Russia diversifies into Canadian dollars
By Peter Garnham
Published: January 20 2010 16:46 | Last updated: January 20 2010 16:46
Russia’s central bank announced on Wednesday that it had started buying Canadian dollars and securities in a bid to diversify its foreign exchange reserves.
Analysts said the move could be a sign of increased diversification of emerging market central bank assets away from the dollar and into investments denominated in other commodity-linked currencies, such as the Australian dollar.
Adam Cole at RBC Capital Markets said if taken in isolation, Russia’s announcement that it was buying Canadian dollars was not significant, but if it was part of a broader trend, then it was an important step.
“If it is a barometer for the activity of other central banks, then its is structurally positive for the currencies of countries like Canada and Australia that have a commodity bias in their economies,” he said.
Although not officially confirmed, traders said that other emerging market central banks, including some in Asia which hold large foreign exchange reserves, have also been active in the foreign exchange market in recent weeks buying both Canadian dollars and Australian dollars.
Alexei Ulyukayev, first deputy chairman of Russia’s central bank, said that it would invest in Canadian dollar-denominated deposits and bonds.
“The Canadian financial market is not very deep, so we can invest in deposits in significant volumes, while the bond market is limited,” he said.
Although the central bank did not specify how much of its reserves it was allocating to assets denominated in the Canadian dollar, analysts estimated that the central bank could put up to $9bn, or 2 per cent, of its foreign exchange reserves into the currency.
Russia’s foreign exchange reserves, the world’s third largest, stood at $439bn at the end of December. These stockpiles have grown by 14 per cent since the start of the rally on global asset markets in March as rising commodity prices have boosted mineral-rich Russia’s coffers.
Ahead of Wednesday’s announcement, Russia’s foreign exchange reserves were evenly split between dollar and euros.
Alarmed at the plummeting value of the dollars in its holdings, Russia has been at the vanguard of countries calling for the US authorities to stem the fall of its currency. Last year, along with China, Russia urged the creation of a new supra-national currency to replace the dollar as the world’s reserve currency.
The dollar has fallen more than 12 per cent on a trade-weighted basis since March. Commodity-linked currencies have rallied strongly, however, with the Canadian dollar up 24 per cent against the US dollar over that period and the Australian dollar 40 per cent higher.
This has prompted Russia to diversify its holdings. Indeed, in addition to its plans to buy Canadian dollars, Sergei Ignatiev, chairman of the Russia’s central bank, said last month that its was “discussing the possibility” of buying Australian dollars.
But some analysts warned that emerging market central banks might be in danger of buying commodity-linked currencies at the top of the market.
“In the long run it makes perfect sense for emerging market countries to diversify into commodity linked currencies,” said Simon Derrick at Bank of New York Mellon.
“But in the short-term, I would urge caution given that many commodity-linked currencies currently stand at extremely high levels on a historical basis.”