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26 Feb, 2009 08:02

Currency controls mulled as outflow continues

Capital outflows from Russia continue to suggest that banks and companies are shorting the Rouble on a speculative basis. That's leading some to consider the imposition of some form of currency regulation.

The Russian Rouble has lost half of it's value against the US dollar, with experts blaming the government's policy of gradual devaluation. It created a long term one way bet, for those with access to funding, to make a lucrative Rouble return simply by converting it into another currency. They contrast what has unfolded in Russia with other oil exporting economies like Norway. Its currency slumped 37% in October and has already started strengthening. Igor Nikolaev, Partner at FBK sees continued pressure on the Russian currency.

“The Rouble is likely to see further devaluation due to the infusion of funds into the economy. That's because anti-crisis spending is continuing – with another $50 Billion in the 2009 budget intended for the banking system.”

The outflow of capital from Russia has reached nearly $130 billion dollars. Most it happened in the fourth quarter of 2008. While the government continues to inject liquidity into the financial sector – it's also looking at how to prevent further capital outflow.

One option is currency regulation, and another way to stop people switching out of Roubles is to raise interest rates. Mikhail Delyagin, Director of Science at the Institute of Problems of Globalization, thinks the Central Bank of Russia is unlikely to raise interest rates.

“To raise interest rates further is impossible. It will kill the economy – that's already happening. Therefore there is a need to use currency regulation and control over government economic aid. Financial regulation can't be partial, it should be complex.”

But either measure is likely to drive investors away from Russia – and currency regulation could even lead to the return of the black currency market.