Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Russian Economy Is Showing Signs of Cracking

From ZeroHedge:
As you might have noticed over the past several days, the Russian ruble is in a veritable tailspin. The inexorable decline in crude has pressured the currency as have expectations of an uptick in year-end budget spending.

The ruble fell to a record low against the dollar on Monday and depending on crude’s trajectory, could well fall further in the new year. 2015 will likely mark the third annual decline for the currency which is under pressure not only from low oil prices, but from biting economic sanctions tied to Moscow’s alleged role in Ukraine. 
“The wish to hedge potential risks from geopolitics and commodities may well push the ruble to 75,” Evgeny Koshelev, an analyst at Rosbank PJSC in Moscow, told Bloomberg by e-mail this week. “It will be interesting to see if there’s a reaction from the central bank, government and households to this weakening.”

Yes, it will be “interesting”, especially if crude slides even further. Here are Goldman’s projections based on three different prices for oil:
  • At an oil price of US$35/bbl, we think the Ruble will be around Rub72 or close to current levels. Under that scenario we think inflation could be around 6% at end 2016.
  • At an oil price of US$30/bbl, we think the Ruble will depreciate to about Rub77 or 10% below current levels and end-year inflation in 2016 could be up to 6.7%.
  • At an oil price of US$25/bbl, the Ruble is likely to depreciate to the mid-80s and inflation is more likely to be up to 8% in December 2016.
While Goldman is fairly optimistic about what the future holds for the Russian economy - which, you're reminded, is in the midst of its deepest recession since 2009 - the Central Bank of Russia isn't so sure. In fact, according to the bank's "risk scenario," oil prices could hover around US$35/bbl in 2016 while GDP could contract by 5% or more and inflation might be stuck at 7-9%.
Russia's 2016 budget assumes oil prices at $50/bbl. If that proves correct, Moscow will run a deficit of about 3%. However, as Citi noted earlier this month, "a $10bbl decline in oil prices worsens the fiscal position by about 0.7% of GDP."
As Citi goes on to point out, the deterioration in the fiscal position "already incorporates the secondary positive effect of the weaker currency." In other words, the widening budget deficit associated with falling crude prices takes into account the effect a concomitantly weaker ruble has on RUB-denominated oil revenues.
So, combining this with the CRB's risk scenario as outlined above, we're to understand that with oil at $35/bbl, Russia's projected deficit jumps 23% to 3.7% of GDP which will itself decline 5% from a year earlier while inflation runs at between 7-9%. 
If, however, oil were to fall to $30/bbl, the situation worsens materially. Here's Citi again:
A fall of the oil prices to $30bbl will thus widen the fiscal deficit to 4.4% of GDP. Given that the 2016 budget is based on an oil price of $50bbl, this implies that the fiscal position may deteriorate to -4.4% (-3.0% -2 times 0.7%) of GDP at oil of $30bbl.This is a significant fiscal gap that would be the second largest over the last 20 years (largest deficit of 6.0% of GDP was recorded in 2009).
The fiscal outlook is further darkened by the trials and travails of Vnesheconombank (VEB), the troubled state bank that's been crippled by economic sanctions and is laboring under more than $15 billion in foreign currency debt (which is of course a disaster given the ruble's slide). As Bloomberg reports, VEB may need a massive state bailout that could end up costing upwards of $18 billion. Here's more:
VEB got its start under Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin as a bank to finance foreign trade. Putin overhauled it in 2007. Flush with cash from high oil prices, he pumped 180 billion rubles (worth about $7.3 billion at the time) in to boost capital and took over at chairman of the board a year later.

When the global financial crisis struck in 2008, VEB became Putin’s main tool for managing the shock. It got 1.25 trillion rubles (worth about $50 billion at the time) from the government and central bank to shore up the plunging stock market, help failing banks and bail out tycoons who were facing the loss of their companies to foreign creditors....

See also:

What Changed In Russian Central Banking? "Turning the Russian petro-monetary transmission mechanism upside-down"

Russia Central Bank Prepares For Three Years of $35 Oil