08/17/1998 10:26:51 Frantic search for dollars on Moscow's streets
Обновлено: 17 авг. 2018 г.
By Peter Graff MOSCOW, Aug 17 (Reuters) - In scenes reminiscent of the bread lines of darker times, Russians queued in the streets on Monday in a frantic search for dollars. The government denied that its decision to lift the ceiling on the rouble exchange rate amounted to a devaluation, but on the streets of Moscow people were taking no chances. Virtually all of Moscow's hundreds of banks and exchange points immediately hiked the rate at which they sell dollars to 7.50 or 8.00 roubles, amounting to an instant de facto devaluation of 15-20 percent. Even at that rate, most money changers said they had no dollars left to sell. At the state run Sberbank, where the rate had shot up to 7.50, a cashier said by noon that she had "a few" dollars left, but would not say how many. Outside the Belorussky train station, cashiers at nearly all of dozens of exchange points said: "dollarov nyet" (no dollars). One of the exchange booths still operating had at least forty people lined up into the street. Spectators stood around staring. "Wait in the queue," said a security guard. "There are some dollars left. Of course, whether there will be any when you reach the front of the queue, who can say?" Officials estimate that there are far more American dollars, in Russian pockets than the total value of roubles in circulation. Many Russians keep their savings in dollars and switch back to roubles only when they need them to shop. After quadruple-digit inflation in the early nineties, many thought scenes like Monday's were a thing of the past. For several years, the rouble has depreciated gently and predictably. The relative stability has been considered one of the few conspicuous economic achievements of Boris Yeltsin's presidency. Until Monday the central bank was committed to keeping the rouble trading below 7.13 to the dollar until January 2001. But on Monday morning it announced only that, with the proper legislative support, it was prepared to keep the rouble trading below 9.50 to the dollar by the end of this year. News that the country might be on the verge of its first major devaluation in years sent ordinary Russians rushing to get as many "bucksy", as dollars are informally called, as they could. Some commercial banks had already turned away depositors requesting withdrawals from U.S. dollar accounts on Friday. By Monday, people could be seen trotting from bank to bank in search of any that had dollars left in the till. "I've been running around all morning," said a man who gave his name only as Oleg. "I borrowed money and have to pay it back in dollars. I think there's another bank there on the corner..." Shops, which track exchange rates for the prices of imported goods, already took measures to brace themselves. At a store selling imported stereo equipment in central Moscow, price tags had already been removed from the inventory. "We're waiting to see what happens," a salesman said.