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Russia considers new budget rule, investment options, sources say

·3-min read
A view shows oil terminal Kozmino near Nakhodka

(This content was produced in Russia where the law restricts coverage of Russian military operations in Ukraine.)

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia may reinstate the budget rule that diverts excess oil revenues into its rainy-day fund, setting a new cut-off oil price of $60 per barrel, and is looking for new ways to build up official reserves, high-ranking sources said on Tuesday.

The rule, designed to replenish state reserves by buying foreign currency when oil prices are high, was fully suspended amid harsh Western sanctions imposed after Moscow started what it calls a "special military operation" in Ukraine on Feb. 24.

Now the finance ministry is working on a new budget rule, aiming to cap excessive rouble strength and help build up reserves at a time when Russia's ability to buy dollars and euros is restricted by sanctions.

Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said last month that Russia may start buying the currencies of "friendly" countries and use those holdings to try to influence the exchange rate of the dollar and euro, as a means of countering sharp gains in the rouble.

A high-ranking Russian official, who asked not to be named, said authorities are considering an alternative range of assets that Russia can buy using extra proceeds from oil and gas exports, including non-financial assets, on top of "friendly" currencies.

"China once approved a list of assets that can be invested in the world. For example, in the world's deposits, grain reserves, real estate ... They do not meet the criteria of reliability and liquidity, but we are no longer concerned about that," another high-ranking source said.

The finance ministry declined to comment.

RULE PARAMETERS

The finance ministry had proposed a crude oil price of $60 per barrel and a daily oil output of 9.5 million barrels under the new rule, a source close to the Kremlin, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Reuters, confirming the earlier report in the Vedomosti daily newspaper.

President Vladimir Putin has said that Russia's crude oil and gas condensate output in June stood at 10.5 million barrels per day.

The new rule parameters have been proposed by the finance ministry and some top officials had a different view, the source said, adding that details would be discussed with Putin in August.

The previous budget rule envisaged a cut-off oil price of $40 per barrel with an annual 2% increase.

The rouble, however, has soared to seven-year highs, boosted by capital controls that include curbs on Russians withdrawing foreign currency savings, thereby eating into Russia's export income by denting the value of dollar and euro proceeds from sales abroad of commodities and other goods.

The new budget rule, if imposed next year with the parameters proposed by the finance ministry, could mean the rouble on average will be 10-20 roubles weaker against the dollar than now, said Stanislav Murashov, an economist with Raiffeisen Bank in Moscow.

(Reporting by Reuters; Editing by Nick Macfie and Paul Simao)

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