Russian ruble eases as U.S. sanctions continue pressure

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The Russian ruble opened slightly down against the U.S. dollar on Thursday, continuing to feel pressure from possible new sanctions on Russia.

FILE PHOTO: A woman holds new 200 and 2,000 rouble banknotes in a bank in Moscow, Russia November 21, 2017. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo

At 0733 GMT, the ruble was 0.05 percent weaker against the dollar at 68.29 RUBUTSTN=MCX, also losing 0.05 percent to trade at 79.43 versus the euro EURRUBTN=MCX.

Admitting high market volatility, central bank Governor Elvira Nabiullina said this week there were reasons for holding the main interest rate or even raising it as soon as next week - a stance repeated by another central bank official on Thursday.

Deputy Finance Minister Vladimir Kolychev said his ministry and the central bank may consider stepping into the secondary market in OFZ treasury bonds if there is high volatility.

“There are no new ideas on the market so the ruble may move only by external events,” Dmitry Polevoy, chief economist at Russian Direct Investment Fund, said.

The economy ministry has lowered its forecast for economic growth this year and next because of volatility in financial markets, faster capital outflow and business pessimism amid new U.S. sanctions.

Brent crude oil LCOc1, a global benchmark for Russia's main export, was down 0.21 percent at $77.11 a barrel.

Russian stock indexes were up.

The dollar-denominated RTS index .IRTS was up 0.53 percent to 1,074.57 points. The ruble-based MOEX Russian index .IMOEX was 0.32 percent higher at 2,328.30 points.

Shares in Novatek NVTK.MM, Russia's largest private gas producer and a controlling shareholder in the Yamal LNG project, were up 2.4 percent. This brought its market capitalization to $49.87 billion, close to Gazprom's value of $51.1 billion, ThomsonReuters Eikon data showed.

Gazprom is the world’s top gas producer.

Reporting by Katya Golubkova; Additional reporting by Vladimir Abramov; editing by David Stamp