• ACI Russia

08/14/1998 16:11:54 FOCUS-Confusion in street rouble exchange trade

Обновлено: 15 авг. 2018 г.

By Peter Graff

MOSCOW, Aug 14 (Reuters) - Moscow's bustling street trade in

dollars was thrown into confusion on Friday as rumours of a

rouble devaluation made hard currency scarce.

Some of the hundreds of foreign exchange points in central

Moscow closed down, at least temporarily. Others remained open

but hiked the price at which they would part with dollars.

Some banks refused to let depositors withdraw dollars from

savings accounts, though it was not clear whether this was due

to rumoured trouble in the banking system or just a shortage of

bills in the cash register.

Muscovites expressed fears of a repeat of the events of

1991-92, when withdrawals from state banks were restricted as

Soviet communism collapsed and many Russians' savings were

suddenly made worthless by inflation.

"I am a pensioner. I get 400 roubles ($65) a month. How can

I live on that? But I have a few savings and I live off some of

the interest. If my savings disappear, what will I have?" said

72-year-old Elvira Yarshevich.

A brief tour of 15 bureaux de change found that at about

half, including at the state savings bank Sberbank, cashiers

said they had no dollars. In places, offices were simply shut.

At others rates were hiked as high as eight roubles per

dollar, compared to official rates of about 6.30. A manager at

one such exchange point said it meant that his bank was simply

not prepared to sell hard currency at all. "There is a shortage

of hard currency cash in the city," he said.

Most exchange points that were still selling dollars in

central Moscow raised their rates on dollar sales from one or

two percent above their buying rate to up to 10 percent. Some

exchange points hiked rates several times during the day.

By later in the day many exchange points that had closed

earler were open again with sharply higher rates. In places,

queues stretched out into the streets.

The situation was similar to the days of four-digit

inflation in the early 1990s, when exchange booths often changed

rates from hour to hour and occasionally ran out of roubles or

dollars as sentiment on the street shifted rapidly.

All Russian towns have many exchange points where Russians

routinely turn rouble wages into dollars for saving and convert

them back again when they need cash to spend.

Officials estimate that 150 million Russians hold over $30

billion in U.S. banknotes, the highest accumulation outside the

United States and rather more than the value of roubles in

circulation, so street exchange rates are closely watched.

The rouble has weakened gently, free of dramatic movements,

for several years, one of the few clear economic achievements of

President Boris Yeltsin's rule. But it came under strong

pressure in trading between banks Thursday and Friday amid a

general government financial crisis and talk of devaluation.

Banks will halt trading with each other for the weekend but

many of the small exchange points are open seven days a week.

A Reuters reporter was told she could not withdraw cash from

her dollar savings account at a branch of a major commercial

bank, and told not to come back until Wednesday.

"You know what the situation is now," the teller said.

A spokesman for the bank involved said there may have been

"temporary, technical" problems affecting certain branches,

which would be dealt with.

In the second city St Petersburg, exchange offices in the

town centre were open but a Reuters employee there said his bank

refused to let him withdraw dollars from his account.

The central bank said it was offering special credits to

some banks and some branches took steps to boost confidence.

At a branch of the commercial DialogBank, stacks of leaflets

were piled near cash machines, informing customers that the

bank's credit rating was the same as the government's and "the

highest possible in Russia given the economic situation".

Foto: REUTERS. Customers read a board carrying the latest rates as they wait in a queue to an exchange office August 13. Russia's stock market plunged in early dealings on Thursday as the central bank rejected a call by financier George Soros to devalue the rouble and insisted its present policies would help avert a banking crisis.

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