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19 Feb, 2009 08:27

Rouble slide hits Russians who have borrowed in other currencies

The Rouble has fallen to historic lows against the dollar and other major currencies. In Russia, people who took out mortgages in foreign currencies are struggling to keep their homes.

Elena has her own home, but now she lives in a Communal flat with four other people. A year ago she took a mortgage denominated in Yen. Half a year ago the Japanese currency took off. Her monthly payment doubled and now it's equal to her Rouble salary.

In order to pay the bank she decided to let her flat and moved into a rented room. Forecasts that the yen could get stronger- as the rouble falls – leave her afraid for the future.

“Now already my mortgage in Yen is much more than the market cost of the flat. If I fail to pay the mortgage and the bank will take away my flat, I will lose what I’ve paid so far – and still owe the bank $70 thousand.”

Like Elena many Russians took mortgages in foreign currencies – lured by interest rates lower than on Rouble loans. Sberbank Senior Vice President, Denis Bugrov, says that wasn’t very clever.

“This shows the level of financial education in our country. Having income in Roubles, people considered its right to have liabilities in other currencies. This was profitable when the Rouble was strong, now it’s the other way round. We are trying to help our clients to refinance or restructure those loans. But we are not a charity.”

Sberbank says only 6% of their mortgage portfolio was in foreign currencies. Many other banks strongly promoted those loans, making huge profits by borrowing cheap and lending high. Now Elena is looking at borrowing more.

“If the situation gets extremely bad I will take another loan and go for a holiday, so that I don't drown in depression. There is no big difference, having to repay another hundred dollars a month.”

Elena knows the banks cannot do much about volatile currencies. However the state is bailing out the banks with billions of dollars – she says no one is helping people like her.