Russia raises interest rates to 15% higher than expected

Pedestrians walk in front of the Central Bank headquarters in Moscow, Russia, August 15, 2023. REUTERS/Shamil Zomatov/File Photo Obtaining licensing rights

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MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s central bank raised interest rates 200 basis points higher than expected to 15 percent on Friday, raising borrowing costs for the fourth straight meeting in response to a weak ruble, stubborn inflation and budget spending.

The central bank has raised interest rates by 750 basis points since July, including an unscheduled emergency increase in August as the ruble fell below 100 basis points against the dollar and the Kremlin called for tighter monetary policy.

“Current inflationary pressures have increased significantly to a level higher than the Bank of Russia’s expectations,” the bank said in a statement, noting that domestic demand exceeds the provision of goods and services and high lending growth.

Gov. Elvira Nabiullina also said the budget was an important factor in Friday’s decision, as Russia increases government spending, pumps money into the defense sector to increase military production and prosecutes what it calls its “own military operation” in Ukraine.

“The updated parameters for medium-term fiscal policy assume a slower-than-expected decline in fiscal stimulus in the coming years,” the bank said.

It also admitted for the first time that it may not succeed in returning inflation to its target of 4% next year, and expected inflation at the end of 2024 to range between 4 and 4.5%.

The majority of analysts polled by Reuters expected an increase to 14%. The ruble jumped to its highest level in more than six weeks against the dollar after the decision.

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The central bank’s tightening cycle began this summer when inflationary pressures from a tight labor market, strong consumer demand and a budget deficit were exacerbated by a falling ruble.

Russia had gradually retreated from the emergency increase to 20% that it had undertaken in February 2022 after Moscow sent its forces into Ukraine, which led to the imposition of widespread Western sanctions. It cut interest rates to 7.5% earlier this year.

The central bank said that inflation will range between 7.0 and 7.5 percent in 2023. The central bank had previously expected inflation at the end of the year to range between 6.0 and 7.0 percent. The annual inflation rate was 6.38% as of October 16.

The bank maintained its hawkish stance, indicating that tight monetary conditions would be maintained for an extended period, but withdrew guidance that it would consider the need for further hikes. Nabiullina described the signal as neutral.

But the bank set its key interest rate range for 2023 at 15-15.2%, suggesting interest rates could rise further and Nabiullina said that might be needed. In 2024, the rate is expected to reach 12.5-14.5%.

“In recent meetings, we raised the key interest rate with concrete steps and we will be ready to do so again if we do not see signs of a sustainable slowdown in inflation and a cooling of inflation expectations,” Nabiullina said.

The next meeting to set the interest rate is scheduled for December 15.

“Today’s rate hikes appear to be a precursor to a tightening cycle in response to the fiscal announcements earlier this month,” said Liam Beach, chief emerging markets economist at Capital Economics.

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(Reporting by Elena Fabrichnaya in Moscow and Alexander Marrow in London – Preparing by Mohammed for the Arabic Bulletin) Editing by Gareth Jones, Mark Trevelyan and John Stonestreet

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Alexander, Russia’s chief corporate correspondent, covers the Russian economy and the country’s markets, financial, retail and technology sectors, with a particular focus on the exodus of Western companies from Russia and local players eyeing opportunities as the dust settles. Before joining Reuters, Alexander worked on Sky Sports News’ coverage of the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil and the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

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