Ruble’s surge gives green light for Russia to cut rates


Stronger currency: An electronic board displays a US dollar exchange sign in Moscow. Ruble’s surge with oil prices this quarter, coupled with a slump in consumer demand due to the coronavirus lockdown, will likely prevent inflation from accelerating above the central bank’s 4% target any time soon. — Bloomberg

MOSCOW: A rally in the ruble may mean Russia’s central bank has room to cut interest rates even deeper than the full percentage point it has already committed to.

The currency’s surge with oil prices this quarter, coupled with a slump in consumer demand due to the coronavirus lockdown, will likely prevent inflation from accelerating above the central bank’s 4% target any time soon.

Analysts at some of Wall Street’s biggest banks say more than 2 percentage points of cuts are possible.

“Inflation is clearly not going to 4%, ” said Clemens Grafe, an analyst at Goldman Sachs in Moscow.

“If inflation surprises with an even lower path, then the key rate may be at 3.5% already this year, ” he said.

Bank of Russia governor Elvira Nabiullina is under pressure to slash borrowing costs to help stimulate an economy that’s taken a double blow from the coronavirus lockdown and drop in oil demand.

She hinted last month that the central bank could cut by 1 percentage point next month, taking the key rate to 4.5%, the lowest since Russia began inflation-targeting more than five years ago.

The central bank has said it held back on further easing while a two-month lockdown was in place because it prevented consumers and businesses from fully taking advantage of lower rates. Most restrictions were eased in Russia at the start of June.

Bets of bigger rate cuts have given a boost to Russian government bonds, which have handed dollar investors returns of 23% this quarter, one of the best performances in emerging markets.

Economists at Citibank in Moscow said last month Russia could end up cutting rates to as low as 3%, without specifying timing. Bank of America Merrill Lynch is forecasting 3.5%, while Deutsche Bank says 4% is the lowest it could get in the current easing cycle.

Piotr Matys, a strategist at Rabobank in London, says the size of the rate cut may depend on how far the rally in the ruble extends. If the currency erases its sell-off from the collapse in oil prices in March, climbing to 65 versus the dollar, from about 69 now, the central bank would opt for a larger reduction, he said.

“When your economy is in a recession and you rely on external demand for commodities, the last thing you want is for your currency to appreciate, ” Matys said. — Bloomberg

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