Unable to trade rubles for hard-to-get U.S. dollars, many middle-class Russians are using their available cash to stock up on iPhones and other Western goods they hope won’t lose value as fast as their nation’s beleaguered currency. Some are even taking flyers on the crypto-currency known as bitcoin and other highly speculative instruments.
Shoppers in major cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg have been flocking to Apple stores and resellers since the ruble began its downward slide Monday. They are also buying up gadgets from other manufacturers and have even created a run on Ikea products, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Many Russians are hoping to eventually exchange their purchases for greenbacks or euros. The ruble fell as much as 20 percent against the U.S. dollar Tuesday. As of midday Wednesday it had gained back a portion on news of central bank intervention.
Apple this week closed its online store in Russia, citing the ruble’s volatility. But consumers are finding other ways to get their hands on the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus and other gadgets from Cupertino. ABC Moscow correspondent Kirit Radia on Wednesday posted a photo of an iPhone 6 Plus selling at an unnamed Moscow shop for up to 64,000 rubles, or more than $1,000.
â€” Andrew Roth (@ARothNYT) December 17, 2014
Some shoppers are scrambling to get the devices before merchants jack up prices to reflect international exchange rates. “#Moscow Apple store on Tverskaya-Yamskaya just sold out of iPhone 6’s and iPad airs. #roubletrouble” Tweeted Financial Times correspondent Jack Farchy, who said he is “live-Tweeting an economic meltdown.”
There are bargains to be had at merchants slow to react to the ruble’s fall. “In 3 Moscow stores, iPhone 5s costs about $100 cheaper than in U.S. Prices not updated since #ruble slide,” Tweeted The Guardian’s Alec Luhn.
â€” Alec Luhn (@ASLuhn) December 17, 2014
Some Russians are so desperate to ditch their rubles they’re trading them in for bitcoins, a crypto-currency that has seen wild swings in valuation over the past year and some significant cyberthefts. CNBC reported that ruble-to-bitcoin transactions hit a 12-month high on Tuesday. “The news coming out of Russia is indeed unparalleled,” Bobby Lee, CEO of Chinese bitcoin exchange BTC China, told the network. The euro, yen and sterling were also seeing heavy exchange volumes with the ruble.
Russia’s central bank on Wednesday announced a range of measures aimed at halting the ruble’s slide as the country teeters on the edge of an economic meltdown that is sure to test President Vladimir Putin’s grip on power.