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Dollar Slide Leads To Currency Conundrum

Published: May 12, 2006 (Issue # 1168)


MOSCOW The Central Bank has a money problem most people would die for: too many dollars.

Its sort of caught between a rock and a hard place, said Peter Westin, chief economist at MDM Bank, referring to the delicate balance Russia faces in investing what this last week became the worlds fourth-largest foreign currency reserves.

Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin said Wednesday that he expected large trading partners such as China and India to include rubles in their own foreign currency reserves, but the more pressing problem for the Finance Ministry is what to do with its own $226 billion in international reserves, most of which is in dollars and euros.

In the last month, the dollar has dropped 2.5 percent against the ruble, and since December the greenback has slid almost 7 percent, representing a drop of several billion dollars in the value of the Russian foreign currency reserves, in ruble terms.

The dollar problem heated up when Swedens central bank announced last month that it would decrease its dollar holdings from 37 percent to 20 percent. The same day as the Swedish announcement, Kudrin told a New York meeting of the International Monetary Fund that the dollar was losing its position as the worlds stable reserve currency, and the greenback immediately weakened in response.

In recent months, the Central Bank has been making available less information about how much of the foreign reserves are in dollars and euros.

Markets become more sensitive when there is a lack of information, said Yevgeny Gavrilenkov, chief economist at Troika Dialog. Eventually everything that they attempt to hide will be known. If there is an unexpected change, the market could be surprised.

In the past, the Central Bank has said it would decrease the dollar ratio of foreign currency reserves to $60 for every 40 euros (from $65 for every 35 euros previously), but there have not been any more announcements along these lines in more than a year, Gavrilenkov said.

Kudrins attack on the dollar in New York was probably politically motivated, Gavrilenkov said, adding that it was a mistake because it had the effect of reducing the value of Russias dollar reserves.

Some experts say the foreign reserve, which has doubled to $226 billion since November 2004, is simply too large: Some of the money could be invested more profitably, or it could be spent on government programs such as education. Russia and other emerging economies are not getting the best deal on investments in their huge currency reserves, and they may be putting too much in the bank, Lawrence Summers, former U.S. Treasury Secretary, said in a March speech at the Reserve Bank of India.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Saturday, Aug. 23


Uppsala Park plays host to Fairy Noon today, a performance of five separate fairy tales ranging from folk classics to more haunting selections. There will be three different renditions of the tales throughout the day and tickets start at 500 rubles ($13.80) for adults and 300 rubles ($8.30) for children.


Classic Finnish cartoon characters the Moomins expect to receive a warm welcome from Russian fans during todays Moomin Festival at the Pearl Plaza Shopping Center at 51 Petergofskoye Shosse. Become a kid again or introduce a new generation to the beloved creation of Finnish writer Tove Jansson.



Sunday, Aug. 24


The tortured genius of Dutch master Vincent van Gogh gets his day in the centers Konnushnaya Ploschad during Make Art Like Van Gogh, a daylong celebration of the artist that will allow amateur artists to try and replicate the work that made the famed painter world-renowned.


Experience a variety of dances highlighting the diversity of the world around as at the final day of the Ethno-Dance International Dance Festival that has been at the St. Petersburg Humanitarian University of Trade Unions this past week. Tonights performance will feature Egyptian dancers accompanied by local orchestras.



Monday, Aug. 25


Today kicks off the Elena Obraztsovoy International Competition for Young Vocalists in the large hall of the Shostakovich Philharmonic. Talented youngsters will showcase their range over the next six days before a winner is chosen on Aug. 30.



Tuesday, Aug. 26


Love movies but hate all those words? Then check out Rodina Cinema Centers Factor of Consensus film forum this evening. Silent movie classics from the beginning of the 20th century will be screened and accompanied by a pianist, who will provide the soundtrack for the ongoing action. The screenings begin at 7 p.m. Check Rodinas website for more details.



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