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Archive for March, 2008

Dollar Decline: Not a Sure Thing

Mar. 31st 2008

Since 2002, the Dollar has lost 70% of its value, relative to the Euro.  Meanwhile, the same factors that signaled bearishness in 2002 persist in 2008, or even worsened in some aspects.  The twin deficits are still growing, though the current account deficit may be leveling off.  The US economy is headed towards recession.  Inflation is set to rise due to soaring commodity prices and a loosening of monetary policy.  As a result, many investors are betting that the Dollar’s slide will continue well into the near future.

However, prudent investors would be wise to "handle with care." While not entirely applicable to forex markets, efficient markets theory dictates that inherent in a security’s current valuation is all relevant, publicly available information. Thus, all of the bad news listed above has already been priced into the Dollar, to some degree at least. The rule of diversification is in full effect when betting on forex. Thus, rather then putting all of one’s chips directly behind one currency, an investors could buy foreign securities (stocks and bonds) instead, which also capture any currency appreciation (and depreciation).  Investors can also purchase Treasury Inflation Protected Securities (TIPS), whose yield is linked to inflation and, thus, acts as a hedge against a declining Dollar. The Wall Street Journal reports:

While some market watchers believe the six-year dollar bear market isn’t over yet, investors should recognize that trends in the currency markets are typically marked by volatile ups and downs along the way.

Read More: Don’t Bet the Farm on Dollar’s Skid

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Investing & Trading, US Dollar | No Comments »

Loonie in Trouble

Mar. 28th 2008

In a recent article published in the Toronto Star, a Canadian columnist outlined five reasons why the Canadian economy is in trouble.  Only a couple factors are unique to Canada, and several can be subsumed under the credit crunch, but the pessimists are sounding broad alarm bells. First on the list is the looming drop in prices for commodities, the cornerstone of Canada’s economy. Oil recently sank below $100/barrel, and gold dropped 5% in one day! In addition, China is threatening to curb demand in order to rein in inflation. 

The second and third causes for concern are a decline in bank credit and loss of confidence, respectively. Neither of these factors are endemic to Canada, as banks around the world have suddenly developed an aversion to risk and have tightened lending accordingly. Next, corporate expansion (namely of American companies) is stalling; Home Depot and Proctor & Gamble have already announced a temporary hold on opening new stores in Canada.  The final factor(s) are American consumers, which collectively spend $9 Trillion per year.  The recent tightening of wallets could spell massive trouble for Canada, since some of its provincial economies are primarily driven by cross-border sales to Americans.

In short, the Canadian economy could actually contract in 2008.  But perhaps the resulting decline in Canada’s currency, the loonie, would make Canadian exports comparatively more attractive and return the economy to firm footing in 2009.

Read More: 5 reasons to start worrying

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Canadian Dollar, Economic Indicators | No Comments »

Euro Could Replace Dollar

Mar. 27th 2008

Two American economists recently conducted a computer simulation to determine how the role of the US Dollar as the world’s reserve currency will evolve over the next decade.  Their hypothesis- that the Dollar’s preeminence would be maintained- was contradicted by the simulation leading them to conclude that the Euro will overtake the Dollar within the next 10-15 years. This may be hard for many analysts to stomach, since the Dollar’s share in global currency reserves is 66%, compared to the Euro’s 25%. In addition, the Dollar has held its title for nearly 150 years, and it’s difficult to fathom its being replaced.

However, two factors have emerged within the last 10 years, lending support to the argument.  First, the US twin deficits have exploded; the current account deficit approximates $800 Billion and the national debt is estimated at $9.4 Trillion. Second, prior to the inception of the Euro, there didn’t exist a credible alternative to the Dollar. The Deutsch Mark and Japanese Yen initially seemed like potential candidates, but the German currency was folded into the Euro, and the Japanese economy has soured and taken over by deflation. Then there are peripheral factors, like US monetary policy, which is facilitating inflation and eroding the Dollar.  There are also signs that a neo-imperialist foreign policy has overstretched the US, and foreign Central Banks are becoming nervous.  The Financial Times reports:

Many developing countries will find it harder to maintain their dollar pegs. They may be reluctant to drop them now but there will come a point when the rise in inflationary pressures becomes unbearable.

Read More: This crisis could bring the euro centre-stage

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Euro, Politics & Policy, US Dollar | No Comments »

Return of the Carry Trade?

Mar. 26th 2008

After the Fed cut its benchmark lending rate by 75 basis points last week, the Dollar immediately rallied 2.5% against the Japanese Yen, marking its highest daily rise in nine years.  Some analysts are at a loss to explain this phenomenon, since a narrower interest rate differential should have produced the opposite effect.  Perhaps, the answer can be found in the carry trade, whereby investors sell Yen in favor of higher-yielding currencies.  Support for the carry trade typically moves inversely with volatility.  For example, when risk aversion rises due to economic uncertainty, investors typically unwind their carry trade positions.  With the Fed rate cut last week, however, risk aversion actually fell, and the S&P 500 Index surged.  By no coincidence, the Yen fell. Reuters reports:

As U.S. stocks rallied, with investors willing to take on more risk, the dollar recouped some of Monday’s sharp losses versus the low-yielding yen.

Read More: Dollar posts biggest gain vs yen in nine years

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Investing & Trading, Japanese Yen | No Comments »

Japan (Also) Mulls Intervention

Mar. 25th 2008

Yesterday, the Forex Blog reported that the risk of intervention in forex markets is growing, in order to prop up an ailing Dollar.  The focus of the post was on the Euro, which is hovering below the record high of $1.60 reached last week. With this post, we wish to extend coverage of the potential intervention to include Japan.  In some respects, Japan is actually a more likely candidate for intervention, since it has a history of actively depressing its currency.  Most recently, in 2004, it accumulated $350 Billion in Dollar-denominated assets in a large scale effort to keep the Yen from rising out of control. 

Japan’s consumers are notoriously tightfisted, and consequently, its economy is dependent on the export sector to drive growth. Unfortunately, the more expensive Yen is making this sector less competitive. In addition, Japan’s new Prime Minister has yet to lay out an economic plan, and the stock market is foundering. A number of creative solutions are being mulled, including one to buy American mortgage-backed securities, in order to head off the international opposition to intervention. The New York Times reports:

That might win Washington’s approval by helping to ease the credit squeeze in the United States, but given such securities’ role in precipitating the crisis of the last several months, it might well set off cries of dismay here.

Read More: As Dollar Keeps Falling, Talk of a Move by Japan

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Central Banks, Japanese Yen | No Comments »

The Rising Threat of Intervention

Mar. 24th 2008

Last week, the Euro retreated from the record high of $1.60 that it achieved earlier in the week. Policymakers are still concerned, however, and are perhaps using this lull to come up with a plan of action should the Dollar resume its slide. In fact, the consensus among analysts is that coordinated intervention is likely if the Euro crosses a certain threshold- perhaps $1.65. In order to be successful, the intervention would need to involve the Federal Reserve Bank and the European Central Bank principally, as well as the peripheral participation of the Central Banks of Switzerland, Japan and England.  The situation is complicated by the monetary policy of the ECB, the tightness of which is causing the interest rate differential with the US to widen dramatically. Already, volatility levels in forex markets are slowly climbing, suggesting that investors are bracing themselves for a big move.  The Guardian UK reports:

ECB Executive Board member Lorenzo Bini Smaghi said in a speech on Tuesday markets sometimes overshot, with possible negative implications for the world economy. Since his speech, the dollar has strengthened by almost 2 cents against the euro.

Read More: Euro intervention edging nearer, but still distant

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Brazil to Alter Forex Rules

Mar. 21st 2008

In a thinly disguised effort to stem the appreciation of its currency, Brazil has announced sweeping changes to its rules governing forex.  Rather than revert to outright intervention in the forex markets, however, Brazil will permit businesses to hold more foreign currency as part of their reserves.  In this way, the Central Bank won’t have to purchase Dollar-denominated assets directly.  Instead, it is hoping that the natural attraction of US and other Western capital markets will be enough to drive private Brazilian companies to increase their holdings abroad.  It is intended that this will act against the upward pressure on the Real, which rose 20% against the Dollar in 2007, and 5% already in 2008, and now threatens to drag down the economy.  Dow Jones reports:

The strong real has made some Brazilian manufactured exports such as textiles and footwear less competitive. Meanwhile, it also has introduced a boom in imports resulting in a narrowing of the country’s trade surplus.

Read More: Brazil Council To Meet Wed To Change Forex Rules

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Central Banks, Emerging Currencies | No Comments »

USD: 0 for 3

Mar. 20th 2008

In a recent commentary piece, the Market Oracle used the analogy of baseball to outline why this will be an "off year" for the Dollar, listing three reasons to support its claim. Consumer spending was listed first because it represents the largest component of US GDP.  Since much consumption is financed through borrowing and since the credit crunch has forced banks to rein in lending, the Oracle reasoned that consumer spending will be especially hard hit. Next, there is the worsening employment picture. As its moniker implies, the "jobless recovery" that has characterized the US economy over the last few years did not add many jobs, and due to the economic downturn, jobs are now being shed.  Finally, the Market Oracle has identified the Federal Reserve as a primary contributor to the decline of the Dollar. While the Fed is trying to shore up the economy, it is simultaneously enabling inflation.  Thus, even if the battle is won and recession is averted, the Fed may still find that it has lost the war- on prices.

Read More: Three Strikes Against the U.S. Dollar

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Investing & Trading, US Dollar | No Comments »

Fed Rate Cut has Small Effect

Mar. 19th 2008

On Tuesday, the Federal Reserve Bank lowered its benchmark federal funds rate by 75 basis points, its sharpest cut in decades. The markets initially reacted positively to the move, which was intended to shore up sagging confidence in the economy and financial markets.

But the next day, most of the gains had been lost, as investors feared both that the recession has already begun and that the Fed is giving up on fighting inflation to battle the lost cause of the economy. In fact, as many analysts feel a recession is a foregone conclusion, the focus may soon turn to inflation, especially given exploding commodity prices and the sagging dollar. The New York Times reports:

"I’m disappointed," said an economist at Citigroup. "It’s not as if we’re trying to gauge policy priorities on a sunny day. I’d like to know how you’re going to get inflation in an environment with suffocating financial restraint and pervasive slowing in demand."

Read More: Fed Trims Rates Sharply, Sending the Markets Up

 

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in US Dollar | No Comments »

BOC to Cut Rates Further

Mar. 18th 2008

Ironically, the faltering US economy has induced the Dollar to appreciate against many of the world’s currencies. The reasoning is that countries whose economies are tied closely to the US will falter even more than the US during a recession. One of those countries is apparently Canada. As a result, the Bank of Canada has already moved to cut rates by 50 basis points in order to mitigate against a full-blown Canadian recession. All of the economic indicators are already pointing downwards and GDP growth is projected to be a paltry 1.8% in 2008.  In addition, exports to Canada’s largest trade partner, the US, have sagged noticeably, such that its current account recently slipped into deficit for the first time in nearly a decade. The Bank of Canada is busy plotting strategy, with additional rate cuts in the offing.  It looks like the monumental run of the Loonie has finally come to an end.  Bloomberg News reports:

Canada’s dollar will probably remain within the range it has held since the start of the year because investors are still avoiding risk amid the unsettled U.S. economic outlook. It has traded within about 4 percent of parity with its U.S. counterpart, after surging last year as high as 17 percent.

Read More: Canadian Dollar Falls on Speculation More Rate Cuts Are Coming

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Canadian Dollar, Central Banks | No Comments »

Bank Collapses, Dollar Plummets

Mar. 17th 2008

Over the weekend, Bear Stearns, a prestigious American investment bank, hurriedly scrambled to find a buyer in order to avoid having to file for bankruptcy. While a buyer (JP Morgan) was ultimately secured, investors remained jittery, as the collapse of this magnitude is virtually unprecedented.  When forex markets re-opened on Monday, the Dollar crashed against all of the world’s major currencies, namely the Euro and the Yen. Furthermore, analysts are now beginning to view forex intervention as increasingly likely. It’s still unclear whether the Bank of Japan or the European Central Bank (with or without support from the Fed) would spearhead any such intervention.  At the breakneck speed at which events are unfolding, however, no one will be surprised if a plan is quickly cobbled together. The Wall Street Journal reports:

"Were such intervention to be seen, (the euro) could briefly trade down to $1.55, yet unless the (ECB) is prepared to back up such intervention with a rate cut, intervention will be futile," said [one analyst].

Read More: Dollar’s Slide Keeps Pace

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Central Banks, Euro, Japanese Yen, US Dollar | No Comments »

The Yen Marches On

Mar. 14th 2008

In recent periods of Dollar Weakness, all of the major currencies have been quick to capitalize- all but the Japanese Yen.  After a while, it became clear that the Yen was being held down by carry traders, who sold Yen in favor of higher-yielding, more risky currencies.  It was long believed that the only thing that would shake the Yen loose from its moorings was not a Japanese interest rate hike or economic growth, but volatility in capital and forex markets.  Sure enough, the explosion of the credit crisis induced a rapid appreciation in the Yen.  Yesterday, it crashed through the psychological milestone of 100 for the first time since 1995.

But can the Yen sustain this momentum? On paper, if the Dollar continues to fall, it seems the answer is ‘Yes.’ However, Japan’s economy is extremely dependent on exports. In fact, 50% of its 2007 GDP growth can be attributed to exports. With the Dollar crashing, Japan’s exports are becoming less competitive, and its exports to the US (estimated at $150 Billion) are in jeopardy. In addition, Japanese consumers are notoriously tight-fisted, so it’s unclear who would pick up the slack if the export sector falters.  This begs another question: will the Bank of Japan be forced to intervene in currency markets (like it did in 1995) in order to prevent its economy from dipping into recession? The Wall Street Journal reports:

Its big budget deficit makes a stimulus package more difficult. Intervention — which Tokyo also tried in 2004 during a bout of yen strength — would fly in the face of efforts by the U.S. and other nations to let markets decide currency values.

Read More: Japan Economy Quakes Anew As Yen Soars Against Dollar

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Japanese Yen | No Comments »

Currency Traders Dump Bernanke

Mar. 13th 2008

On January 31, 2006, Ben Bernanke officially replaced Alan Greenspan as Chairman of America’s Federal Reserve Bank. At that time, the EUR/USD and USD/JPY exchange rates hovered around 1.20 and 118, respectively. For the first year of his tenure, Bernanke lived up to investor expectations and burnished his credentials as an inflation fighter by continuing a string of interest rate hikes begun by Greenspan. Fast forward to today, where the US economy is in tatters, inflation is raging, home and equity prices are slumping, and the Dollar has declined to $1.55 against the Euro and 100 against the Japanese Yen. Meanwhile, forex volatility levels are climbing rapidly, suggesting that the Dollar’s troubles still havn’t reached their climax.

Needless to say, currency traders- and a whole host of other investors and analysts- are furious with Bernanke. Many insist that he misled them, by downplaying the seriousness of housing jitters and insisiting stubbornly that inflation isn’t a problem.  Even now, he is lowering interest rates in order to spur the economy, but at the expense of price stability.  As any experienced currency trader can attest, low interest rates and high inflation are a recipe for a weak currency. Reuters reports:

Bernanke "has sacrificed the dollar in an attempt to save jobs and U.S. business," said one analyst. "He had to do something, but at the same time he is only putting off the crisis. We will face tight credit for a decade and we will have stagflation."

Read More: Bernanke rapidly loses fans in the forex world

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Central Banks, US Dollar | No Comments »

BOC Lowers Rates

Mar. 12th 2008

Last week, the Bank of Canada lowered its benchmark interest rate by 50 basis points, to 3.50%.  Though the move was widely anticipated by analysts, whose only uncertainty was whether the bank would cut 50 bps or 25 bps, investors nonetheless punished the Canadian Dollar. The reason cited by the Central Bank in its press release accompanying the rate cut was a sagging economy, due in part to a more expensive Loonie and the concomitant decline in exports. In addition, the Bank indicated that it will likely have to cut rates further over the next few months in order to avoid recession.  In short, it doesn’t look like the Canadian Dollar will upstage its 17% rise in 2007. Bloomberg News reports:

The central bank "has some very dovish words for the Canadian economy.  Retaining the full easing bias and saying the risks to growth are intensifying have caught investors’ attention.”

Read More: Canada Dollar Falls as Bank Reduces Rate, Signals It’s Not Done

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Canadian Dollar, Central Banks | No Comments »

Dollar Falls to Record Lows

Mar. 10th 2008

Over the last couple weeks, the Dollar has plummeted against all of the major currencies, falling below the $1.50 mark against the Euro for the first time ever.  It seems investors are reacting to a spate of negative economic data which are painting an increasingly bearish picture for the US economy.  In addition, the Fed seems likely to lower rates further while the ECB will maintain rates at current levels. For a brief period, talk of recession was actually helping the Dollar, as investors predicted that the global economy would be harmed more than the US economy, but it looks like that period has passed. As a result, the EU is growing increasingly alarmed, and the pressure is building for some kind of intervention.   AFX News Limited reports:

Euro group president Jean-Claude Juncker said currency markets are overreacting to the short-term outlook for the US economy. " We don’t like excessive volatility in exchange rates," Juncker said.

Read More: Euro group’s Juncker says currency markets reacting too hastily to US outlook

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Euro, Investing & Trading, US Dollar | No Comments »

Fed vs ECB

Mar. 7th 2008

Yesterday, the European Central Bank (ECB) maintained its benchmark lending rate at 4%.  Meanwhile, America’s Federal Reserve Bank has cut rates by 2.25% over the last six months.  For years, the ECB existed entirely in the shadow of the Fed and conducted monetary policy accordingly, but in this latest downturn, it seems to have broken free. The reason for the split can be found in the Central Banks’ different mandates: the Fed aims to promote growth, while the ECB is charged primarily with creating price stability. Thus, the ECB can easily avoid succumbing to analysts’ expectations that it will ultimately lower rates.  In addition, while EU politicians are pressuring the ECB to hold down the common currency, the ECB’s mandate is actually supported by the expensive Euro because it lowers the cost of imports. The New York Times reports:

Mr. Trichet has long held that central banks do their best work when their threats to raise interest rates deter inflationary actions in the first place, avoiding the need for excessive swings in the benchmark rate.  [He] called this concept “credible alertness.”

Read More: In Europe, Central Banking Is Different

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Central Banks, Euro | No Comments »

ML Introduces 5 Currency ETNs

Mar. 6th 2008

Together with a consortium of large banks, Merrill Lynch recently formed ELEMENTS, which unveiled five new currency Exchange Traded Notes (ETNs).  Before ML entered the market via ELEMENTS, there were only two banks offering currency ETF products: Barclays Capital and Rydex, whose funds are branded CurrencyShares and iPath, respectively.  ETNs differ from ETFs in that the former represent a debt obligation whereas the latter represent a form of equity.  In practice, however, since the risk of default is relatively low, the two types of securities are functionally equivalent.  Both pay interest slightly below the benchmark interest rates of the currencies to which they are connected. The five new ELEMENTS ETNs are separately tied to the performance of the Canadian Dollar, Euro, Swiss Franc, British Pound, and Australian Dollar. Index Universe reports:

Why would anyone choose the new ELEMENTS ETFs? Because they make semiannual cash dividend payments to noteholders based on the interest income. The iPath ETNs, in contrast, incorporate that income into the value of the note … a kind of "virtual interest" that is only realized when the noteholder sells.

Read More: Currency Market Gets More Competitive 

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Investing & Trading, Major Currencies | No Comments »

Technical Analysis – The Basics

Mar. 5th 2008

Yesterday, the Forex Blog featured a story that explained how to make money when volatility is low.  The consensus of the article is that investors must shift their strategy from trading to trending, which requires an adjustment in outlook from short-term to long-term.  But given that volatility is low and that currencies often move laterally against each other, how do you know which direction to bet on, and accordingly, when to buy or sell?  The answer requires some minor technical analysis, involving two of the most basic tools available: support and resistance. These terms represent approximate price levels within which a specific currency appears to be trading.  The significance of these levels is usually arbitrary, and is likely grounded in psychology rather than any real math. Furthermore, once the pattern is spotted, the support and resistance levels often become self-fulfilling, keeping the currency rangebound. But, when, for whatever reason, the currency dips below or rises above the range, it is probably a signal that it is a good time to sell short or buy, respectively. Trading Markets reports:

Though support and resistance are rather basic when it comes to technical analysis, they can be extremely effective for dexterous traders. And really, sometimes, keeping things simple is the best course of action anyway.

Read More: Using Support and Resistance in Forex Trading

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Investing & Trading | No Comments »

How to Profit from Low Volatility

Mar. 4th 2008

Based on several indexes, volatility in forex markets is nearing historic lows.  How can this be explained, given the enormous daily swings in equity and bond markets? The first explanation is that business cycles, and by extension, monetary policies, are gradually synchronizing across the industrialized world, especially among the USA, EU, and Japan. When inflation rates and interest rates are similar across different countries, this mitigates any theoretical need for changes in exchange rates. The second explanation is that the tremendous growth in forex volume ($3 Trillion per day and rising) is increasing liquidity and lowering volatility.

More importantly, is it possible to profit in a climate where volatility is lacking? The answer is "of course."  It simply involves a shift in strategy.  When volatility is high, trading is usually the most profitable strategy: using technical analysis and churning your "portfolio" on a daily basis.  On the other hand, when volatility is low, then trending is probably the best bet. Don’t forget: volatility is not the same as directional movement.  If a currency appreciates every day by only a small increment and without any wild swings, volatility is low but the profit potential is high.

Read More: Making the Most of a Benign Environment

Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Investing & Trading, US Dollar | No Comments »

Ruble as Regional Reserve Currency

Mar. 3rd 2008

Two weeks ago, then-First Deputy Prime Minister of Russia, Dmitry Medvedev, commented publicly on a more significant role for the Russian Ruble in the global economy, and especially in the regional economy.  Fast forward to yesterday, when Medvedev was elected the next Prime Minister of Russia, which means his ideas on forex are more likely to become policy.  Medvedev has argued in favor of turning the Ruble into a regional reserve currency.  This would first necessitate liberalizing its forex policy by permitting the Ruble to float freely; it is currently fixed to a basket of Euros and Dollars.  Given the uncertainty surrounding the Dollar and the global economy at large, as well as the recent boom in Russia’s economy, Medvedev clearly smells an opportunity. Neighboring (former Soviet bloc) countries could be persuaded to denominate their reserves partially in Rubles as well as to consider using Rubles in energy transactions. Reuters reports:

Russia, which receives most of its energy revenues in dollars, buys euros, pounds sterling, yen and Swiss francs to diversify its $478 billion gold and forex reserves, the world’s third-largest.

Read More: Free Float Seen as Key For Reserve Currency

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Emerging Currencies, Politics & Policy | No Comments »

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