Sunday, August 28, 2011

Twenty Years of a Convertible Ruble.

For approximately 500 years the Russia has used the ruble as its currency. Since the Soviet Union's fall in 1991, the country has undergone some drastic changes, including the ruble. After the fall the Russians focused on the challenge of converting their centrally planned economy to that of a market based economy with an emphasis with global integration. In 1991, the USA and the IMF recommended the economy undergo a radical “shock therapy” approach to market oriented reform. Rather than kick starting the Russian economy it led to collapse. Millions fell into poverty and corruption and crime grew rampant.

Hyperinflation resulted from the removal of the Soviet price controls. There were monumental difficulties in actually implementing the fiscal reforms. The govenment depended heavily on short-term borrowing to finance its budget deficits from 1991 until the 1998 financial crisis. These financial problems were exacerbated by low prices for Russia’s major exports a lack of investor confidence. The led to a falling ruble, a weakened banking system, and the constant threat of runaway inflation.

Despite these ongoing economic difficulties Russia and its ruble continued to struggle forward, claiming small victories along the way. In 2000, Russia successfully upheld its external debt obligations in addition to making a large advance payment of principal to loans from the IMF and building up its own Central Bank reserves. In 2002 the Russian government successfully assumed its payment of roughly $14 billion in official debt payments coming due. It was able to accomplish these feats through a sound government budget, improving trade, and substantial current account surpluses.

The current account surpluses caused the ruble to appreciate rapidly in value. However given its role in Russia’s exports, the country and the economy depend heavily on the price of energy. The 2001 U.S. recession and the global slowdown after the high tech burst caused energy prices to fall. In 2002 the G8 nations cancelled $20 Billion of the old Soviet Union’s debt. They hoped this would induce Russia to use these savings to safeguard Russia's nuclear and other dangerous materials from terrorists.

In 2004 the Stabilization fund of the Russian Federation was established and integrated into the federal budget as a safety net against falling oil prices. This was aimed at keeping the ruble stable through turbulent times in the energy sector.
The battle for economic stability lasted for more than half a decade. However, in 2007, Russia achieved one of its goals when the IMF certified the Russian economy had achieved macroeconomic stability.

In 2009 Russia’s GDP grew at its fastest since the fall of the Soviet Union. This meant that Russia and its ruble had officially overcome the consequences of the 1990 recession and economic collapse. Throughout all of this the ruble has been under the strains of inflation, although unemployment was cut nearly in half from 2000 to 2007.

In 2011 the upheaval in the Middle East has provided Russia with higher prices and increased demand for its energy exports as it helps to fill the gap left from reduced production in the Middle East. This will hopefully bring welcomed news for the Russian economy and its ruble.

The ruble has improved much more than Russian politicians and laws so that investors having greater faith in the currency than the integrity of its government.

-Stephanie Giberson

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