By Alexander Marrow
MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Russian rouble slid past 68 versus the dollar on Friday to fresh 4-month lows as investors sought safe assets amid the aggressive spread of the coronavirus and as oil prices tumbled after an OPEC pact with Russia fell apart.
Moscow refused to support deeper oil cuts to cope with the outbreak of coronavirus and OPEC responded by removing all limits on its own production, sending oil prices into a tailspin and to their lowest since July 2017.
Russian stocks plunged to 18-month lows with volatility plaguing emerging markets as the virus, which has infected more than 100,000 people globally and caused 3,400 deaths, continued to spread rapidly beyond China.
By 1720 GMT, the rouble was 1.1% weaker against the dollar at 68.37 <RUBUTSTN=MCX>, touching its lowest mark since January 2019 on the day. Against the euro, the rouble had lost 2% to trade at 77.35 <EURRUBTN=MCX>, also a 14-month low.
Brent crude oil <LCOc1>, a global benchmark for Russia’s main export, was down 8.2% at $45.9 a barrel, and has now lost around a third of its value this year.
Analysts at BCS Global Markets said this created fiscal problems for the Russian government.
“For Russia’s budget to match with the current oil price, the exchange rate must be significantly higher than the current mark,” they said in a note.
Russia’s finance minister said on Thursday Moscow would be able to cope with a drop in oil prices.
Risk sentiment swung again on Thursday, said VTB Capital analysts, as markets returned their focus to the spreading fallout of the coronavirus, with numerous announcements of new travel restrictions and event cancellations.
Russia on Thursday evening canceled its flagship annual St Petersburg International Economic Forum, which was scheduled for June, as a precaution.
Russian stock indexes were at 18-month lows, hampered by increased risk aversion.
The dollar-denominated RTS index <.IRTS> was down 5.0% at 1,258.0 points. The rouble-based MOEX Russian index <.IMOEX> was 3.5% lower at 2719.5 points.
For Russian equities guide see <RU/EQUITY>
For Russian treasury bonds see <0#RUTSY=MM>
(Reporting by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Mark Heinrich)