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Russians Selling Off US Currency


The Central Bank of Russia says the amount of U.S. dollars held by individual citizens of this country is rapidly declining. The bank says Russians are also moving increasing sums abroad. Moscow correspondent Peter Fedynsky follows the money trail and reports that Russians are gaining confidence in their own economy.

New figures released by the Russian Central Bank indicate the amount of U.S. dollars held by private Russian citizens has dropped since 2002 from $35 billion to less than $12 billion as of July 1.

Denis Rodionov, managing director of the Bright Minds Capital Investment firm in Moscow, says Russians are trading in their dollars for rubles because of uncertainties linked to the American budget deficit and negative balance of trade. Rodionov says the ruble is also becoming a more convenient currency.

Rodionov says that, obviously, the process is lengthy, but the ruble over the past several years has risen against the dollar. In addition, the ruble now pays higher interest on savings.

Another Russian Central Bank report indicates nearly $19 billion were transferred out of the country last year. Russian citizens accounted for 54 percent of that amount. Many of the transfers involve trade, especially with China. Analysts say the flow of capital abroad also reflects efforts by Russians to purchase new technology or to reduce risk through international diversification.

Nonetheless, Anton Struchinevsky, senior economist with Mosocw's Troika-Dialog investment firm, says more money is flowing into Russia than out.

Struchinevksy says that last year the overall influx of capital amounted to about $41 billion. He adds that in the second quarter of this year alone, the influx has exceeded $50 billion.

Foreign migrant workers in Russia constitute another factor in the movement of capital to and from the country. Denis Rodionov says the guest workers from Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and other former Soviet republics create a win-win situation for all of the nations involved.

Rodionov says the cheap labor is needed, given the country's shortage of workers and declining population. At the same time, he adds, other countries get money transfers and the possibility to develop their economies.

Many Russians held so-called under-the-mattress dollars following the Soviet collapse in 1991 and the country's 1998 financial crisis. Analysts say some people continue to hold American currency, because it is psychologically difficult to sell $1 for under 26 rubles, its current value, if somebody paid 30 rubles for it in 2003.

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