Russians rush to withdraw cash at ATMs as rouble plunges; central bank hikes rates to 20%

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MOSCOW (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) - Russia’s central bank more than doubled its key interest rate to 20 per cent from 9.5 per cent on Monday (Feb 28) and introduced some capital controls as the country was pummelled by sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine and Russians waited in long queues to withdraw cash outside ATMs.

Facing the risk of a bank run, a rapid sell-off in assets and an almost 30 per cent plunge in the rouble on Monday, the Bank of Russia also banned brokers from selling securities held by foreigners on the Moscow Exchange.

Russian exporters were ordered to start mandatory hard-currency revenue sales and stock trading was temporarily suspended in Moscow. 

In another decision that partially reversed a free-floating exchange rate regime in place since 2014, the Russian currency won’t be allowed to breach a certain range unless the central bank shifts the trading corridor.

Moves to block some Russian banks from the Swift global payments system used for trillions’ of dollars of transactions and freeze the Bank of Russia’s reserves are beginning to deal a devastating economic blow.

Russians waited in long queues outside ATMs, worried that bank cards may cease to function, or that banks would limit cash withdrawals.

“Since Thursday, everyone has been running from ATM to ATM to get cash. Some are lucky, others not so much,” St Petersburg resident, Pyotr, who declined to give his last name, said.

The European arm of Sberbank, Russia’s biggest lender, faces failure, the European Central Bank (ECB) warned on Monday, after a run on its deposits.

Sberbank Europe and two other subsidiaries were set to fail, after “significant deposit outflows”,the ECB said. Austria’s Financial Market Authority imposed a moratorium on Sberbank Europe, which is based in the country.

The ECB’s warning extended to Sberbank subsidiaries in Croatia and Slovenia. Sberbank’s branches in Slovenia were closed until Wednesday and services temporarily limited to card transactions with a withdrawal limit of 400 euros a day. The Croatian central bank said depositors at Sberbank would be allowed to withdraw just under 1000 euros a day.

Separately, Deutsche Boerse, the German stock exchange operator, said that it was suspending from trading a number of securities from Russian issuers with immediate effect. The list includes Sberbank and VTB Bank.


Less than a week after Vladimir Putin ordered his military to invade Ukraine, Russia is at risk of succumbing to the biggest financial crisis of his more than two decades in power. Some warned of catastrophic economic damage now that the US and the European Union have agreed to block access to much of the US$630 billion (S$855 billion) Russia’s central bank has built up as a buffer to protect the economy. 

“The most important thing is that the West is freezing the Central Bank’s reserves,” former Russian prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov wrote on Twitter. “There is nothing to support the rouble with....Hyperinflation and catastrophe for the economy is not far away.”

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The cost of insuring Russia’s government debt meanwhile rose to a record. For the first time ever, the price of protecting Russia’s debt is no longer being officially quoted in basis points, with protection sellers now demanding payment in advance, signaling perceptions that default might be imminent.

On Monday credit-default swaps (CDSs) insuring US$10 million of the country’s bonds for five years were quoted at about US$4 million upfront and US$100,000 annually, signaling around 56 per cent likelihood of default, according to ICE Data Services. ICE is the main clearing house for European CDS.

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