By Alexander Marrow
MOSCOW (Reuters) – The rouble soared to its highest in almost eight years against the euro on Friday, with investors anxious that more sanctions against Moscow could limit foreign currency trading as Russia prepared to annex four Ukrainian regions.
Western governments and Kyiv say the move breaches international law.
By 0929 GMT, the rouble had gained 6.5% to trade at 51.87 versus the euro, earlier reaching 51.3100, its strongest mark since mid October 2014.
It was 4.8% stronger against the dollar at 54.44, earlier touching its strongest point since July 1 of 54.1625.
The rouble has been supported by capital controls and a collapse in imports since Western sanctions were imposed over Russia’s actions in Ukraine and companies left the market in droves. Geopolitical risks also remain elevated, with more U.S. and EU sanctions expected soon.
The sanctions threat has led some investors to reduce their dollar holdings, fearing that restrictions may paralyse Russia-based trading in the greenback, analysts have said.
“Apart from the impact of the trade balance, we note the situation with more sanctions expectations,” said Otkritie Research in a note on Friday. “Companies could speed up the sale of foreign currency from their overseas accounts.”
The rouble had lost 0.9% against the yuan to 8.194.
Russian stock indexes were higher.
Geopolitical pressure sent the benchmark MOEX Russian index to its lowest since Feb. 24 – the day Russia sent troops into Ukraine – on Monday, but the expected approval of energy giant Gazprom (MCX:GAZP)’s dividend payments is a crucial driver for the market.
“An approval, as expected, of the payment should be positive both for the stock and for the market in general as Gazprom has the largest weight in indices,” said BCS Global Markets.
The rouble-based MOEX index was 0.3% higher at 1,959.4 points. The dollar-denominated RTS index was up 5.5% to 1,131.6 points.
Gazprom shares were underperforming the wider market, down 1.6%.