Category Archives: Russian Budget

30/4/17: Did Russia Really Cut 2017 Defense Budget by a Quarter?

Headline figures from the Federal Treasury of the Russian Federation show a budgetary cut to the country defense spending of a whooping 25.5% y/y for 2017: from RUB3.8 trillion (USD65.4
billion) to RUB2.8 trillion.

However, the headline figure of 25.5% is misleading, because it is based on a fiscal defense allocation in 2016 that includes the federal funding for defense industry debt reductions.

Let me explain.

Russian defense budget (excluding debt payments) in 2016 was RUB3.07 trillion. Debt payments added ca RUB700-800 billion to that amount. Which means that 2017 defense allocation represents a decline of just 7% on 2016 actual defense spending figure, slightly deeper cut, but still in line with previously budgeted 6% reduction. In other words, relative to October 2016 projections for 2017, latest budgetary proposal is to reduce defense spending by an additional RUB230-240 billion, not by RUB1.06 trillion associated with 25.5% cut figure.

Since the start of 2014 economic crisis, and the associated funding crisis (relating to sanctions against a range of Russian lenders and corporates), Russian defense sector has suffered from sustained debt pressures. In December last year, the Ministry of Finance, made a one-time payment to defense contractors to reduce their commercial debt levels, amounting to between RUB700 and RUB800 billion. The range of numbers that reflects timing of payments and exchange rates used, plus rounding differences.

Multi-annual budgetary framework implies that on top of 7% cut in 2017, defense budget will also face reductions of 3.8% in 2018 and 4.8% in 2019. On top of this, the reductions in 2017-2019, even if implemented (a big if) come on foot of Russian defense spending expansion in 2011-2014 that saw nominal defense spending rising at almost 20% per annum. Even with a 7% cut, 2017 defense spending will still be some 14.4% above 2014 levels (in nominal terms).

Based on the ludicrous mistake of including one-off debt repayment into defense budget figures, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) - a defense spending watchdog - reported that "Russia increased its spending by 5.9 per cent in 2016 to $69.2 billion, making it the third largest spender. Saudi Arabia was the third largest spender in 2015 but dropped to fourth position in 2016. Spending by Saudi Arabia fell by 30 per cent in 2016 to $63.7 billion, despite its continued involvement in regional wars." Even though the same report admits that "late in 2016 actual spending was pushed substantially higher by a decision to make a one-off payment of roughly $11.8 billion in government debt to Russian arms producers. Without this debt repayment, Russia‚Äôs military spending would have decreased by 12%".

This, in the nutshell, is the circus that is 'analysis' of Russian data: with actual spending down, and amounting to ca USD57.4 billion, Russia is still behind Saudi Arabia in terms of military expenditures. The one-off payment of debt in the State Owned semi-commercial military suppliers, hardly represents an expenditure that materially increased Russian army, navy of its airforce, in as much as, say Greek debt restructuring did not materially increase country investment or output. But, the narrative of 'Bad Kremlin is beefing up its military to start WW3' is simply too delightful to pass.

Thing is, personally, I am not a fan of either increasing spending on the military (for any country, including Russia) or subsidising debt loads of State (or private) enterprises. However, if we are to bother reporting fiscal spending across specific programmes, debt relief is not equivalent to increased spending on core programmes relating to defense. It's a waste of taxpayers' resources. But it is not a waste that has gone into funding new bombs or howitzers.

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: