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8 May, 2008 01:22

Is it time to free the rouble?

The appreciating rouble is an attractive asset for international investors. However to become a real reserve currency the rouble has to break free from Central Bank control. President Medvedev previously voiced his support for the move, but experts doubt

The rouble is becoming more attractive to investors, both Russian and foreign. The dollar remains weak and analysts suspect the euro's bull run may be nearing an end.

The rouble has a managed exchange rate. The Central Bank of Russia allows the rouble to gain only gradually against the dollar-euro currency basket and it has even intervened to hold the rouble down.

“I think the rouble’s stability itself is a good symbol of how strong the Russian economy is,” believes Matthew Vogel, managing director at Barclays Capital.

However, the Central Bank of Russia is against any rapid appreciation in the currency – at least for the moment.

“What we know for sure is that from the macroeconomic view, rouble appreciation is quite reasonable now, mainly to knock off inflation – especially as the moment is favourable regarding capital inflow into Russia. But Russia's Central Bank is against this policy,” explains Nikolay Kashcheev, VTB's head of treasury research.

President Medvedev has talked about freeing the rouble from Central Bank control. A free float would be one step on the way to making the rouble a reserve currency.

But analysts say that's a long way off. A stronger rouble would attract speculative capital, creating asset bubbles and destabilising the economy.

For now, analysts say, the most likely policy is for the Central Bank to let the rouble appreciate, but only in the order of, say 2 per cent, over the next six months.