in rubles. This time around, an intermediate measure, in severity ranking between the 1998 case and this week's announcement, would have been requiring exporter to convert, say 50 percent of their earnings into rubles. However, Moscow held back such a measure and opted for a weaker version, benchmarking reserves to October 1 positions. 

As is, the measure will likely increase supply of US dollars into the market by about USD50 billion - roughly the amount that has been accumulated in precautionary reserves. And this comes on foot of the new currency swap agreement with China that can inject up to USD24 billion into the markets.

The new restriction is voluntary in nature, in so far as companies can continue to accumulate reserves, but in reality, only those companies facing significant bond redemptions in 2015 will be allowed to do so. Barring the latter exemption, we would have seen moratorium on debt redemptions for larger Russian companies by mid-Q1 2015.

Overall, the new measure introduced by the Russian Government is, effectively, a bid to avoid introducing full scale capital controls and to enhance the Central Bank of Russia's firepower in the forex markets. This has already been reflected in the markets via a dramatic rebound in the Ruble valuations and an equally significant decline in the volumes of short ruble contracts which fell from this week's high of just under 70,000 to below 50,000.

Updated: here is the link to the article

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