Multiple media sources are reporting on Tuesday that authorities in Russia are preparing to impose capital controls if the capital flight out of the country continues to worsen. A Bloomberg report attributes the information to two officials with direct knowledge of the subject.
The sources, who wished to remain anonymous, said such measures would be preventative and would be triggered only if net outflows rise significantly. No specific timeline or an exact level that may force the imposition of capital controls was mentioned, with the sources saying all options will remain on the table.
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Analysts note that even the mention of capital controls is a strong sign that U.S. and European sanctions are significantly impacting Russia as this step is something its monetary authority would certainly prefer to avoid. Moreover, the ruble weakened even further on Tuesday, meaning authorities are likely to step in to support the currency. The Russian Economy Ministry increased its estimate for 2014 net outflows to $100 billion, a 64% move up from 2013.
Prior denials by Russian authorities
In a speech on Sept. 25, central bank Chairman Elvira Nabiullina, a former aide to President Vladimir Putin, said that “introducing capital controls doesn’t make sense.”
However, if trade restrictions are prolonged and the country’s tax burden rises, capital outflows will intensify, Nabiullina noted. That will likely force Russia’s financial regulators to focus more toward ensuring financial stability instead of combating inflation, and to use all measures “including non-standard” means, she said.
The central bank’s press service declined to comment on today’s news. The Finance Ministry isn’t discussing such measures, replied Svetlana Nikitina, a spokeswoman, in a text.
Russia trying to protect the ruble
Financial analysts point out that Russia has sold already sold more than $40 billion of foreign currency this year to support the ruble and stem a mass exodus from domestic assets that picked up after Putin annexed Crimea in March. The last intervention to backstop the ruble was in May.
Last month, the central bank increased the ruble’s trading band and announced it would begin market interventions when the currency crosses 44.40. The ruble dropped another 0.5% to 44.4457 against the central bank’s target basket of dollars and euros, before recovering to 44.3428 at 5:21 p.m. Tuesday in Moscow. Ten-year government bonds also pulled back, forcing the yield up by five basis points to 9.41%.