* Rouble hits four-year low vs dollar
* RTS stock index also at four-year low, down some 11%
* No central bank reaction as rouble loses more than 6% (Adds Moscow Exchange automatic closure)
By Alexander Marrow and Andrey Ostroukh
MOSCOW, March 18 (Reuters) - Russia’s rouble sank beyond 80 against the dollar for the first time in more than four years and trading reached the Moscow Exchange’s upper limit on Wednesday, as Russian assets felt the chill of oil prices dropping below $26.
A double hit from a rapid oil price slump and a fast-developing global coronavirus crisis sell-off has made the rouble one of the worst-performing currencies against the dollar here this year, losing more than 20% of its value since late 2019.
The dollar-rouble pair reached its upper limit for trading on the Moscow Exchange, which is altered automatically over the course of the day, meaning that players could only make bets on the rise of the dollar, not its fall, which artificially limited losses for the rouble.
The rouble was 7.2% lower against the dollar at 80.87 by 1747 GMT, its weakest level since February 2016.
And the Russian currency was down 7% against the euro at 88.73, a level also last seen in early February 2016.
Russia’s central bank was conspicuous by its absence as the rouble plummeted, with market players seeking signs of any steps to stem the losses ahead of its next rate-setting meeting.
It began selling foreign currency last week, its first such intervention in five years, and is expected to keep its benchmark interest rate unchanged at 6% on Friday, a Reuters poll showed.
“The rouble now is close to its fair value given current oil prices,” said Sofya Donets, chief economist at Renaissance Capital.
Although Russian foreign currency sales rose again on Monday, Donets said the central bank was not expected to fight the rouble’s depreciation as a weaker currency supports the budget, whose share of commodity exports exceeds 80%.
Brent crude oil, a global benchmark for Russia’s main export, which has lost more than half of its value in the last month, was down 12% at $25.3 a barrel, its lowest since September 2003.
The rouble’s weakness will gain momentum the longer oil prices stay low, Donets said.
“The rouble is showing the worst dynamics among emerging market currencies so far this year. The short-term outlook for the rouble remains negative,” Nordea Bank analysts said.
To stabilise, the rouble needs a slowdown in the spread of the coronavirus outside of China, Nordea said.
Russian stock indexes plunged, with the dollar-denominated RTS index falling below 900 points for first time in four years to its lowest since March 2016.
The RTS was down 11% at 832.3 points. The rouble-based MOEX Russian index was 5% lower at 2,112.6 points.
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$1 = 77.88 roubles Reporting by Alexander Marrow, additional reporting by Andrey Ostroukh, editing by Angus MacSwan, Alexander Smith and Nick Macfie