Russia’s central bank hikes rates to 12 percent to halt rouble’s slide

The Kremlin publicly called on the central bank to tighten its monetary policy after the rouble plummeted past the 100 threshold against the US dollar.

People walk past an electronic board showing currency exchange rates of the U.S. dollar and euro against Russian rouble in a street in Moscow
People walk past an electronic board showing currency exchange rates of the US dollar and euro against the Russian rouble in a street in Moscow [Maxim Shemetov/Reuters]

Russia’s central bank has hiked its key interest rate by 350 basis points to 12 percent, an emergency move to try and halt the rouble’s recent slide after a public call from the Kremlin for tighter monetary policy.

The extraordinary rate meeting came on Tuesday after the rouble plummeted past the 100 threshold against the US dollar on Monday, dragged down by the effects of Western sanctions on Russia’s balance of trade and as military spending soars.

The rouble pared gains after the decision to stand 0.3 percent weaker at 98.00 by 08:37 GMT, but still significantly above lows near 102 on Monday which had not been hit since the early weeks after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s economic adviser Maxim Oreshkin on Monday rebuked the central bank, blaming what he called its soft monetary policy for weakening the rouble.

Hours after Oreshkin’s words, the bank announced the emergency meeting, throwing the currency a lifeline.

“Inflationary pressure is building up,” the bank said in a statement on Tuesday. “The decision is aimed at limiting price stability risks.

“The pass-through of the rouble’s depreciation to prices is gaining momentum and inflation expectations are on the rise.”

Central bank Governor Elvira Nabiullina has won plaudits for her handling of the economy since Russia began what it calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine, but the plunging rouble and high inflation have put her on the back foot, especially among pro-war nationalists.

The Kremlin’s public criticism of her monetary policy adds further pressure as Russia heads towards a presidential election in March 2024, with consumers battling rising prices for basic goods.

“While such a depreciation risks boosting inflation, it is also the signal it sends out to the Russian public about the costs of the invasion of Ukraine,” said Stuart Cole, chief macroeconomist at Equiti Capital in London.

“As such, today’s decision will likely have had an element of politics behind it as well as economics.”

Elvira Nabiullina, Governor of Russian Central Bank, speaks during a news conference
Elvira Nabiullina, governor of the Russian central bank, speaks during a news conference in Moscow [File: Shamil Zhumatov/Reuters]

The bank last made an emergency rate hike in late February 2022 with a rate raise to 20 percent in the immediate fallout of Russia’s despatching troops to Ukraine.

The bank then steadily lowered the cost of borrowing to 7.5 percent as strong inflation pressure eased in the second half of 2022.

Since its last cut in September 2022, the bank had held rates but steadily increased its hawkish rhetoric, eventually hiking by 100 basis points to 8.5 percent at its last scheduled meeting in July. The next rate decision is due on September 15.

Russia saw double-digit inflation in 2022 and after a deceleration in the spring of 2023 due to that high base effect, annual inflation is now above the central bank’s 4 percent target once more and quickening.

In annualised terms on a seasonally adjusted basis, current price growth over the last three months amounted to 7.6 percent on average, the bank said.

The bank removed its signal that it was ready to raise rates further, said Sovcombank chief analyst Mikhail Vasilyev, interpreting that as a sign that rates have peaked.

“We believe that the key rate will remain at the current 12 percent level until the end of the year,” Vasilyev said.

A vendor counts Russian rouble banknotes
A vendor counts Russian rouble banknotes at a market in Saint Petersburg [File: Anton Vaganov/Reuters]

Russia’s widening budget deficit and stark labour shortages have contributed to rising inflationary pressure this year, but the rouble’s rapid slide from about 70 against the US dollar at the start of the year to more than 100 on Monday has pushed the central bank to act.

The bank, which blames the rouble’s slide on Russia’s shrinking current account surplus – down 85 percent year on year in January-July – has already tried to limit the rouble’s decline.

Last week, it halted the finance ministry’s FX purchases to try to reduce volatility, a step that effectively saw Russia abandon its budget rule. Analysts widely agreed that those measures alone were too minimal in scope to significantly support the currency.

“Today’s rate hike will only temporarily slow the bleeding,” said Liam Peach, senior emerging markets economist at Capital Economics in London.

“Russia will struggle to attract capital inflows because of sanctions,” he said. “And there’s little ammunition for FX intervention – the central bank has some unfrozen renminbi assets and gold reserves, but the bar for using these is likely to be high.”

Source: Reuters