Russian currency extends losses
Moscow – — The Russian currency extended its losses on Monday after a report showed the economy has started shrinking in annual terms for the first time since 2009 as the country is buffeted by falling oil prices and Western sanctions.
Meanwhile, the government, which has been scrambling to support the ruble and the economy, announced fresh steps to keep the banks afloat.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev told a government session that he has just signed a decree to provide a total of 1 trillion rubles ($19.6 billion) to Russian banks. The list of the banks and the amount that each of them will receive is expected to be drawn up by mid-January, according to Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov.
Shuvalov said the measures should help “the banking sector be more stable in the new circumstances and safeguard it from new shocks if they do occur,” he was quoted by Tass.
The ruble has been one of the world’s worst performing currencies this year and was down another 5 percent on Monday, trading at 56 rubles per dollar in Moscow, wiping off some of the gains it made last week.
The fall came as the Economic Development Ministry issued a report showing the economy shrank by 0.5 percent in November compared with a year earlier. The ministry attributed the year-on-year decline in the economy, Russia’s first in five years, to a sharp drop in manufacturing and investment.
The economy has been buffeted by a combination of lower prices for the country’s crucial oil exports and the impact of Western sanctions.
Stabilizing the ruble is a priority for the country’s monetary authorities. The Central Bank in past weeks raised its key interest rate to 17 percent and said it will offer dollar and euro loans to banks so they can help major exporters that need foreign currencies to finance operations.
The bank’s foreign currency reserve has now dropped below $400 billion for the first time since August 2009, as the government has been selling the currency on the market to support the ruble.
Many Russian companies and banks have been locked out of Western capital markets following the sanctions imposed on the country for its involvement in Ukraine.
Fitch Ratings Ltd. lowered the outlook on 20 mid-sized Russian banks to negative, predicting that economic recession, higher funding costs and the slump in the ruble will lead to increased non-performing loans.
Their ratings were affirmed because of the banks’ “moderate resilience” to the weaker operating environment and sovereign support in the form of regulatory forbearance, liquidity provision and potential capital injections, analysts led by Moscow-based Senior Director Alexander Danilov wrote in an emailed report Friday.
Ratings companies are reassessing Russian assets after the ruble slumped 42 percent this year amid the biggest decline in oil prices in six years and sanctions that have cut the country off from Western financial markets. Standard & Poor’s said Dec. 23 that it’s considering cutting the nation’s sovereign rating to junk for the first time in a decade. Moody’s Investors Service put 16 Russian banks on review for possible downgrade on the same day.
The revision “reflects Fitch’s expectation that economic recession, significantly increased funding costs, sharp ruble depreciation, closed wholesale funding markets, a challenging liquidity situation and rising inflation will weigh on the banks’ credit profiles,” the analysts wrote in the report.
The 20 banks will be downgraded if their financial metrics worsen, macroeconomic stability deteriorates significantly or they become considerably more dependent on official support, the analysts said.
Non-performing loans to individuals surged 53 percent in the 12 months to November to 673 billion rubles ($11.8 billion), according to central bank data.
A forecasted 2.8 percent contraction in the Russian economy in 2015 could be deepened by tighter sanctions, accelerated capital flight or a further decline in oil prices, Fitch said Monday.
The Associated Press and Bloomberg News contributed.
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