Ruble follows oil down, making Russian rating downgrade to junk likely

By bne IntelliNews January 6, 2015

Russia's ruble slid more than 4.5% on January 6 against the dollar, breaching RUB65 after opening at RUB60, before pulling back to RUB63. The ruble also fell against the euro to RUB76.

Against the background of thin trading during the holiday season, news that world oil prices had slumped to their lowest level since the crisis year of 2009 triggered the drop in the currency of the world's largest energy exporter. The price of a barrel of Brent oil dropped below $52 for the first time since May 1 2009.

The ongoing collapse in the ruble and the price of oil are now prompting credit rating agencies to review Russia's current investment grade rating, with a downgrade to junk status widely believed to be inevitable in the near future.

Standard & Poors, which currently rates Russia one rung over junk status, put Russia on negative watch in December, implying that it is likely to downgrade Russia to junk on completing a review in mid-January. Fitch Ratings, which currently rates Russia at two steps over junk, seems likely to cut the rating by one step on January 9, when it announced the results of its review.

Analysts believe a cut to junk rating will accelerate capital flight and the ruble's slide. Reflecting the deteriorating credit status, five-year credit default swaps on Russian debt jumped 80 bps to 618 on January 6, according to Bloomberg, the highest since the crisis-hit month of March 2009, making a total 143 bps hike over the past three days.

Current estimates for the Russia economy in 2015 forsee a sharp recession, but not as yet a collapse. The consensus forecast is for a 1.8% contraction in Russian GDP, according to Bloomberg.

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