Moscow assets set to fall after Crimea votes to join Russia

MOSCOW Mon Mar 17, 2014 12:10pm IST

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian markets will extend their slide on Monday, hurt by uncertainty over the scale of measures the West will impose over the seizure of Ukraine's Crimea region and support of its referendum to join Russia.

Partial results showed that 96 percent of voters in Crimea favoured accession to Russia at a referendum on Sunday Western powers said was illegal and will bring immediate sanctions.

President Vladimir Putin has said Russia will respect the decision of the peninsula's people and the country's two houses of parliament said they would work as quickly as possible to pass legislation for the region's accession.

Analysts say the anticipation of the referendum might have been worse than the vote itself, but the West's response to Moscow still remains key for investors.

"Preliminary results of the Crimean referendum partly reduce uncertainty, but more important for the market is the reaction of the international community, which will likely follow the official count of the referendum's results," Anton Startsev, a leading analyst at Olma investment house, said in a note.

Russian assets have already paid a hefty price for its action in Ukraine.

Following Putin's declaration in early March that he had the right to invade Ukraine to defend Russian speakers, the rouble-denominated MICEX index has lost more than $66 billion in market capitalisation and the central bank has spent more than $16 billion of its reserves to defend the rouble.

Only last week, MICEX lost 7.6 percent and the dollar-denominated RTS .IRTS more than 8 percent, the latter also dragged lower by the weaker rouble.

U.S. stocks closed on Friday with their largest weekly drop in the last seven weeks as the worst confrontation between Russia and the West since the Cold War continues to unfold.

Markets were also dampened by concerns over a slowdown in China's economy.

"Trading dynamics at the beginning of the week will depend entirely on the international community's reaction to the outcome of the Sunday referendum," said in a note Andrey Shenk, a senior analyst at Investcafe in Moscow.

Shenk said MICEX would open 0.5-1.0 percent down on Monday. Moscow markets open at 0600 GMT.

The rouble has been breaking through new all-time lows, down about 11 percent against the dollar so far this year. Additional pressure on the rouble will come from China's decision on Saturday to increase the yuan's volatility.

Olma sees the rouble weakening to 36.7-36.9 against the dollar. The rouble closed on Friday at 36.6 versus the greenback.

(Reporting by Lidia Kelly, editing by Elizabeth Piper)

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