Category Archives: Russian bonds

5/3/18: S&P upgrade and Russian markets reaction

Belatedly, on the S&P upgrade for Russian Sovereign Debt, here is a good primer from Bloomberg:

Markets repricing was quick on the news, when S&P did upgrade country bonds from BB+ to BBB: Russian dollar- and euro-denominated bonds rose across the maturity curve. Russia’s 2043 eurobond was up 1.4 cents to 115 cents in the dollar the day after the upgrade, while 2026 issue was up 0.69 cents to 105 cents, and the 2027 issue was up 0.72 cents to 101 cents. 5 year CDS fell 5 bps to 103 bps.

This was not a watershed, however, as Russian bonds been rallying (with some volatility) for quite some time prior, shaking off completely end of January extension of the U.S. sanctions.

A neat chart via BOFIT shows the improvement in the state of Russian fiscal position:

Russia spent 3 years in 'junk rating' lock up, much of it down to the U.S. and EU sanctions, rather than to any adverse dynamic in Russian sovereign default risks.

As BOFIT noted, "S&P Global Ratings noted that Russia’s macroeconomic policy has allowed the economy to adjust to lower commodity prices and international sanctions. The outlook for the Russian economy is stable. S&P’s rating for Russian sovereign foreign bonds now matches that
of Fitch, while Moody’s continues to apply a junk rating (Ba1). ... The Russian government currently faces no compelling need to borrow from abroad as the current fiscal outlook is rather good thanks to the rise of oil prices and fiscal discipline."

In 2017, Russia witnessed an 18 percent rise in Federal revenues, and an 8 percent increase in allocations to the Social Reserve Funds (spending from the funds rose 6 percent).

Russia retains the position, rather rare for any country, to be able to pay off its entire external Government debt from its sovereign reserves.

10/4/16: Russian Bonds Issuance: Some Recent Points of Pressure

Catching up with some data from past few weeks over a number of post and starting with some Russian data.

First, March issue of Russian bonds. The interesting bit relating RUB22.8 billion issuance was less the numbers, but the trend on issuance and issuance underwriting.

First, bid cover was more than four times the amount of August 2021 bonds on offer, raising RUB22.8 billion ($337 million) across
  • fixed-rate notes (bids amounted to RUB47 billion on RUB11.5 billion of August 2021 bonds on offer)
  • floating-rate notes (bids amounted to RUB25 billion on issuance of RUB9.33 billion of December 2017 floating coupon paper) and 
  • inflation-linked securities (amounting to RUB2.01 billion)
This meant that Russia covered in one go 90 percent of its planned issuance for 1Q 2016, as noted by Bloomberg at the time - the highest coverage since 2011. With this, the Finance Ministry will aim to sell RUB270 billion in the 2Q 2016.

Bloomberg provided a handy chart showing as much:

Now, in 2011, Russian economy was still at the very beginning of a structural slowdown period and well ahead of any visibility of sanctions.

Sanctions are not directly impacting sales of Russian Government bonds, but the U.S. has consistently applied pressure on American and European banks attempting to prevent them from underwriting Moscow's Government issues ( Prior to the auction, Moscow invited 25 Western banks and 3 domestic banks to bid for USD3 billion worth of Eurobonds (the first issuance of Eurobonds by Russia since 2013). Despite the EU official statement that current sanctions regime does not prohibit purchases or sales of Government bonds, Western banks took to the hills (at least officially).

The point of the U.S. pressure on the European banks is a simple threat: in recent years, the U.S. regulators have aggressively pursued European banks for infringements on sanctions against Iran and other activities. In effect, U.S. regulatory enforcement has been used to establish Washington's power point over European banking institutions. And the end game was that, despite being legal, sale of Eurobonds was off limits for BNP Paribas, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, and UBS, not to mention U.S.-based Bank of America, Citi, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo.

Another dimension of pressure is the denomination of the Eurobond. Moscow wanted Eurobond issued in dollars. However, dollar-issuance requires settlement via the U.S., enhancing U.S. authorities power to exercise arbitrary restriction on a deal that is legal under the U.S. laws (as not being officially covered by sanctions).

Beyond underwriters, even buy-side for Russian Government bonds is being pressured, primarily by the U.S., with a range of European and American investment funds getting hammered:

Russian Government bonds (10 year benchmark) are trading at around 9.26-9.3 percent yield range, well down on December 2014 peak of over 14.09 percent, but still massively above bonds for countries with comparable macroeconomic performance statistics.

Interestingly, there is a huge demand in the market for Russian Eurobonds, as witnessed by mid-March issuance by Gazprom of bonds denominated in CHF (see:

It is worth noting again that Russian Government bonds are not covered by any sanctions and are completely legal to underwrite and transact in.

Beyond this, the Western sanctions were explicitly designed to avoid placing financial pressures on ordinary Russians. Government bonds are used to fund general Government deficits arising from all lines of Government expenditure, including healthcare, social welfare, education etc, but also including military spending, while excluding supports for sanctioned enterprises and banks (the latter line of expenditure is linked to funds being sourced from the SWF reserves). Given this, the U.S. position on bonds issuance represents a potential departure from the U.S.-stated objective of sanctions and can be interpreted as an attempt to directly induce pain on ordinary Russians (the more vulnerable segments of the population, such as the elderly, children and those in need of healthcare, or as they are termed in Russian - budgetniki - those whose incomes depend on the Budgetary allocations).

This is a sad turn of events from markets and U.S. policy perspectives - placing arbitrary and extra-legal restrictions on transactions that are perfectly legal is not a good policy basis, unless the U.S. objective is to fully politicise financial markets in general. Neither is the U.S. position consistent with the ethical stance de jure adopted under the sanctions regime.

5/5/15: Good Bonds, Bad Rules & Russian Deficits

Neat chart via @sobberLook showing Russian 2-year bonds yields out through today:

The blowout is over, but at 10.9% still ahead of anything 'normal' and remains pressured. To me, real test will be around 9.7% levels and then again around 9%.

Meanwhile, on a supportive side of things, Russia is about to decouple its budgetary balance estimates from the 3-year (back) average oil price rule, by switching to RUB denominated oil price benchmark. Which will improve the deficit calculations by bringing some reality to assumptions underlying the budget.

As the result of the switch, Budget for 2015 will see a correction in built-in oil price of RUB2,915, Budget 2106 - of RUB1,938 and Budget 2017 of RUB 760. Thereafter, the effect should be weaker, with Budget 2018 estimated impact is for price decline of RUB60. Current rule implies that Budget 2016 was to be estimated using oil price of USD89 per barrel, against the Economy Ministry forecast of USD60.  In 2015, Budget is computed using base line price of USD94 against the economic forecast (for the Budget) of USD55. Higher budgeted oil price implies higher spending, while revising the benchmark price down as per new proposed rule implies lower spending and, thus, lower deficits. So, in return, budget cuts and balancing of the budget, will be spread over longer horizon and will allow to more conservatively use Russian foreign exchange reserves.

More on this here:

18/4/15: Fitch Postpones Russian Ratings Review on Improved Data

As noted yesterday, both Fitch and S&P came out with (well, sort of came out in Fitch case) updated ratings for Russia. I covered S&P ratings here:

Now onto Fitch.

According to the Russian Finance Minister, Anton Siluanov, Fitch postponed formal ratings review and held Russian ratings at BBB- - just a notch above junk grade. Fitch, thus, retains the only non-junk rating for Russia amongst the Big 3 agencies, with S&P at BB+ and Moody's at Ba1. According to Siluanov, the postponement reflects improved data outlook for the Russian economy.

Fitch was the first of the Big 3 to cut Russia’s rating back on January 9 (see Since then, Russian eurobond issue, maturing 2030 posted a 13 percent plus rise. In part, this reflects firming up of the ruble, and to a larger extent - the unprecedented levels of liquidity flowing into sovereign bonds markets worldwide. But in part, improved yields are also reflective of adjusting expectations concerning Russian economy. For example, alongside their February downgrade, Moody's estimated Russian capital outflows for 205-2016 at USD400 billion and Russian GDP was forecast to fall by 8.5%. Current consensus in the markets is that outflows will be closer to USD150-170 billion (on expected debt maturities) and the economy is likely to contract by closer to 4-4.5%.

Capital outflows figures stabilisation has been rather significant, especially given the level of debt redemptions in 1Q 2015 (see here: In 1Q 2015, estimated outflows totalled just USD32.6 billion, compared to USD77.4 billion in 4Q 2014 and with USD48 billion outflows in 1Q 2014. While banks continued to deleverage, non-financial sector was able to roll over much of maturing debt and were repatriating assets into Russia. The net result was inflow of forex into the Ruble market.

Deleveraging in the Russian economy is going at a breakneck pace: in mid-2014 Russian external debt (over 90% accounted for by private sector) stood at just over USD730 billion. By the end of 1Q 2015 estimated external debt has fallen to USD560 billion, implying net debt reductions of USD170 billion over the span of 9 months, well above my earlier estimate of net repayment of USD96.5 billion that excluded Ruble devaluation effects. The USD170 billion estimate includes devaluation of the Ruble and roll-overs when these involved conversion from forex-denominated inter-company loans and equity into Ruble-denominated ones. It is worth remembering that roughly 1/4 of Russian external debt is denominated in Rubles.

When it comes to sovereign ratings, it is also worth remembering that Russian public sector external liabilities amount to less than 10 percent of the total external debt.

Overall, Fitch decision to hold Russian ratings under review is a reflection of the recent improvements in the economic outlook, but also the fragile and early nature of these. As I noted on numerous occasions before, the situation is fragile and the risks to the downside are prominent, so Fitch's more cautious approach to ratings is probably better justified by the current environment.

17/4/15: Conservative to a Surprising Degree: S&P Russia Ratings

Two ratings agencies updated their ratings for Russia today. Here are some highlights:

S&P first (Fitch later, so stay tuned):

S&P kept Russia’s foreign-currency credit rating at BB+ or one step below investment grade with negative outlook. ""We are affirming our 'BB+/B' long- and short-term foreign currency ratings and our 'BBB-/A-3' long- and short-term local currency ratings on Russia".

The agency claimed that Russian policy makers are struggling to boost growth and the country financial system risks are increasing due to continued external funding drought caused by the sanctions. Per S&P statement, “Our base case assumes that the sanctions on Russia will remain in place over the forecast horizon, absent a resolution of the conflict in Ukraine.”

S&P first pushed Russian ratings below investment grade on January 26, based on the adverse impact of lower oil prices and ongoing sanctions.

The rating came in as expected, though negative outlook might be a touch gloomy for some observers. The reason is that since January, Ruble gained significant ground in value, while capital outflows projections for 2015 improved (in 2014 Russia experienced capital outflows of USD154 billion, and 2015 latest forecast is for outflows of USD90 billion). Ruble trade at 68.0 to USD back on the day of S&P previous decision, today it is around 52 mark. Growth outlook is stabilising, albeit remains highly challenging. Inflation is matching S&P previous expectations, but against lower CBR rates. Ukrainian conflict drags on, for sure, but there is at least a fragile pause in place and if in January new sanctions were looming, today there appears to be no momentum for their introduction. Finally, oil was at around USD48 pb then, at USD55 pb now. Russian authorities have said this week that they may return to foreign borrowing markets in 2016, while expectation in January was that the earliest date we might see Russian issuance in international markets is 2017.

On the higher risks side, March consumer demand appears to have worsened despite improved Ruble exchange rate as preliminary retail sales data shows a 8.7% drop y/y and consumer sentiment index down 14 percentage points on Q4 2014. Economy is expected to post a contraction of 2-4 percent in 1Q 2015. Preliminary data suggests investment declined 5.3% y/y and industrial production is down 0.6%. Inflation is running at 16.8% annualised rate, but that is, actually, a slowdown from over 18% earlier this year.

Still, at 2-4 percent, things in 1Q 2015 are not as bad, and certainly not worse, that full year consensus forecast of 4.1 percent this year. And capital outflows eased significantly in 1Q 2015 to USD32.6 billion from USD77.4 billion in 4Q 2014.

So it is a mixed bag, but crucially, the economy is performing close to previous expectations, with no significant downside surprise between January and today. Which means that it is rather unclear which part of expectations forward warrants 'negative' outlook, given there is already a 'negative' outlook reflected in the affirmed ratings?

S&P tries to explain: “The outlook remains negative, reflecting our view that we could downgrade Russia if external and fiscal buffers deteriorate over the next 12 months faster than we currently expect. We could also lower the ratings if Russia’s monetary policy flexibility were to diminish further.”

But contrasting this, is S&P own outlook published in recent weeks covering key sectors and economic activity. In April 13 note, S&P estimated that 5 largest Russian banking groups have lost USD4-5 billion in 2014 (ca 20-25% of their aggregate operating income) due to their exposure to Ukrainian assets. But forward outlook is not exactly any worse, as S&P said that 2015 losses from the same can be about the same. More significantly, S&P said that they "…estimate that Russian banking groups face aggregated Ukraine-related risks of less than 3% of their aggregated assets…. We nevertheless believe that Russian banks can withstand such costs, and that there will therefore be no rating impact for rated Russian financial groups."

And more. On April 7th, S&P itself upgraded outlook for the Russian economy: S&P own forecasts now expect 2016 growth of 1.9% (as opposed to 0.5% consensus forecasts) and a recession of 2.7% in 2015, as opposed to January 2015 forecast of 0.5% growth in 2015 and zero percent growth in 2016 and against the consensus forecasts cited above.

S&P is not the only research outfit upgrading Russian growth forecasts: JPMorgan revised recently its 2015 forecast from -5% to -4%. Russian official forecasts are also 'stabilising': Ministry of Economic Development forecasts +2.3% for 2016 and +2.5% over 2017 and 2018. CBR forecasts a drop of 3.5–4% in 2015 and growth of +1–1.6% in 2016, rising to 5.5–6.3% in 2017.

The bizarre nature of ratings agencies analysis - including inherent own-contradictions and lags - is one of the reasons why the CBR recently said they are considering gradually abandoning Big 3 agencies ratings for the country banking sector. The move would involve developing internal ratings system and, potentially, relying on other agencies in the mix.

Conclusion: altogether S&P latest ratings make some, but very limited sense and are conservative. So let them be. Russian bonds have been rallying recently and as long as oil stays firm-ish and Ruble does not experience another run, this rally will continue in the medium term. Any adverse repricing of bonds on foot of today's S&P action (and potential downgrade by Fitch) can actually create opportunities for distressed debt buyers, which will firm up prices again. Globally, there is too much money chasing too few bonds, so spike in yields in the short run can be seen by some speculators as an opportunity to pile into Russian paper. 

(Please, do not confuse this with an investment advice, as usual, for I do not do that sort of thing).