Russia Surprises Markets With First Rate Hike Since 2014

With market watchers expecting no moves from the Russian central bank today, and just one week after Russia's PM Dmitry Medvedev hinted that Russian rates are "too high", the Russian central bank became the latest to defy politicians - and consensus - when it unexpectedly hiked interest rates for the first time since 2014, following many other emerging market peers who have been forced to tighten in response to the Fed, as inflation risks mount with a slumping currency and threats of U.S. sanctions.

Russia's benchmark was raised by 25bps to 7.5% from 7.25% with only two of 42 economists expecting an increase, and 40 calling for no change. Russian central bankers said they will also "consider the necessity of further increases." At 3pm Moscow Time, central bank governor Elvira Nabiullina will hold a news conference followed by the release of the latest economic forecasts.

With today's surprise hike, the Bank of Russia reversed four years of monetary easing, ending a pause that started after U.S. sanctions in April sent markets into a nosedive and revived risks for inflation according to Bloomberg.

Even though Turkey’s decision a day earlier to raise rates more than expected took some of the heat off Russia to follow suit, Nabiullina opted for a hike despite appeals from top government officials before the meeting. A Kremlin economic aide called such a move “highly undesirable.”

"Given what’s happening in the markets, investors expect some reaction - a combination of concrete actions and words was needed,” Valeriy Vaysberg, head of research at Region Investment Co., told Bloomberg before announcement. "A small rate increase and tight rhetoric provide such a balance."

Commenting on the move, BlueBay's FX strategist Timothy Ash said that it was all about Moscow's response to crippling US sanctions: "Russia - against consensus (albeit i expected) CBR hikes base rate 25bps, following the lead from Turkey (minus 600bps). All about providing a geopolitical underpinning for the rouble given looming sanctions risks."

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