Since June of this year, Western sanctions have pushed the ruble into freefall mode, causing the currency to lose 50 percent of its value to the US dollar. Many are wondering what the Russian government is prepared to do to stave off recession, and prevent the ruble from falling any further.
As we speak, the people of Russia are on a spending spree, buying luxury items like sports cars and electronics in an effort to preserve what little wealth they have left. If something is not done soon, then Russia's post-Soviet recovery could be completely derailed. The answer to this crisis may come from Russia's massive gold haul.
Over the past ten years, Russia has been on a gold buying spree, placing it among countries like France and Germany as the largest gold carrying nations. Many have speculated that Russia may be preparing to back its currency with the precious metal; not only to preserve the ruble, but to attack the fiat currencies of their Western rivals.
Rumors last week that Russia was on the verge of selling its gold reserves were quashed with the news on Friday that it has continued to add to its holdings. However, John Butler, chief investment officer at Atom Capital, and Alasdair MacLeod, the head of research at online bullion exchange GoldMoney Foundation, believe that Russian President Vladimir Putin could bring the country onto some sort of "gold standard" to try to shore up its economy.
"It was (and still is) in Russia's power to adopt a gold standard," MacLeod told CNBC via email.
"There is no doubt that Russia and China, plus the other Eurasian states in their sphere of influence are all accumulating gold and the indications are they see it as central to replacing the U.S. dollar for cross border trade."Doing so would kill two birds with one stone for Russia. It wouldn't just put a stop to the ruble's decline, but would likely make their currency the most stable and sought after in the world. It would be an economic boon for them, and would have the added advantage of counterattacking the Western countries that slapped them with sanctions in the first the place.
Whether Russia would actually decide to do it was another matter, said MacLeod, and expected the country's central bank to the lack the courage to act. However, he said that if Putin is "provoked sufficiently" he may judge it to be in Russia's best interests and could overpower any reluctant officials at the bank.
"It is already in Russia's interest to cast itself off from inflating western currencies and to base their economy on sound money, aka gold," he said.
Countries that are indebted and provide substantial welfare for its citizens would be most threatened by any return to gold convertibility, according to MacLeod, who said Russia could therefore be building a "weapon of mass financial destruction."As much as Russia would love to stick it to America and her allies, there is one short term problem they would have to overcome before reaping the long term benefits. They would have to take a huge financial hit if they were to adopt a gold standard at this time.
To understand the ramifications of a this monetary move, we have to look at the current state of the ruble, as well as the price of gold. According to Russia's central bank, there are over 8 trillion rubles in circulation. At the current exchange rate, that is worth approximately $150 billion. The Russian state currently holds 38.2 million ounces of gold, valued at $45 billion.
That means that if Russia switches to gold, their currency is automatically worth less than a third of what it is now. In the long run it could be beneficial, but it would instantly obliterate the savings of the Russian people, and could ruin Putin's popularity.
As it stands now, Putin has an 81 percent approval rating in Russia, despite the precipitous decline of their economy. They've proven that they're willing to stand by him when the chips are down, which is something that very few politicians have achieved. If he decides to put the ruble on a gold standard, he threatens the populist loyalty of the masses, something that no politician can afford to do (even if that politician is a dictator).
That doesn't mean a gold standard isn't on the horizon. If oil prices continue to fall, and if Western sanctions continue to grind down the ruble, there may come a day when the value of the ruble is equal to the value of their gold holdings. If the ruble can fall 50 percent in 6 months, then having it fall another 70 percent over the next year isn't that far fetched. If this occurs, then Putin can switch to a gold standard without raising the ire of his people. The ruble's decline will be America's fault, and the Russian government can come to the rescue with a new gold backed currency.
As always, the US government is playing the short game, while the Russians are biding their time for the perfect moment to strike.
Delivered By The Daily Sheeple