Russia’s stock market is back with a bang after a month offline—but with massive limits on who can sell

March 24, 2022, 9:43 AM UTC

Traders in Moscow breathed a huge sigh of relief as Russia’s main stock exchange went live again on Thursday after nearly a month in shutdown mode. Russian stocks jumped by more than 10% in the opening hour, but in severely limited trading.

The surprisingly strong performance of the MOEX—or Moscow Stock Exchange—comes with major caveats. Trading hours have been limited to just four hours, and only 33 of the 50 ruble-denominated stocks are open for trading. Furthermore, short-sellers are banned for now, and non-Russian investors are forbidden from selling until April 1.

Still, the Russian officials’ decision to shut down the MOEX following incredibly volatile trading on Feb. 25—day two of the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine—and to reopen it only gradually appears to have been a shrewd move. At 5:30 a.m. ET, the MOEX was up 5.8% with Russian blue chips Sberbank and Gazprom racking up impressive gains of 5.2% and 15%, respectively.

Ruble rumbles

In the FX world, the ruble had its biggest gain in the week yesterday, climbing nearly 7% against the dollar. One impetus for that came from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s surprise statement on Wednesday to demand that “hostile states”—presumably the European Union—pay for Russian energy imports in rubles.

That confusing statement knocked global equities and sent natural gas and oil prices soaring in afternoon trading on Wednesday as confusion gripped the markets about what Putin could possibly mean.

“Gas supply agreements are generally considered sacrosanct. And in an extreme scenario, insisting on ruble payments may give buyers cause to reopen other aspects of their contracts—such as the duration—and simply speed up their exit from Russian gas altogether,” says Vinicius Romano, senior analyst at Rystad Energy.

“At face value this appears to be an attempt to prop up the ruble by compelling gas buyers to buy the previously free-falling currency in order to pay.”

“We did fear how that day would go”

The last time global investors saw a shutdown of the duration the MOEX experienced was in the summer of 2015 when Greek officials closed the Athens Stock Exchange for five weeks. The Greek reopening, in August 2015, was a tumultuous one. But eventually the market rebounded, and by 2019 the ASE was Europe’s top performing stock market.

Speaking about that historic moment six years ago, Sokratis Lazaridis, CEO of the Athens Stock Exchange group, told Fortune this week, “We did fear how the day would go.

“Falling down a bottomless pit was among the possibilities,” he added. “It wasn’t our baseline scenario, but it was a scenario.”

U.S. futures

The risk-on mood can be found outside Moscow on Thursday as well. That’s despite yet another rise in crude prices. Brent hovers around $119 per barrel, up more than 50% so far this year, crippling consumers’ spending power.

Elsewhere, the benchmark Stoxx Europe 600 was up 0.2%. Across the Atlantic, S&P 500 futures have been gaining throughout the morning, up 0.6% ahead of a data dump on durable goods.

Check out this Fortune must-read: “Russia’s stock market prepares to finally reopen. Here’s how bad the sell-off was the last time traders faced such a historic shutdown

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