It's a logical idea, but doing business in Russia gets complicated very fast. If you want to sell wheelbarrows in Moscow, you may need to arrange a krisha (roof), meaning a "security arrangement" with local gangsters, who will then protect you from other gangsters as well as random criminals.
The cost of your krisha may exceed the markup you can get on wheelbarrows ... unless you are stealing the wheelbarrows and then selling them. If you get this far, then you are True Rawshen Beeznessman. And of course, don't accept any payments in rubles, they're becoming worthless!
The ruble is likely to continue its precipitous decline, at least in the near term.
It's not easy for to find Russia oil price data -- the best site I found (in English) now shows a page in Russia, announcing that the site has been suspended. Wonder who decided THAT?
Anyway, Urals (the Russian benchmark crude) is somewhat less valuable than Brent crude, which seems to be the market's favorite benchmark. Recently, Urals has been trading about $1.50 to $2.00 / bbl cheaper than Brent.
My latest number for Brent is $84.61, down almost 1% from the day before!
So I can guess that Urals is probably selling today around $83 -- big pressure on the ruble. Remember, Russia needs at $100 / bbl (or higher) to maintain GDP growth and to fund Putin's grand plans.
Oil can fluctuate very fast, and some headline story (disruption of oilfields by mideast combat, for example) could spike it up. But right now, oil futures for early 2015 (futures are the way commodity traders bet on future prices) are reportedly around $80 -- so the commodities guys are expecting the fall of oil prices to continue for a while at least.
I've already written (on the headlines thread) about how dramatically the US has increased oil production during the past six years. In reality, Sarah Palin got her "drill, baby drill". At the same time, oil production has generally remained strong throughout the world.
OPEC nations have stated that they won't be cutting back production to stabilize prices, even though crude oil is plummeting at the moment. After many months of effective shutdown, Libya is planning to bring its large oilfields back into high-volume operation during the next three months.
And the International Energy Agency just cut its forecast for 2015 oil demand. Some analysts are predicting lows around $75 / bbl.
All this is temporary, of course. Quite likely prices will be bouncing back within a year or so. But every dollar drop in price of crude takes $2 billion away from the annual budget of the Putin government.
The ruble made an amazing recovery today, getting as strong (briefly) as 40.1 / USD, and in the past few hours has been spiking up and down between 40.20 and 40.68.
No doubt this is a response the announcement from Moscow that it will make some of its large stockpile of foreign currency reserves available to Russian banks, easing concerns about unavailability of foreign currency inside Russia.
If Russia continues its present support for the ruble, this may consume about $40 billion of Russia's present $220 billion cash stockpile in the next ten weeks or so.
Worldwide crude prices are still plummeting, and there is no breaking news (that I have seen) about progress with Ukraine or sanctions. So I see no reason why the ruble outlook will improve.
In the NY Times, the irrepressible Tom Friedman wrote an opinion piece titled "A Pump War?" (question mark is part of the title).
In it, he wonders whether the US and Saudi Arabia are working together to depress oil prices, knowing that low prices are damaging to Iran (an enemy of the Saudis and the West) and Russia (an enemy of the West). He makes clear that he doesn't know whether this is real.
Personally, I think that collaboration/conspiracy is not a likely explanation for what is happening today -- a big part of the oil drop is a frightening stagnation in the world economy, which nobody wants. But the piece has an interesting quote from a 2006 speech by Yegor Gaidar, who served as the first post-Soviet prime minister of Russia:
"The timeline of the collapse of the Soviet Union can be traced to Sept. 13, 1985. On this date, Sheikh Ahmed Zaki Yamani, the minister of oil of Saudi Arabia, declared that the monarchy had decided to alter its oil policy radically. The Saudis stopped protecting oil prices. ... During the next six months, oil production in Saudi Arabia increased fourfold, while oil prices collapsed. ... The Soviet Union lost approximately $20 billion per year, money without which the country simply could not survive."
Today's Russia is, to be sure, much stronger financially than the Soviet Union was. But it is not nearly as strong as it would be, had it followed the practices of its European neighbors.
"Beyond the political pact, there seems to be within OPEC a real desire to push oil prices to at least $20 a barrel and possibly, as Iraq has asked, to as much as $25 a barrel over the next couple of years."
The steep decline in crude prices has stopped for the moment. These drastic drops were, of course, a panic response [those who trust in the "rationality" or "morality" of markets should take note].
That is the good news for Russia.
The not-so-good news for Russia, is that prices have stabilized in the low 80s (USD / bbl). The further bad news is that the fundamental causes of the price drop haven't changed: crude is likely to stay in low 80s for some time to come, and may yet drop below today's rates.
It could be some months before oil starts a serious upward move. If the bad economic news continues from Europe, and also from China (see lonely's informative link above), then low oil prices may last quite a long time.
Note: Putin said yesterday that Russia's federal budget is based on $96 / bbl.
For now, I'm guessing that the ruble will stabilize between 40 / USD and 41 / USD, at least for the next week or two.
It's better to be lucky than good: on the morning of the 15th, I estimated (see above) that Russia's benchmark crude should sell at $83 / bbl. The website topoilnews now has figures for the 15th (the prices are sometimes delayed a few days, I don't know why) -- Urals crude is listed at $83.10 / bbl.
BTW, that is a drop of $3.44 from the day before!!! Four percent in one day, that is a spanking.
Yes, durak's economic predictions are crap. Don't make any moves with your life savings based on my call!
Five days after I wrote, "I'm guessing that the ruble will stabilize between 40 / USD and 41 / USD, at least for the next week or two" ...
... RUB / USD set a new all-time record of 41.755, and right now is 41.72
Although crude prices are still in the same neighborhood, they took another dive in the last two days on a report that US oil inventories are quite large.
The market forecasters are looking at three forces to limit the downward trend in crude:
(1) Oil already went up in the past couple of hours, because Saudi Arabia is storing more oil: its production has gone up in the last few weeks, but its exports are down.
(2) Several OPEC members are talking about limiting production. (However, Libya says "you guys need to cut production, we're in a crisis so we'll keep output high -- not something to inspire cooperation from the other OPEC countries.)
(3) Oil production in the US is already under downward pressure: lots of wells just aren't economic at today's prices, and drilling (the opening of new wells) is already cutting back. Somewhere around $80 / bbl, the reduction in US production is expected to halt the drop in crude prices.
With these kinds of influences in play, crude prices are likely to "bounce around" somewhat during the next few months. For example, there will be all sorts of speculation and reactions around the upcoming OPEC meeting.
I expect the ruble to whipsaw as crude prices fluctuate. If the market was overreacting earlier this week, and/or OPEC countries really will throttle back their output, crude prices will settle and the ruble could well return to 41 / USD or lower.
But in the last few days, in reaction to the crude oil news, Russians withdrew the equivalent of five billion USD from banks, presumably to buy foreign currencies or other more stable assets.