La Russie sort de la crise
Papier devant être présenté au séminaire
Paper to be presented at the seminar
Russia: Economic turmoil and policy options
Russia has known a troubled year, and not just on economic issue. But it seems to emerge from the dark situation where it was plunged by high speculation against the rouble in December. However this does not mean that all problems are solved. Even if the IMF is now reshaping its forecasts on Russia and if the near future seems to be rosier than what was expected, the legacy of 2014 will be felt for some years. The open conflict with the West (or what is pretending to be ‘the West”) is shaping to a large extent the economic and monetary policy of Russia.
I. Surviving speculation
Russia has been facing by last weeks of 2014 a strong speculation against the Ruble. However, this speculation could take place because of the specific context created by Western sanctions following the Ukrainian crisis, and more so financial sanctions. These sanctions could be summarized as:
- So-called “political” sanctions targeting individuals known or supposed to be close to Vladimir Putin. They are more gesture than substance in such sanctions.
- Industrial sanction, remembering what the old COCOM was against war and oil industries. These sanctions seem to have hurt much more the EU economy than the Russian one.
- The extension of the SSI statute targeting war and oil industries but also part of the Russian banking system, and making them harder to find new funding, at least in USD. These sanctions were enhanced by what is claimed to be ”BNP-Parisbas” jurisprudence.
These sanctions have created a shortage of US Dollars on the Russian market. They had however few concrete results before September 2014. The exchange rate of the Ruble against the USD has stabilized from April 2014 to September after a first depreciation of about 15% which could well have corresponded to what Russian authorities wanted as the overvaluation of the Ruble, by December 2013 was fairly obvious. But after September 2014 a shortage of US Dollars appeared on Russian markets cumulating with large redeeming of the private debt.
Redeeming (interest and principle) of Russian private debt by quarter, billion USD
|T3-2014||T4-2014||T1-2015||T2-2015||T3 2015||T4 2015||T1 2016||T2 2016|
Source: Central Bank of the Russian Federation
In the second half of 2014 no less than 126 billion USD were coming to redemption. But, because of financial sanctions Russian enterprises and banks could not rely on to western financial markets to roll over part of these debts.
This shortage has opened a window of opportunity for high speculation by December 2014 when the official exchange rate (at Central Bank level) reached around 70 RR for one USD.
Ruble vs. USD exchange rate
The high speculation was fought with two instruments, a huge interest rates jump (to 17%) and a swap agreement with the Central Bank of China, which allowed the CBR to inject massively USD on the market generating a huge, even if short-lived, appreciation of the RR. This appreciation took a lot of speculators off guard.
At his Press conference some days after this event Mr Putin’s speech was rather supportive for the CBR. He stressed that the current Ruble depreciation was a result of speculations and called the CBR to act against this trend team as the President reaffirmed the CBR focus on improving the banking sector stability and the importance of the inflation-targeting policy. But this could well have been dressing the issue. Actually, by early 2015, the complete CBR monetary policy was largely in doubt. By early February, the Ruble began to appreciate for different reasons, one being size of redemption for the 1st and 2nd Quarters 2015; another one was an increase of oil prices. The CBR began to lower its interest rates, going down from 17% to 12%. It also increased rates of REPOs. But this was not enough to slow down the process of appreciation which, if unchecked, could well have moved the Ruble into hot waters, cancelling the effect of January 2014 depreciation. The CBR began then on buy some USD, and made this policy official by a May 14th statement.
The important point to understand here is that we have “equilibrium” exchange rates of the Ruble both from an economic point of view (where an overvalued RR will put Russian industries in a bad corner on the internal market and prevent them to sell there products on exports markets) but also from a financial and fiscal point of view. If the oil prices are falling so do have to do the Ruble if the Russian government want to keep more or less intact its revenues and if he wants to keep oil and gaz industry profitable. Actually, we have different critical exchange rates for different oil prices.
Exchange rates of the Ruble vs. USD and oil prices
Source: CBR and CEMI-EHESS computations
We could see that with a critical exchange rate of 50 RR for 1 USD, which seems to be value where the CBR want to stabilize, we have a Ruble, which is slightly overvalued from a fiscal point of view but quite under-valued form an economic point of view. It looks like the government and the Central Bank have admitted this trade-off. They are accepting a budget deficit (which could reach 3% GDP for 2015) for the sake of redynamising the industry and local production.
One important point to be figured out is what will be in this context the inflation rate. Quite obviously with the high speculation and the high exchange rate depreciation in December the exchange rate has jumped forward. Currently, mostly driven by a huge import inflation effect, it reached 16,4% on 12 consecutive months for April. But, with the cumulative effect of the current appreciation and of the switch from imported products to Russian produced ones, which is happening we are to see the inflation rate to progressively go down. Inflation is to progressively go down to 9-11% by the end of 2015 and will probably be between 7% and 9% for 2016. With such an inflation rate, the real exchange rate of the Ruble is to be highly favourable for internal producers till the 3rd quarter of 2016. If Russia has committed itself to a Real Exchange Rate strategy, this is something extremely important. Russia could have nominal stability for at least 18 months, which would rebuild progressively household and enterprise confidence and still have a large reserve for real exchange rate depreciation, an important point from Russian based enterprises.
Source: Federal Service for Statistics
Another reason for this trade-off could have been the situation of Central Bank reserves. These reserves have been quite depleted during the high speculation phase.
Now, with the Central Bank defending an exchange rate off 50 RR to 1 USD, it could by buying between 200 millions to 1 billion USD a day. Actually, we are seeing the situation of CBR reserves, which never was in a situation of real difficulties, beginning to improve.
In the end it seems that Russia has weathered most of the storm created by financial sanctions and by high speculation.
II. Prospects for the near future.
If Russia has not collapsed this winter, as predicted by some analysts, it is true that its economy has been under a serious shock. The durability of this shock is to be estimated as well as prospects for the second half of 2015 and 2016.
The shock seems to have been of a lesser magnitude than what was expected, including by the Russian Ministry of Finance. Quite certainly the internal consumption has fallen quite abruptly, more or less in a similar way to what has been the case in 2008-2009.
Blue line: monthly results.
Orange line: moving average on 12 consecutive months.
Source: Federal service of Statistics
However, it would be extremely un-cautious to derive from retail trade figures future projection of the production index. Retail trade figures are aggregating all the retail trade, both for imported goods and for locally produced ones. But only the latter are relevant if we come to production. So far we don’t have any direct information about a possible import-substitution effect, induced the huge price raise of imported products linked to the previous Ruble depreciation. The sharp drop in imports Russia has known by the end of 2014 year is a possible indication of what is happening. Another important point is the behaviour of the Railroad Freight index. It is a quite reliable indicator of what happens in the production sphere, not affected by oil and gaz movement as railroad freight is largely driven by other productions than hydrocarbon.
Blue line: monthly results.
Orange line: moving average on 12 consecutive months.
Source: Federal service of Statistics
It seems, through looking at these statistics that Russia could be rebounding already by the 2nd quarter 2015. Actually, the rate of production (and GDP) drop has been much lower than expected (-2,9% against -4,5%). But, this could have been an effect of the delay of the crisis hitting actual producers. The argument favouring such a view is mostly based on investment. Investments have been severely affected by the huge, if short lived, hike of interest rates in December-January. Inquiries here are demonstrating that effectively the interest rates hike had a deleterious effect in agriculture and in the agro-industrial branch. Such an effect could well have been replicated in others activities. An additional point is the impact of interest rates hike on to consumption credit. This would have deterred households to buy large goods or to invest into flats. Actually, both retail and corporate loan portfolio kept declining in March, being down 4% YTD in retail and down 1% since the beginning of the year in the corporate segments (cleaned from the FX revaluation effect in both cases).
But, countering this argument are several factors:
- Investment is production activities, but for very large companies, is largely funded be self-funding or by borrowing to other enterprises and not banks. This is mitigating the impact of a huge rates hike. By the way, small and medium sized enterprises are extremely sensible to the exchange rate, which translates very quickly into gains or losses.
- The number of households using consumption credits, if far larger than in the early 2000, is still quite low by comparison with Western standards. Consumption credits are used by 23% of households.
- The Central Bank if maintaining its intervention rates quite high is actually injecting since mid-April huge quantities of Ruble in the economy. If the weekly injection is around 4 billion USD, it will translate into 200 billion RR. This is, more or less the equivalent of a huge quantitative easing done certainly by other means, but still done. In such a situation we could expect a sharp drop in bank rates and will boost investment.
- The government has committed itself to an aggressive support of economic activity including tax break, tax and inspection shelter for small and medium enterprises, but also large budgetary support, be it at the federal level or at the regional one. Off course translation of economic orders into the actual life could be a quite protracted process.
- The unemployment rate is actually decreasing in April.
Source: Federal service of Statistics
All these information are indicating that the 2nd quarter of 2015 would see consumption bottoming up, investment very probably on the rise, and production slowly increasing. By comparison to 2014, the 2nd quarter will still be in negative waters but the probability to see an aggravation by comparison to the 1st quarter seems to be low. The economic situation will then improve with growth resuming quite probably by the end of the 3rd quarter.
In the end, year 2015 is to see a drop of -1,5/-2,0% GDP, and by 2016 growth will resume in Russia. However, its intensity is still a very open debate. What can be said is that without any expansive government policy the rate of growth could fall between 0,5% and 1,5%. But, if the government support to economic activity is strong, the rate of growth could climb up to 4%. Actually, the rate of recovery in the industry, but also governmental support to some activities, is indicating that the probability for a more than 1,5% rate of growth is quite high. It is quite obvious that the government has done a choice toward an economic policy strongly biased in favour of industrial production. The real issue is to know what will be this policy effectiveness and to what extent lower administrative hierarchical levels will successfully implement this policy.
III. Lessons for the monetary policy.
Some clues for the future of Russian economic policy could be found in the change the monetary policy has recently taken. It is to be known that Russia has always had an explicit or “official” monetary policy but also an actual one. To some extent from 2008 to 2013 there was a trend of making the “actual” policy close to the explicit one.
In October 2008, the Central Bank of Russia (CBR) announced a change in its explicit policy. An important feature of this change was the switch to an inflation-targeting strategy. The change was an important one, and looked more like a progressive adaptation than a radical turn. But, this change explicitly brought the CBR’s strategy into line with the strategies of other central banks like the Fed, the European Central Bank (ECB), and the Bank of England. This policy is a result of the so-called “New Monetary Consensus” (NMC), which spread and became dominant among central banks from the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the1990s on.
The cornerstone of the NMC was Fama’s theory of efficient capital markets. But this theory has been subjected to some powerful criticism, both internal and external. From an internal point of view, Grossman and Stiglitz have demonstrated the impossibility of efficient markets, and Shiller has extended this result to what he calls the “irrational exuberance” that we are seeing in finance and on some capital markets. From an external point of view, the principal tenet of the NMC, the so-called theory of the “rational agent”, has also been invalidated. There have been many examples of what has been called “irrational” behaviour in situations close to ones we can expect on capital and financial markets.
The most important thing was that the new CBR strategy made interest rates the main anti-inflation weapon for attempting to control monetary mass aggregates. This change was progressively introduced into actual practice and, by end December 2013, the switch to this “new” strategy was complete. But, the inflation-targeting strategy needed a free-floating exchange rate to use the interest rate as its main tool. We can now see the contradiction in the CBR policy. The switch to inflation targeting was linked to the free-float, but the free-float opened up the door to the possibility of massive speculation in some special conditions.
This switch has been described as ill-advised and even utterly dangerous for Russia since 2010. To a large extent inflation in Russia seems to have been much more structural than monetary induced, something which was calling in doubt the use of New Monetary Consensus based policies.
We had several attempts to rescue part or the totality of this policy. By the end of 2014 official statements were still firmly committed to inflation targeting: « Starting from 2015, the monetary policy will be conducted under the inflation targeting regime. The Bank of Russia influences pricing processes with a certain time lag, therefore the inflation target should be set for a medium run. The monetary policy goal is to lower inflation to 4% in 2017 and keep it close to this level ».
But, by the beginning of 2015 the CBR actually switched to a new one. It did so however on an informal basis. Certainly, the CBR didn’t adopt a policy of capital controls, which arguably could have been implemented by late November or early December and would have spared Russia the shock of high speculation in December. Quite silently the CBR dropped “inflation targeting” and switched, from February 2015 on to a new strategy. With the official return of the CBR on the FOREX and a stated policy of buying USD to avoid appreciation of the Ruble (May 14th) we can see five targets or more specifically “priorities” in the Central Bank policy.
- The first and most important priority seems to be a support to the manufacturing industry through an undervalued change rate. As explained before the 50 RR to 1 USD guarantee that such an undervaluation could stay for at least 18 months (and even longer would productivity gains in Russia be faster than ones in the US economy and in the Eurozone). Not only would such an exchange rate boost competitiveness of Russian-based producers on the internal and external markets, but through the increase in profitability (enhanced by tax breaks and tax shelters) would be of a great help for self-funding of investment.
- The second priority seems to be a fiscal one. The government seeks to reach an exchange rate corresponding, more or less, to an oil price of 66 USD a barrel (for BRENT prices). The Russian government can accept a level of deficit relatively important for 2015 as it knows that the debt burden will still diminish because of high inflation.
Source: Ministry of Finance of the Russian Federation
- A third priority seems to be the stability of the banking system (the classical “lender of last resorts” task) but also a steady alimentation of Russian economy in liquidity, amounting to a kind of Quantitative Easing implemented “Russian way”. The impact of such a policy on to the spread of interest rates and on lending rates provided by banks (and specifically large State-owned banks) is still to be seen but would be very positive from an investment point of view.
- The fourth priority is the stabilization of the nominal exchange rate to rebuild confidence and enhance both economic and political stability.
- The fifth priority is a residual willingness to reduce the inflation rate to a tolerable level. To some extent that would explain why the critical exchange rate has been fixed around 50 RR to 1 USD and not to 55 RR or even 60 RR. This would also explain why interest rates are still pretty high. It seems that the government and monetary authorities have targeted non-conventional tools to fight inflation and mostly is some appreciation on the change rate and the fast development of import-substitution industries.
The turn from inflation targeting to a strategy supporting the economy could hardly have been more complete. The use of budget deficit as a more permanent tool for macroeconomic policy is also to be highlighted.
Source: Ministry of Finance of the Russian Federation
IV. What are permanent changes in the Russian economy?
The sanction regime, even if softened or may be lifted in the near future has had a quite strong impact on the Russian economy but probably not the kind of impact that had been expected at its introduction. This is a clear example of unintentional consequences of an intentional action.
The prevalent development “model” of Russia has been the result of compromises, which have been evolving since 2000. These have allowed for the strong growth of the years 2000 to 2008. Their major traits have been preserved, including during the 2008-2010 crisis. Yet these compromises seem to have reached the limits of their potential. Witness to this is the slow-down in growth, noticeable since 2013, which occasioned some reflections at the time. Moreover, the present situation characterized both by a strong decrease in oil prices and by a showdown between the Western countries and Russia, renders these compromises largely inoperative.
Following the transition of the 1990s, we have seen the emergence of new configurations between private and public actors in Russia. The crisis of 1998 had brought about a shift in favour of public actors and a compromise around the stabilization of these configurations and a consolidation of the role of the State were implemented when V. Putin took power. If the government kept the upper-hand over some sectors, it nevertheless opened up Russian economy to foreign capital as far as the other sectors were concerned, and it accommodated itself with the rules of financial globalisation. This compromise rested on the idea that Russia would be able to use the international financial system to its own profit, in order to finance its development. It also corresponded to the wish of big Russian companies, whether in the domain of fossil fuels or of metals, to resort to external growth (by the means of acquisitions) in order to reach the size required to confront world competition. But it is clear that other reasons, less avowable, tied in with exporting the industrial patrimony of Russia, were also at play. One might have grounds, too, to question a model in which Russia produced commodities only in order to later import manufactured goods produced from these same commodities. The compromise included an understanding on the measured use of financial means stemming from the income from commodities. The “ National priorities” as defined by end 2004 made it possible to channel part of the investment desired by the “interventionists,” without provoking sizeable macro-economic unbalances. So far that Russia has been able to avoid the trap of the « Dutch syndrome » and to preserve as diversified an economy as possible.
This strategy paid up initially. The productivity of the workforce registered a spectacular increase, particularly in the industry of manufactured goods.
Gains in work productivity of labour since 2002
|Agriculture, hunting and forestry||100||105,6||108,7||110,6||115,4||121,1||133,3||126,6||111,8||128,7||126,4||133,9|
|Natural resources industries||100||109,2||117,2||124,6||128,7||132,7||133,8||147,0||153,4||157,5||157,5||152,6|
Source : Federal Service of Statistics
This increase is linked as much to investment (which was high at the time) as to the introduction of new technologies through the development of plants belonging to Western companies, or through an effect of diffusion in the Russian industry.
Yet national priorities were required to be compatible with rules established by Alexey Kudrin and German Gref. Alexey Kudrin, then Minister of Finances, continued to oppose any massive use within the Russian economy of the funds accumulated by means of exports, pretexting risks of macroeconomic unbalances. The fight against inflation remained the cornerstone of the economic credo of the authorities, a fact not in keeping with the economic situation in Russia after 2002. The monetary policy implemented in Russia retains the imprint of the memory of the crisis of 1998.
Yet, one could already see cracks begin to appear in this compromise. Alexey Kudrin’s declaration at the end of January 2008 about the role of Russia as a « haven of stability, » when worries were mounting in relation with the crisis of the subprimes, was witness to the illusion that this strategy was durable. The indebtedness of large companies and of Russian banks on the international financial markets would reveal itself to be a real problem when the Ruble decreased strongly in value during the financial crisis of 2008. The world economic crisis (2008-2009) constituted indeed the first challenge to this strategy.
The State had to rush to the help of companies too dependent on international liquidities or having underwritten sizeable loans, which they could no longer repay. The years 2010-2013 were characterized by the « illusion » that a return to such an equilibrium would be possible. But this illusion has at present dissipated.
Gross external indebtedness of the Federation of Russia (liabilities)
Billion US dollars
|Total indebtedness to non-residents||707,76||716,25||728,86||715,82|
|Government of the Federation of Russia||55,93||62,67||61,74||53,63|
|Other financial agents||18,97||17,56||15,96||15,33|
|Of which Credits||261,32||264,30||268,40||266,33|
|As a percentage of the whole|
|Government of the Federation of Russia||7,9%||8,7%||8,5%||7,5%|
|Other financial agents||2,7%||2,5%||2,2%||2,1%|
Source : Central Bank of Russia
From this resulted a new increase in indebtedness of industrial companies and of banks. Of course, this indebtedness also corresponded to the purchase of sizeable assets, and the structure of assets and liabilities of companies was balanced. Still, the difference in temporalities between assets and liabilities exposed banks and Russian enterprises to considerable difficulties in the case of an important decrease in the value of the Ruble. The Russian government has indeed deployed much effort in order to re-orient the international trade of Russia towards Asia and to develop a free-trade zone with some of the countries of the former Soviet Union. The principle of a diversification of trading partners is a judicious one. It is clear that Russia, of which Europe is the first trading partner, has partly “imported” the recession or stagnation that the European continent has been undergoing since 2012. This situation has been acknowledged only progressively among the Russian economic elites. But it has brought about an important change in the strategy of the government. From this point of view, one can talk of a pragmatic readjustment of the economic policy of Russia. In fact, it raises the problem of a possible « de-globalization » of the Russian economy and, through this very fact, a re-examination of the balances perceptible in the development strategies. If one wants to reorient the development model towards a more « self-centered » economy, it is obvious that the growth in real income of the population, of consumption and of savings, will become more relevant indicators in steering the economy than classical macro-economy indicator including the inflation rate. This will imply a more “social” turn of the political economy, for the repartition of income will in time become as important as the evolution of its mass if one wants Russia’s economic growth to be fostered by internal consumption.
The economic change was then cumulated with a geopolitical one. Relations between the United States, the European Union and Russia have degraded considerably since the beginning of 2014 with event in Ukraine and Crimea. Not that they had been good before. The contradictions among foreign policies have been flagrant for about three years. Yet the Russian initiative on chemical weapons in Syria had shown that collaborations were possible and badly needed. These collaborations were also necessary, be it for the United States, who cannot disengage from Afghanistan without the implicit support of Russia, or for France, who is largely tributary of Russian means of heavy air-transportation for its operations in Africa. The responsibility for this degradation is to be sought more with the United States and with the European Union. The mechanism of sanctions and counter-sanctions, which is presently operating at full stride weighs heavily on the anticipations of the various economic actors, particularly in Western Europe. Losses in growth could reach 0,5% of GDP in Germany, 0,25% in France, but, too, 0,8% in Hungary and 1% in Poland. Considering the current low rate of growth in some of these countries this is quite a significant impact.
The various stages in the sanctions process, as well as the answers it elicited from the Russian government, are building a particular psychological context, the importance of which goes way beyond the real effects of the measures taken on either side. On the side of the United States and of the EU countries, we have a set of measures including the domain of industrial cooperation as well as the one of financial transactions. The United States have decided during the month of July to extend the sanctions to the defence sector, affecting the state company of ship-building (OSK) and the state company of airplane construction (OAK). We have then the sanctions that fall under the SSI regime of sectorial sanctions.
The Russian reaction was then to enlarge and widen its cooperation with China, but also with emerging countries. This cooperation embraces not only economic and financial aspects but military and strategic ones too. Quite clearly this move was not one favoured at first by Vladimir Putin, who still is probably one of the more “pro-Western Powers” politician in Moscow, but he accepted the challenge and had no alternative. This, coupled to the remarkable resilience displayed by the Russian economy has given birth to a new discourse in the West, one about Putin’s “victory”. But results of this move are to go well farther a simple success of Russia and will be extensive. The recent creation of the AIIB ant the concretisation of the reserve monetary pool for BRICS countries are just examples of the powerful trend emerging now. Not only the Russian economy is turning its back to Europe, a process which have predated the sanction regime but which was certainly accelerated by it, but we could well see rebuilding of strong geopolitical “blocks” in international affairs and these “blocks” could dominate international relation for at least 20 years. May be are we witnessing the end of the second globalization, an end brought forward much more by tactical motives than by a large vision of the future.
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