Category Archives: Russian capital flight

27/1/16: Russian Capital Outflows 2015: Abating, but Still High

In two recent posts, I covered Russian External Debt dynamics and drawdowns on Russian Sovereign Wealth Funds. Last, but not least, I am yet to cover capital inflows/outflows for 2015. So, as promised, here is a post covering these.

Based on data that includes preliminary reporting for 4Q 2015, full year 2015 net capital outflows from Russia amounted to USD56.9 billion, composed of USD33.4 billion outflows in the Banking Sector and USD23.5 billion outflows in ‘Other Sectors’. In the banking sector there were simultaneous disposals of some USD28.2 billion of assets and reduction of USD61.6 in liabilities (repayment of maturing debts and deposits).

Thus, 2015 marked the second lowest year in the last 5 in terms of net capital outflows. In comparison, 2014 net capital outflows stood at a whooping USD153 billion and 2013 saw outflows of USD61.6 billion. Net banks’ position improved from outflows of USD86.0 billion in 2014 to outflows of USD33.4 billion in 2015. Other Sectors outflows also improved in 2015. In 2015, this category of outflows amounted to USD23.5 billion, against USD67 billion in 2014. 2015 marked the slowest outflows year in this sector in 8 years.

Chart to illustrate dynamics:

On a quarterly basis, net capital outflows from Russia in 4Q 2015 are estimated at USD9.2 billion, down from USD76.2 billion in 4Q 2014. Capital outflows were lower in every quarter of 2015 compared to corresponding quarter of 2014 and in 3Q 2015 there was a net capital inflow of USD3.4 billion - the first net inflow in any quarter since 2Q 2010.

So on balance, Russian capital outflows remain strong, but are abating rapidly. Most of the outflows is accounted for by the deleveraging of the Banks followed by shallower deleveraging of the ‘Other Sectors’.

31/5/15: Remittances from Russia Sharply Down in 1Q 2015

Latest Central Bank of Russia data shown decline in private forex outflows in 1Q 2015 as migrants and Russian citizens cut back on transfers abroad. In 1Q 2015, based on CBR data, private money transfers from Russia were down to USD2.1 billion - the lowest level of transfers since 1Q 2010 and down on USD3.9 billion in 1Q 2014 and USD4.3 billion in 4Q 2014. The data covers only cash transfer (wire transfers) and does not include bank transfers. Still, the number is significant for two reasons:

  1. In 2014, cash wire transfers amounted to USD21 billion - or nearly 1/3 of total private residents transfers (USD69 billion).
  2. Transfers decline signals slowdown in remissions from migrant workers - a major problem for a number of countries net senders of migrants into Russia (see an earlier note on this here:

Transfers outside the CIS zone amounted to USD348 million (down 39% y/y and down 45% q/q), transfers to CIS zone states fell 47% y/y and 51% q/q to USD1.8 billion.

Net transfers deficit was USD1.1 billion in 1Q 2015, down from USD3 billion in 1Q 2014 and 4Q 2014. Reminder: net outflow of capital (corporate and households, plus banks) fell 31% y/y in 1Q 2015 to USD32.6 billion (see earlier notes on this here and here:

Key drivers for slower rate of capital and forex outflows are:

  • Ruble devaluation impacting earnings of migrant workers, while Ruble strengthening in 2015 so far reducing demand for forex accounts amongst Russian depositors and improved confidence in Russian banking sector (in part due to doubling of deposits protection levels to RUB1.4 million). Higher deposit rates offered by the Russian banks also helped.
  • Decline in real earnings (
  • External debt redemptions (see earlier links)
  • Exporters reducing overall demand for forex deposits

A side note: in 1Q 2015 household deposits in Russina banks rose RUB537 billion (+2.9% y/y to RUB19.6 trillion) in contrast to 1Q 2014 when deposits fell 2.3% (to RUB16.6 trillion). CBR projects deposits rising 8% over 2015 y/y.

Another factor responsible for improved outflows is change in the migration laws. Prior to January 1, 2015, citizens from countries with visa-free entry to Russia were allowed to remain in Russia for 90 days and could re-enter any time after exiting the country. From January 1, the new rules require them to stay maximum 90 days and after exiting the country, remain outside Russia for 90 days before re-entering. It is worth noting that this is identical to similar rules applying to visa holders in many Western countries. As the result, based on Federal Migration Service data, inflow of migrants into Russia fell 70%. One outcome of this is that unemployment levels in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan - three key net senders of migrants to Russia - jumped, while remittances from Russia to Uzbekistan fell 16% in 2014, and to Tajikistan  by 8%. Third largest net sender of migrants to Russia was Ukraine, with remittance to Ukraine down 27% y/y in 2014.

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.

17/1/2015: Russian Capital Flight: What Western ‘Analysts’ Forget

Central Bank of Russia released full-year 2014 capital outflows figures, prompting cheerful chatter from the US officials and academics gleefully loading the demise of the Russian economy. 

The figures are ugly: official net outflows of capital stood at USD151.5 billion - roughly 2.5 times the rate of outflows in 2013 - USD61 billion. Q1 outflows were USD48.2 billion, Q2 outflows declined to USD22.4 billion, Q3 2014 outflows netted USD 7.7 billion and Q4 2014 outflows rose to USD72.9 billion. Thus, Q4 2014 outflows - on the face of it - were larger than full-year 2013 outflows.

There are, however, few caveats to these figures that Western analysts of the Russian economy tend to ignore. These are:
  • USD 19.8 billion of outflows in Q4 2014 were down to new liquidity supply measures by the CB of Russia which extended new currency credit lines to Russian banks. In other words, these are loans. One can assume the banks will default on these, or one can assume that they will repay these loans. In the former case, outflows will not be reversible, in the latter case they will be.
  • In Q1-Q3 2014 net outflows of capital that were accounted for by the banks repayment of foreign funding lines (remember the sanctions on banks came in Q2-Q3 2014) amounted to USD16.1 billion. You can call this outflow of funds or you can call it paying down debt. The former sounds ominous, the latter sounds less so - repaying debts improves balance sheets. But, hey, it would't be so apocalyptic, thus. We do not have aggregated data on this for Q4 2014 yet, but on monthly basis, same outflows for the banking sector amounted to at least USD11.8 billion. So that's USD 27.9 billion in forced banks deleveraging in 2014. Again, may be that is bad, or may be it is good. Or may be it is simply more nuanced than screaming headline numbers suggest.
  • Deleveraging - debt repayments - in non-banking sector was even bigger. In Q4 2014 alone planned debt redemptions amounted to USD 34.8 billion. Beyond that, we have no idea is there were forced (or unplanned) redemptions.

So in Q3-Q4 2014 alone, banks redemptions were scheduled to run at USD45.321 billion and corporate sector redemptions were scheduled at USD72.684 billion. In simple terms, then, USD 118 billion or 78 percent of the catastrophic capital flight out of Russia in 2014 was down to debt redemptions in banking and corporate sectors. Not 'investors fleeing' or depositors 'taking a run', but partially forced debt repayments. 

Let's put this into a slightly different perspective. Whatever your view of the European and US policies during the Global Financial Crisis and the subsequent Great Recession might be, one corner stone of all such policies was banks' deleveraging - aka 'pay down of debt'. Russia did not adopt such a policy on its own, but was forced to do so by the sanctions that shut off Russian banks and companies (including those not directly listed in the sanctions) from the Western credit markets. But if you think the above process is a catastrophe for the Russian economy induced by Kremlin, you really should be asking yourself a question or two about the US and European deleveraging policies at home.

And after you do, give another thought to the remaining USD 33 billion of outflows. These include dollarisation of Russian households' accounts (conversion of rubles into dollars and other currencies), the forex effects of holding currencies other than US dollars, the valuations changes on gold reserves etc.

As some might say, look at Greece… Yes, things are ugly in Russia. Yes, deleveraging is forced, and painful. Yes, capital outflows are massive. But, a bit of silver lining there: most of the capital flight that Western analysts decry goes to improve Russian balancesheets and reduce Russian external debt. That can't be too bad, right? Because if it was so bad, then... Greece, Cyprus, Spain, Italy, Ireland, Portugal, France, and so on... spring to mind with their 'deleveraging' drives...