Market Overview

Is Russia Manipulating Belarus?


Belarus is suffering an economic crisis. Is Russia to blame, or just making the best out of an unfortunate situation?

On Monday night, Belarus depreciated its currency 36% against the U.S. dollar. Yet, apparently, that will not be enough.

Russia's VTB Group stated that Belarus will need to weaken its ruble an additional 51%, according to Bloomberg. An economist at VTB Group stated that rapid privatization would be the only solution.

In the meantime, the Washington Post reports that civil unrest has broken out in the land-locked nation. People have cleaned out store shelves and dashed to exchange their cash for foreign currency.

The official value of the ruble is 4,930 to one U.S. dollar, but on the black market it takes roughly 6,000 to accomplish the same trade.

Is Russia to blame for the economic troubles of the former Soviet republic? Russia certainly appears to be profiting from Belarus' problems.

Russia offered to purchase the Belarusian government's stake in the gas pipeline that runs through Belarus. That would bring in $2.5 billion to support the troubled government. Belarus has wracked up a national debt which is equivalent to 16% of its GDP.

That cash inflow would be good for the Belarusian government, but would give Russia significant control over the flow of energy resources to Europe.

In addition, VTB Group, the Russian bank calling for more devaluations and privations, is owned by the Russian government.

If the government of Belarus begins dumping its assets, it will be interesting to see who buys. With a heavily depreciated currency, foreigners may be able to purchase them at discounted prices.

Traders looking to play the Russian economy might consider iShares MSCI Russian Capped Index (NYSE: ERUS). ERUS may do well if the Russian economy is booming.

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