Rouble slumps against US dollar as trading in Russia restarts

The rouble has traded in a range between 111 and 177 this week. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - Russia's rouble slumped against the US dollar as local trading reopened on Wednesday (March 9) for the first time this week.

The currency was down 7.8 per cent at 113.8825 per dollar compared with its close on Friday when the Moscow Exchange said it would temporarily halt trading.

In offshore trading before the open, the indicative bid-ask spread was 7.4 per cent of the ask price, suggesting that there may be few actual trades.

Wednesday is the first opportunity for onshore traders to react to mounting negative developments for the rouble that have unfolded during the extended close.

A US and UK ban on Russian oil imports adds to the weight of sanctions levied against Russia, while JPMorgan Chase & Co and Bloomberg have removed Russian assets from their indexes. Moody's Investors Service and Fitch Ratings have downgraded the nation's debt ratings.

The rouble has traded in a range between 111 and 177 this week as "traders struggle to price Russia's economic collapse in an illiquid fashion," Stephen Innes, managing partner at SPI Asset Management, wrote in a research note.

Russia's central bank has more than doubled its key interest rate to 20 per cent and the government has rolled out support measures, but the rouble has tanked and bonds have sold off heavily.

Stock trading on the Moscow Exchange remained largely closed on Wednesday by order of the central bank.

Stocks last traded in Moscow on Feb 25, the day after Russia sent its forces into Ukraine, after which the central bank introduced trading restrictions.

On Tuesday, the central bank said it was offering additional crisis support to financial firms. It also said citizens with foreign currency accounts would not be allowed to withdraw more than US$10,000 in total over the coming six months, in the latest step to ease pressure on the rouble.

Remote video URL

Distress signs

In Asia, the rouble tumbled to an all-time low of 20.5718 per yuan on Wednesday, compared with just 13.2817 at the end of February. A number of Chinese banks suspended trading of the currency pair last week, with signs of distress showing up in the widest ever bid-ask spread.

While sentiment toward the rouble remains deeply negative, the currency's almost 40 per cent slump over the past month and the soaring cost to short it suggest there's some prospect of at least a temporary rebound.

"From a speculator's view, shorting the rouble now could be akin to arriving at the party late," said Matt Simpson, a senior market analyst at City Index in Sydney. With Russia's central bank "reviving onshore trading, it's an act of confidence not ideal for a bearish scenario," he said.

Follow The Straits Times' live coverage on the Ukraine crisis here.

Remote video URL

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.