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Experts say more ‘dark days’ are ahead for the Russian ruble as the invasion of Ukraine continues

March 15, 2022, 10:26 PM UTC

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine set off a cascade of economic consequences worldwide, but for average Russians, the ruble’s depreciation may have hurt the most.

Through the first days of the conflict in Ukraine, the Russian ruble lost roughly half of its value, going from 84 rubles per dollar prior to the invasion to as high as 154 rubles per dollar by March 7. 

Although the ruble has since regained some of its value, rising to 96.5 rubles per dollar on Tuesday, experts say the currency will face more pressure as the West’s economic sanctions increasingly bite.

“I believe what we are seeing now with the reappreciation of the ruble is just a correction,” Ipek Ozkardeskaya, a senior analyst at Swiss online bank Swissquote, told Fortune. “I don’t see the medium to long-term valuation being positive if the situation in Ukraine keeps escalating. Russia has already lost a lot in this conflict. They will be increasingly feeling the pinch of these sanctions.” 

The West’s retaliation against Russia hits the ruble hard

After the war in Ukraine began, Western nations immediately cut economic ties with Russia in a move that has only just begun to devastate the country’s economy. 

The U.S. and its allies banned Russian oil imports, revoked the country’s favored trade status, and cut off signature Russian exports like Vodka and caviar, while western businesses including Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, and Starbucks pulled out of the country altogether.

Russian equities were booted from indices in the U.S. and Europe, and authorities started seizing Russian oligarchs’ mansions, private jets, and superyachts. The Russian stock market also closed on February 25 as losses piled up on the day of the invasion, and it won’t reopen until next week. 

The immense pressure on the Russian economy led credit rating agencies including Fitch, Moody’s, and S&P Global to downgrade Russia’s debt to junk status, with some warning that default may be “imminent.” 

The central bank of Russia (CBR) quickly responded to the West’s economic retaliation by trying to stabilize its currency and reduce the impact of sanctions. The CBR hiked its policy rate, similar to the U.S. federal funds rate, from 9.5% to 20% and supplied large quantities of liquidity to help banks manage withdrawals as Russian citizens deluged ATMs to pull out rubles and exchange them for foreign currency. In response to the bank run, Russia restricted its citizens’ access to foreign currency exchanges and limited transfers abroad.

While the efforts have led to a modest recovery in the ruble against the dollar, experts say the ruble is unlikely to return to its pre-war level. 

Dark days ahead for the Russian ruble

From 2017 through 2021, Russia’s currency traded between 57 and 80 rubles per dollar, meaning it’s since lost well over 20% of its value, and experts say more pain is on the horizon.

“Unless there is a ceasefire, and something changes materially from this point, it’s very difficult to see the Russian ruble gaining in value against other foreign exchange currencies as the country is now being singled out of the global financial system,” Swissquote’s Ozkardeskaya said.

Backing up Ozkardeskaya’s claims, JP Morgan’s foreign currency exchange experts now believe Russia’s currency will average 105 rubles per dollar through 2022.

Ozkardeskaya also noted that recent moves by Russian central banks to limit citizens from exchanging money won’t have much of an impact on the ruble’s value. The economy will also struggle to rebound because demand for Russian oil and commodities has weakened dramatically, the analyst said, while Western efforts to achieve more energy independence will likely make it difficult for Russia to return to its pre-war status as a major energy supplier.

JP Morgan says Russia’s economy will, in fact, shrink next year. The bank predicts the country’s GDP will decline 7% in 2022 and that inflation will exceed 14%, adding to Russia’s economic struggles.

“I don’t see how the Russian ruble could appreciate sustainably from these levels because the prospects for economic growth are very limited. We will probably see an economic recession in Russia,” Ozkardeskaya added.

A Russian gold rush

The ruble’s plunge has hit average Russians hard. Fortune recently detailed the experiences of 10 Russians dealing with the ruble’s collapse. “It’s like money doesn’t mean anything anymore. It all disappeared at once,” investment consultant Arthur, 31, said of the new Russian reality. “Everything is so volatile right now. I’m waiting and lying low at the moment.”

In an effort to protect their earnings, many Russians are investing in gold, hoping to capitalize on its history as a safe-haven asset in times of economic uncertainty and take advantage of the  Russian government scrapping a 20% value-added tax on purchases of precious metals.

Russia’s central bank was forced to halt its own purchases of gold this week as demand for the asset from Russians continues to soar.

Last week, Russia’s Sberbank said that demand for metals like gold and palladium has quadrupled since the war began. The bank plans to increase the number of its offices selling precious metals to “help people protect their savings.”

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