12/12/2008, 00.00
RUSSIA

Russia devalues ruble, squeezed by lower oil prices

It is the fifth devaluation since of November 11, and experts predict that it will fall even further over the next year. The exchange rate is also feeling the effects of the war in Georgia, and of the global crisis that has led foreigners to remove 200 billion dollars in investments.

Moscow (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Russia is devaluing the ruble for the fifth time in a month, expanding the exchange rate band against the euro and the U.S. dollar, after months of defending the currency led to a drop in its reserves.

Moscow is in difficulty because of the sharp fall in oil prices: crude from the Urals, the main export, has fallen to about 40 dollars a barrel, losing 71% since the record in July. Moreover, the ruble has suffered the negative effects of the war in Georgia. The world financial crisis has also caused the withdrawal of foreign investments, at about 200 billion dollars. In order to defend the ruble's exchange rate, the country has sold about 27% of its reserves since August, reducing its foreign currency holdings to 161 billion dollars.

It now takes about 36.7 rubles to buy one euro, and 27.9 for one dollar.

Experts maintain that this was a "forced choice," and that Moscow will have to let its currency decline further. In November, it lost 4.8% of its value against a basket of currencies.

Experts from Goldman Sachs estimate that the drop in oil prices will force the ruble to lose another 25% in 2009, and Troika Dialog, Russia's oldest investment bank, is calling for a devaluation of 20% over the next few weeks, possibly over the period of the Christmas vacation, when there is less financial activity. The Italian bank Unicredit expects a drop of 15% by the end of next year.

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