Azerbaijan imposes foreign currency controls to defend manat

Azerbaijan imposed some limits on foreign currency outflows in a package of measures adopted by parliament on Tuesday to prop up the oil producer’s depreciating manat currency, Reuetrs reports.

Rising prices have stirred protests rarely seen in a country where oil money and well-equipped security forces have long ensured public loyalty to President Ilham Aliyev.

The manat has lost about a third of its value against the dollar in the past month and the central bank has burned through more than half its foreign currency reserves, which now stand at about $5 billion, trying to protect its value from low oil prices. Oil and gas account for 75 percent of the Azeri state’s revenues.

Azerbaijan’s 10-year dollar bond, which matures in 2024, rose 0.45 cents to trade at 90.08 cents as the government acted to contain the crisis. The bond’s yield premium over safe-haven U.S. Treasuries narrowed 11 basis points to 582 bps.

Central bank chief Elman Rustamov said the government would impose limits on foreign currency outflows and introduce a 20 percent tax on currency exports related to direct investment, the purchase of real estate or securities abroad.

The problems may spur consolidation in Azerbaijan’s banking sector and Rustamov said five or seven of the country’s banks may have to merge.

The central bank had already received requests to approve several mergers, he told reporters, saying international financial institutions had shown some interest in getting involved. There are 42 lenders with banking licences in Azerbaijan.

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