Category Archives: Russian Foreign Reserves

13/6/19: Russian International Reserves and Government Debt

Earlier today, an esteemed colleague of mine tweeted out the following concerning Russian foreign reserves:

Which is hardly surprising, as Russia has been beefing up its reserves for some time now, following the crisis of 2014-2016 and in response to the continued pressures of Western sanctions. I wrote about this before here:

It is interesting in the light of the above news to look at Russian Government 'net worth' or 'net debt' (note: this is not the total external debt of Russia, nor Government external debt, but the total Russian Government debt comparative). Here is the chart based on the OECD data, with added estimate for Russia for 1Q 2019 based on IMF data and the latest data from CBR:

Based on my estimates and on OECD data itself, Russian Government has the largest positive net worth (lowest net debt) of any country in top 10 countries in the world (measured using nominal GDP adjusted for Purchasing Power Parity), and it is in this position by a wide margin.

The caveat is that India, China and Indonesia are not reported in the OECD data. China's Government net worth is virtually impossible to assess, because the country debt statistics are incomplete and measuring the gross wealth of the Chinese Government is also impossible. India and Indonesia are easier to gauge - both have positive net debt (negative net worth). IMF WEO database shows estimated General Government Net Debt for Indonesia at 25.5 percent of GDP in 2018. India has substantial gross Government debt of ca 70% of GDP (2018 figures), and the Government holds minor level resources, with country's sovereign wealth fund totalling at around 5 billion USD.

Another caveat is where the debt is held (Central Banks holdings of debt are arguably low risk) and whether or not assets held by the Governments are liquid enough to matter in these calculations (for example, Russian gold reserves are liquid, while some of the Russian funds investments in local enterprises are not). These caveats apply to all of the above economies.

On the net, this means that Russian Government is financially in a strongest leveraging position of all major economies in the world.

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:

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 ( 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.