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.
“It’s 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 world’s 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 Sweden’s 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 world’s 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.
Kudrin’s 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 Russia’s 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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