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Russian Gamble on Gold Pays Massive Dividends – in Rubles

Is it a gamble or are Russians on to something? Gold has proven a solid store of value for Russia

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While oil continues to tank and the ruble follows suit, the price of another asset that Russia has in abundance is rallying.

On February 11, gold hit $1,246 per troy ounce. In dollar terms, this represents a middling and uneventful benchmark, but when priced in barrels of oil, it is an all-time high.

<figcaption>Russia’s gold reserves in ruble terms have rocketed from RUB 1.4 trillion in July 2011 to more than RUB 4 trillion today</figcaption>
Russia’s gold reserves in ruble terms have rocketed from RUB 1.4 trillion in July 2011 to more than RUB 4 trillion today

At more than 40 barrels of Brent crude per troy ounce, gold has never been more expensive in oil terms, and this at a time when the Central Bank of Russia (CBR) is holding a record amount of the yellow metal.

What’s more, when priced in ruble terms, Russia’s gold reserves are worth more than ever before.

As the second chart shows, Russia’s gold reserves in ruble terms have rocketed in the last five years from RUB1.4 trillion in July 2011 to more than RUB4 trillion today, despite the dollar price of the precious metal falling sharply following its 2011 peak of more than $1,800/oz.

In dollar terms, the value of Russia’s gold stockpile actually fell by more than $20bn between the 2011 heyday and the beginning of this year.

With gold priced in oil terms at a record high, it is little wonder that the CBR is amassing the precious metal as a dollar-denominated nest egg in the face of a continuingly weakening ruble and plummeting oil prices.

The free fall in the price of Russia’s most lucrative export has left the Central Bank scrambling to build up a thick buffer, in a year when the Economy Ministry predicts there will be a 5.1% budget deficit. In the week beginning February 15 Brent crude was trading at around $32.70 a barrel, and at times in the last month went as low as $28.

Such heavy purchasing of gold comes at a time when the ruble is at near-historic lows to the dollar, which gold is priced in, making it all the more valuable in ruble terms. Russia’s currency is currently down to RUB78 to the dollar, with further losses predicted if oil prices stay low.

While the rise in rates by the Federal Reserve in December led to a sell-off of gold in favour of interest-paying assets – 2015 represented the third annual decline in gold spot prices - Russia continued to build up its stockpile.

The gamble appears to be paying off. So far in 2016, gold has rallied nearly 18% to hit a spot price of $1,246/oz on February 12.

The upturn may not end there either. Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) have rushed to add gold to their portfolios, with SPDR Gold Trust, the largest gold-backed ETF, increasing its holdings by 11% since the beginning of the year.

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