Category Archives: Russian Forex reserves

18/6/15: Russian Central Bank Targets Rebuilding of Foreign Reserves


Recently, speaking at a banking conference in St Petersburg, Elvira Nabiullina, head of the Central Bank of Russia outlined the CBR position on foreign exchange reserves. Nabiullina note that Russian reserves are large - sufficient to cover almost 11 months of imports. However, Nabiullina's 'comfort zone' target for the reserves to cover 2-3 years of "substantial capital outflows", implying she would like to see Russian reserves rising back to USD500 billion mark. Nabiullina is now targeting purchases of forex over the next few years to drive up reserves and to that objective she has been buying on average USD200mln worth of forex per day since mid-May.

In line with forex reserves rebuilding objective, Nabiullina cautioned about markets expectations of further large scale cuts to interest rates as the CBR is trying to balance out inflation targeting (requiring tighter monetary policy), investment supports (requiring looser policy) and accumulation of reserves (implying looser policy).

Per Nabiullina: "Attempts to reduce the interest rates too fast or even acquire certain assets may simply lead to stronger inflation, to an outflow of capital or to dollarisation of the economy, and that would slow down the economic growth, other than promote it."

In its latest outlook, CBR forecast unemployment reaching 6.5% this year from the current rate of 5.6%, before falling to 5.6-5.8% by 2018. GDP is expected to shrink 3.2% in 2015, returning to trend growth of 1.7-2.4% around 2017-2018. Inflation is expected to hit 11% at the end of 2015 with rather optimistic outlook for a decline to "less than 7%" by June 2016, and "close to the target level" of 4% in 2017.

Net capital outflows are expected to decline from USD90 billion in 2015 to USD55-65 billion in 2018. "We are expecting the financial sanctions against Russia to remain in place. Payments on foreign debts during this period will constitute the bulk of the capital outflow. It will gradually reduce from $90 billion to about $55-65 billion during 2015-2018, depending on the scenario," according to Nabiullina.

Russian International Reserves reached USD360.6 billion at the end of last week, up on USD356 billion low registered in April 2015. Still, the reserves are down USD117.7 billion y/y (-24.6%) and down USD132.73 billion (-26.9%) on pre-sanctions period.



15/4/15: Russian Foreign Exchange Reserves


Few weeks ago, based on the three weeks data from the Central Bank, I noted an improvement in Russian Forex reserves, while warning that this requires a number of weekly observations to the upside to confirm any reversal in the downward trend.

Now, with monthly data available for the full month of March, my concerns about temporary nature of improvements have been confirmed. Full month of March data shows a decline, not a rise, in forex reserves. Specifically, total reserves dipped from USD360.221 billion at the end of February to USD356.365 billion at the end of March - a m/m decline of USD3.856 billion.


Now, in monthly terms, March decline was the smallest since October 2014 and the second smallest (after September 2014) in 17 months. Nonetheless, forex reserves are now down to the levels of March-April 2007, having fallen USD129.766 billion y/y (-26.7%). Over the period of sanctions, total reserves are down USD136.961 billion (-27.8%). Over Q1 2015 the reserves are down USD29.095 billion.

Month on month, foreign exchange reserves (combining foreign exchange, SDRs and reserve position in the iMF) are down USD4.338 billion, with USD3.646 billion of this decline coming from foreign exchange alone. Gold holdings are up USD482 million month on month.

Gold, as percentage of total reserves, currently stands at 13.265%, the highest since November 2000. Gold holdings performed well for Russia over the period of this crisis, rising USD3.917 billion year on year through March 2015 (+9%) and up USD2.684 million since the start of the sanctions.

In terms of liquid cash reserves, foreign exchange holdings are down at USD298.665 billion at the end of March 2015, a level comparable to January-February 2007. end of March figure represents a decline of USD131.024 billion y/y (-30.5%) and the decline during the period of the sanctions is even steeper at USD136.9 billion (-31.4%).




Good news: Russian economy is past the 2015 peak of external debt redemptions (see: http://trueeconomics.blogspot.ie/2015/04/14415-russian-external-debt-redemptions.html).

Bad news: there is another USD54 billion worth of external debt that will need repaying (net of easy inter-company roll overs) in Q2-Q4 2015. Worse news: Q1 declines in foreign reserves comes with CBR not intervening in the Ruble markets.

Good news: capital flight is slowing down.

Bad news: capital flight is still at USD32.6 billion over Q1 2015 (http://www.themoscowtimes.com/business/article/russian-capital-flight-slows-sharply-in-first-quarter/518927.html) although much of that is down to debt redemptions.

Which means there is little room for manoeuvre anywhere in sight - should the macroeconomic conditions deteriorate or a run on the Ruble return, there is a very much diminishing amount of reserves available to deploy. Enough for now, but declining…

As I said before: watch incoming risks.

4/4/15: A Sign of Ruble Stabilisation? Russian Forex Reserves Rise


The latest data (through last week) published two days ago by the Central Bank of Russia shows that Russian Forex reserves have risen for the second week in a row. In the week of 27/03/2015 Forex reserves rose USD7.9 billion to USD360.8 billion and in the week prior they were up USD1.2 billion. Thus, relative to the crisis period low of USD351.7 billion set in the week of 13/03/2015, Russian Forex reserves are up USD9.1 billion. This puts weekly reserves at USD2.2 billion below end of February reading.



This is a very uncertain development at this point in time. Russian Forex reserves were down 15 consecutive weeks prior to the last two weeks of increases, so it is too early to read the latest upticks as reversal of the trend, but it is pretty clear that, for now, things have stabilised somewhat.

Monthly data, not yet fully available, but reflective of the last week results, suggests that the aggregate reserves are slightly up m/m. At the end of March, Forex reserves at USD360.8 billion appear to be up USD579 million on the end of February.

In the year through the end of March 2015, the reserves are down USD125.33 billion (-25.8%) and on the start of the sanctions, these are down USD132.53 billion (-26.9%). Q1 2015 (end of quarter) reserves are down USD24.66 billion on end of Q4 2014. In other words, we need to see several more weeks of improved reserves before we can call a new trend.




21/315: Russia Forex Reserves: Down Another Week


Based on weekly data for the week of March 13, 2015, Russian Central Bank forex reserves fell to USD351.7 billion, down USD5 billion on previous week. The reserves are now down 28.7% (USD141.5 billion) y/y. Compared to the same week a month ago, the reserves are down 4.5% (USD16.6 billion).



The rate of weekly changes in reserves (USD5 billion) is slower than in the week of March 6th (USD6.3 billion) but well ahead the 3mo average weekly decline (USD4.61 billion) and 6mo average (USD3.57 billion).

Two charts to provide some historical comparatives in terms of period averages relative to both levels and rates of change.




It is worth noting that there have been virtually no Forex interventions (Ruble rate defence: http://www.cbr.ru/Eng/hd_base/Default.aspx?Prtid=valint_day and http://trueeconomics.blogspot.ie/2015/03/20315-central-bank-interventions-in.html) from CBR in February and March and there have been ongoing de-dollarisation of the household funds in February (http://trueeconomics.blogspot.ie/2015/03/18315-russian-deposits-dollarisation.html) that is likely continued in March (reducing forex deposits and cash holdings), which implies that declines in reserves are down to the following drivers:

  1. changes in euro and other currencies, as well as gold and non-dollar denominated assets, valuations for assets held by the CBR - in other words the potential adverse effects of dollar exchange rates against other currencies, and changes in asset values due to changes in US bonds markets;
  2. demand for Forex from corporates and banks (all of which would be in the form of loans from the CBR to these entities) all of which is associated with deleveraging the external debt; and
  3. potential fiscal demand for forex.


18/3/15: Russian Deposits Dollarisation and Capital Flight



I have written before about the nature of capital outflows from Russia. One aspect of capital outflows is how the aggregate reflects deposits shifts into forex, known as 'dollarisation' of deposits. When Russian residents withdraw foreign currency from the banks (either via drawing down existent currency deposits or by converting their Ruble deposits into forex), the transaction is registered as capital outflow from Russia, even if they park this currency in safety deposit boxes and in their coffee tins. In other words, capital outflow out of Russia is registered even if cash remains in Russia.

Based on the latest data from the Institute for Foreign Trade, The Gaidar Institute for Economic Policy and the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, as of February 1, 2015, share of forex deposits in Russian banks rose to 35.7% of total monetary base excluding cash, up on 19.4% a year ago. The degree of 'dollarisation' (conversion to forex) was higher in 2014 than during the 2009 crisis, when the share of forex deposits stood at 35.3% and is second highest after 1998 crisis peak.

In 2014, Russian residents directly withdrew USD28.6 billion in forex from the banks. A large figure, but significantly less than in 2008 when this figure stood at USD51.4 billion. Over 2014, Russian banking system lost, in total, USD40 billion of forex to cash conversions and deposits withdrawals - all of which was registered as capital outflow from Russia.

The research note can be accessed (in Russian) here: http://www.ranepa.ru/news/item/6869-monitoring-4.html.

Interestingly, it tells the story of banks running out of deposit boxes storage capacity around November-December 2014 as households rushed to convert to forex holdings (mistrusting the Ruble) and switched to holding this forex in cash (mistrusting the banks).

February data showed significant moderation in dollarisation. Forex deposits held by the Russian banks fell 10.7% to RUB5.1 trillion, while Ruble denominated deposits those 2.7% to RUB13.8 trillion, with changes driven predominantly by the strengthening of the Ruble (in February, Ruble gained 14% relative to the basket of USD and EUR).

Over the last 12 months, corporate forex deposits rose substantially, with 41.3% of all corporate sector deposits now held in forex - a sign that Russian companies are continuing to build forex reserves to counter existent and potential future sanctions. In effect, Russian companies are cutting back on exporting forex out of Russia in fear of losing control over these funds in the future. At the same time, household forex deposits fell by USD5 billion and Ruble-denominated deposits rose on improved Ruble exchange rate.