June 21, 2017 / 3:07 PM / 5 months ago

UPDATE 1-Rouble pares losses after falling beyond 60 per dollar

* Rouble up after hitting 60.24 vs dollar, its weakest since Feb

* Rouble tracks higher oil prices

* Still pressured by geopolitical tensions

* Asset firm says oil deterred it from buying Russian Eurobond (Adds quotes, detail, updates prices)

MOSCOW, June 21 (Reuters) - The Russian rouble took a breather after falling through the psychologically important floor of 60 against the dollar on the back of lower oil prices and risks of new sanctions against Russia.

The rouble traded at 59.66 versus against the dollar as of 1406 GMT, rebounding from its lowest level since early February of 60.24 hit earlier in the day.

Brent crude prices inched higher to $45.96 per barrel after sliding to $45.42 the day earlier, a drop that took year-to-date losses to around 20 percent and marked the oil blend’s worst performance in the first half of the year since 1997.

The recovery in the rouble traces moves in prices for oil, Russia’s key exports, reminding market players of Russia’s notorious vulnerability to oil prices.

John Peta, head of emerging debt at asset management firm Old Mutual Global Investors in London, said his fund decided not to buy Russian bonds this time “primarily because oil prices have been dropping and we didn’t want to increase exposure to oil related credits”.

Still, Russia managed to successfully borrow $3 billion by selling two tranches of new Eurobonds to foreign investors despite geopolitical tensions with the West.

ROUBLE OUTLOOK

Gaining around 3 percent versus the dollar so far this year, the Russian unit remains comfortably far from this year’s low of 61.3 versus the dollar and from its weakest ever level of 85.99 reached in January 2016.

Analysts do not predict a further immediate weakening in the rouble, saying it should see some support from export-focused companies that convert dollars to meet local duties in the second half of the month.

Alfa Bank said in a note the rouble drop might not be the beginning of a large-scale depreciation as the currency should remain in a range of 55-60 versus the dollar.

But apart from fundamental factors, such as oil prices and economic performance, the Russian currency may also be a victim of relations between Moscow and Washington.

The Russian defence ministry said on Tuesday that a U.S. reconnaissance RC-135 plane had swerved dangerously in the proximity of a Russian Su-27 fighter jet over the Baltic Sea.

The incident, which recalled the Cold War era, came amid new sanctions on Russia, approved by the U.S. government, and expectations of more financial penalties over Russia’s role in the Syrian conflict and alleged meddling in the U.S. elections.

“The long rouble consensus, which has been one of the most popular constructive EMFX positions since early 2016, looks to be in jeopardy,” analysts at Citi said in a note.

The reasons for a possible revision of the rouble outlook are chances of new U.S. sanctions on Russia, geopolitical tensions in Syria and concerns that oil prices might stay low longer than thought, Citi said.

Raiffeisen bank analysts said the rouble still looked too strong for current oil price levels, adding that the Russian currency is expected to weaken by the end of the third quarter.

Versus the euro, the rouble lost 0.2 percent to 66.46 versus , recovering from 67.06, its weakest level since Dec. 9 touched earlier on Wednesday.

For rouble poll data see reuters://realtime/verb=Open/url=cpurl://apps.cp./Apps/fx-polls?RIC=RUB=

For Russian equities guide see

For Russian treasury bonds see

Russia in graphics: link.reuters.com/dun63s (Reporting by Polina Nikolskaya and Sujata Rao; Editing by Andrey Ostroukh/Mark Heinrich)

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