Russian stocks close strong week up 14 percent

  • 1999-03-18
Russian stocks coasted to the end of one of their strongest weeks since last year's financial crisis, touching six-month highs on hopes of a crucial deal between the government and the International Monetary Fund.

Equities ended the week up an average of 14 percent as investors took heart from the arrival of a new team of IMF experts in Moscow and the rapidly improving relations between the formerly feuding sides.

Oil blue chips led the rally, perked by the sharp rise in global crude prices, which followed the agreement reached by producer countries to cut oil output.

The Russian Trading System index closed Friday at 82.98, up 1 percent on the day and 14.28 percent higher than last Friday's close. Volume was comparatively heavy at $13.9 million.

"The market is being pushed higher by positive comments from Russia and the IMF on the state of negotiations," said David Kuenzi, head of sales at Creditanstalt's Moscow brokerage.

"We have moved away from the deep pessimism last week and now things look much better," Kuenzi said.

The need for an IMF deal is not just imperative for the equity market, but for the government and economy as a whole. Russia needs IMF backing for its economic policies to be able to restructure billions of dollars of foreign debt to the fund and other creditors that it knows it cannot pay this year.

"The economic consequences of failing to get a loan would be immediate and severe," Kuenzi said. "It would mean instant default, printing money and the government would lose control of the situation. And the stock market would lose 50 percent in a week."

Russia's equity market has sped up this year after shedding 80 percent of its value amid apocalyptic scenes of financial meltdown in 1998. The market put on some 40 percent in February alone, albeit from a low base and on low volumes, and the mini-rally has extended strongly into March.

Economists and traders have explained the gains on a string of factors, but the Moscow-IMF talks have now emerged as the most significant issue affecting sentiment.

Relations soured dramatically last week amid mutual recriminations over economic policy, but since then, both government and IMF officials have hinted that positions are narrowing on the thorny questions of the deficit and tax cuts.