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".