Category Archives: Moody’s

23/2/16: Moody’s on Russian Banks & Ruble

A recent Moody's report on Russian banks makes an interesting point, linking capital buffers in the banking system to ruble valuations

Per Moody's: "We expect Russian banks' capital ratios and loan performance to bear the brunt of the country's falling currency and economic contraction. We also envisage a detrimental impact on bank profitability as rising problem loans will likely lead to higher loan-loss provisioning expenses for banks."

The rouble dropped a further 3% in January 2016, after falling 23% versus the dollar in the second half of 2015. At the same time, the Russian economy contracted by 4% real GDP for 2015 and Moody's forecasts further GDP contraction of at least 2% in 2016.

By Moody's estimate, "close to a third of the banking sector's loan book is denominated in foreign currency and the falling rouble will likely inflate the value of these loans in the calculation of risk-weighted assets (the denominator of the capital ratio) pushing it higher and, consequently, capital ratios lower. Without accounting for additional loan growth, a 10% rouble devaluation could lead to a 30 basis point negative impact on capital ratios..."

This is not as dramatic as the headline risks occupying Moody's, but material. Worse, this risk is coincident with the broader recessionary pressures on Russian banks. Thus, "Moody's expects the recession, with the added burden of currency depreciation, to lead to rising problem loans for Russia's banks. The rating agency estimates the stock of nonperforming and impaired loans in the banking system to rise to 14%-16% over the next 12 months, from an estimated 11% as of year-end 2015."

The third coincident factor is the Central Bank policy space: "Currency depreciation may also prevent the Central Bank of Russia from lowering its key interest rates (currently at 11%), which sets the benchmark and influences the rates which banks pay for customer deposits and the rates at which they borrow on the interbank market."

Final pressure point for the banks is deposits composition "...if corporate and retail depositors decide to protect themselves from the falling currency and switch to FX deposits. Trends so far show rouble deposits stagnating while FX deposits have increased. The percentage of FX deposits to total deposits rose to 39% as at end of December 2015, compared to 29% as at end of March 2014."

March-December comparative is significant, as it sheds some light on longer term trends beyond December 2014 - March 2015 period when forex deposits of major corporates were driven down on the foot of Moscow urging de-dollarization of the deposits base, reducing cash reserves held in forex to January 2015 levels.

23/6/15: Ukraine’s Debt Haircuts Saga: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Two big setbacks for Ukraine in its bid to cut the overall debt burden and achieve targets mandated by the IMF.

First, Moody issued a note today saying that Ukraine will be in a default if it haircuts principal owed to private creditors. The agency said it believes Ukraine can deliver USD15.3bn in savings without haircuts. Ukraine believes it cannot. IMF backed Ukraine on this, but it is not to IMF to either declare a default even or not. Moody further noted that any moratorium on debt redemptions will have long-term implications for Kiev access to international debt markets.

Second, the IMF has signalled that private debt open to haircuts under Kiev-led negotiations does not include debt owed to Russia which is deemed to be official sector debt. This is not surprising, and analysts have long insisted that this debt cannot be included into private sector haircuts, but Kiev staunchly resisted recognising debt to Russia as official sector debt.

Incidentally, Ukraine debt to Russia is structured as a eurobond and is registered in Ireland, as reported by Bloomberg. The bond is structured as private debt, but Russia subsequently re-declared it as official debt. Re-declaration was somewhat of a positive for Ukraine, because a default on official debt does not trigger automatic default on private debt (the reason why the bond was originally structured as private debt was precisely the threat that a default on it will trigger default on all bonds issued by Ukraine). Ironies abound: IMF is happy to declare Russian debt to be official sector debt, because it takes USD3 billion out of the pool of bonds targeted for haircuts. This implies that for Kiev to achieve USD15.3 billion in savings, Ukraine will most likely need to haircut actual principal outstanding to private sector bond holders - something IMF wants Kiev to do. So here, too, Russian side gain is also Kiev's gain.

Ultimately, in my view, Moscow should write down the entire USD3bn in debt owed by Kiev. Because it would be ethical to do, and because it would help Ukraine. But that point is outside the fine arts of finance, let alone beyond the brutal realities of geopolitics.

More background on both stories:

21/2/15: Russian Sovereign Wealth Funds: 2015 drawdowns

In the previous note I covered Moody's downgrade of Russian sovereign debt rating (see Now, as promised, a quick note on Russian use of sovereign fund cash reserves (also referenced in the Moody's decision, although Moody's references are somewhat more dated, having been formulated around the end of January).

Back at the end of January, Russia’s sovereign wealth funds amounted to USD160 billion, with the Government primarily taking a historically-set approach (from 2003 onwards) of arms-length interactions with the Funds management. This relative non-interference marked 2014 and is now set to be changed, with the Government looking at using SWFs to provide some support for the investment that has been falling in 2013-2014 period and is likely to fall even further this year.

Fixed investment in Russia fell 2.0% y/y in 2013, and by another 3.7% in 2014. Private investment is likely to fall by double digits in 2015, based on the cost of funding, lack of access to international funding and general recession in the economy. It is likely to stay in negative growth territory through 2016.

Thus, last week, Prime Minister Medvedev signed an executive order deploying up to RUB500 billion from the Reserve Fund. The money will be used, notionally, to cover this year deficits (expected to hit 2% of GDP), thus protecting the state from the need to borrow from the markets. The Fund was originally set up precisely for this purpose - to finance deficits arising during recessionary periods. In other words, this is stabilisation-targeted use of stabilisation funds. The fund is fully accounted for in the total Forex reserves reported by the Central Bank. Latest figures for end of January 2015 showed the fund to have USD85 billion or RUB5,900 billion in its reserves, so this year allocation is a tiny, 8.5% fraction of the total fund. All funds are allocated into liquid, foreign currency-denominated assets.

The second use of SWFs is via the economic support programme that will draw up to RUB550 billion worth of funds in 2015 from the second SWF - the National Welfare Fund (NWF). Part of this funding is earmarked for banks capitalisation, ring fenced explicitly for banks providing funding to large infrastructure investments and lending for the enterprises. The use of the NWF funds is more controversial, because the Fund was set up to provide backing for future pensions liabilities, including statutory old-age pensions. However, the NWF has been used for the economic stimulus purposes before, namely in the 2009 crisis. Currently, NWF holds USD74 billion or RUB5,100 billion worth of assets. Liquid share of these assets, denominated in foreign currencies, is also included in the Central Bank-reported Forex reserves, but long-term allocated illiquid share and ruble-denominated assets are excluded from the CBR reported figures.

Now, per Moody's note issued last night, "The second driver for the downgrade of Russia's government bond rating to Ba1 is the expected further erosion of Russia's fiscal strength and foreign exchange buffers. …Taking at face value the government's plans to proceed with its planned fiscal consolidation for 2015, Moody's expects a consolidated government deficit of approximately RUB1.6 trillion (2% of GDP) as well as a widening of the non-oil deficit. The deficit would likely be financed by drawing on the Reserve Fund, which is specifically designed for circumstances when oil prices fall below budgeted levels. …Moreover, under the stress exerted by a shrinking economy, wider budget deficits and continued capital flight -- in part reflecting the impact of the Ukraine crisis on investor and depositor confidence -- and restricted access to international capital markets, Moody's expects that the central bank's and government's FX assets will likely decrease significantly again this year, cutting the sovereign's reserves by more than half compared to their year-end 2014 level of approximately USD330 billion. In a more adverse but not unimaginable scenario, which assumes smaller current account surpluses and substantially larger capital outflows than in Moody's baseline forecast, FX reserves including both government savings funds would be further depleted. While the government might choose to mobilise some form of capital controls to impede the outflow of capital and reserves, such tools are not without consequences. Capital controls, which might include a rationing of retail deposit withdrawals and/or prohibition upon repatriation of foreign investment capital, would weaken the investment climate further and undermine confidence in the banking system."

21/2/15: Moody’s Downgrade: Russia Risks and Politics

Moody's downgraded Russian sovereign debt last night from Baa3 to Ba1 with negative outlook. Moody's put Russian ratings on a review back on January 16.

The bases for the downgrade were (quotes from Moody's statement):

  1. "The continuing crisis in Ukraine and the recent oil price and exchange rate shocks will further undermine Russia's economic strength and medium-term growth prospects, despite the fiscal and monetary policy responses". In more specific terms, "Russia is expected to experience a deep recession in 2015 and a continued contraction in 2016. The decline in confidence is likely to constrain domestic demand and exacerbate the Russian economy's already chronic underinvestment. It is unlikely that the impact of recent events will be transitory. The crisis in Ukraine continues. While the fall in the oil price and the exchange rate have reversed somewhat since the start of the year, the impact on inflation, confidence and growth is likely to be sustained." As I noted on numerous occasions before, monetary policy environment remains highly challenging. Per Moody's "The monetary authorities face the conflicting objectives of keeping interest rates high enough to restrain the exchange rate and bring down inflation and keeping rates low enough to reinvigorate economic growth and bank solvency."
  2. "The government's financial strength will diminish materially as a result of fiscal pressures and the continued erosion of Russia's foreign exchange (FX) reserves in light of ongoing capital outflows and restricted access to international capital markets." I will post a quick note on this matter later today, so stay tuned. Here's Moody's view: "Taking at face value the government's plans to proceed with its planned fiscal consolidation for 2015, Moody's expects a consolidated government deficit of approximately RUB1.6 trillion (2% of GDP) as well as a widening of the non-oil deficit. The deficit would likely be financed by drawing on the Reserve Fund, which is specifically designed for circumstances when oil prices fall below budgeted levels. Moody's also expects that widespread demands for fiscal easing are likely to emerge if, as the rating agency projects, the recession persists into 2016. In a scenario in which the government would turn to borrowing in the domestic market to finance at least a share of these deficits, higher spending could result in an increase of the debt-to-GDP ratio to 20% or more."
  3. "The risk is rising, although still very low, that the international response to the military conflict in Ukraine triggers a decision by the Russian authorities that directly or indirectly undermines timely payments on external debt service." In other words, we are facing a political risk. Capital controls and debt repayment stops are two key risks here and these were visible for some time now, especially if you have followed my writing on the Russian crisis.

What's the driver for the negative outlook? Uncertainty. Per Moody's: "The negative outlook on the Ba1 rating reflects Moody's view that the balance of economic, financial and political risks in Russia is slanted to the downside, with scenarios incorporating either an escalation of the Ukraine crisis and/or damage caused by recent shocks being greater than in Moody's baseline scenario. Essentially, the probabilities associated with the downside scenarios are higher than those associated with an upside scenario in which the recession is shorter and shallower than Moody's baseline."

Conclusion: an ugly, but predictable move by Moody's. One can say part of it is down to rating agencies activism in trying to establish some sense of credibility post-Global Financial Crisis, whereby getting tougher on ratings is a major objective, and it is well-served by getting tougher on politically softer targets, like Russia. But one can equally argue that the ratings downgrade is consistent with economic environment and some longer-run fundamentals. My view would be is that we are seeing both, with the balance of impetus tilted toward the latter argument.

16/1/2015: Moody’s Get Double Moody on Russia

As I predicted at a briefing earlier today, Moody's downgraded Russia's sovereign debt (expect downgrades of banks and corporates to follow in due course). This was inevitable given the outlook for growth 'dropped down' on us by the agency in their note on Armenia (see here).

Full release on downgrade is here:

The point is - if you believe Moody's outlook for the risks faced by the economy - you should expect full, open (as opposed to partial and 'voluntary') capital controls and debt repayments holidays (for corporate and banks' debts for entities directly covered by sanctions) before the end of the year.

And, you should still expect a good 75%+ chance of a further downgrade upon the review as Moody's struggle to push ahead with projecting a more 'robust ratings' stance to the markets.

Even the best case scenario is for another downgrade and 12-18 months window of no positive reviews.

The impact of these downgrades is narrow, however. Russian Government is unlikely to become heavily dependent on new debt issuance and thus is relatively well insulated against the fall out from the secondary bond market yields spikes. Russian banks can withstand paper losses on sovereign bonds they hold. At any rate they have much greater headaches than these - if oil prices follow Moody's chartered course, who cares what sovereign ratings are assigned. The impact of sovereign ratings and yields on private debt issuance is a bit more painful, as it will hit those entities issuing new debt in dim sum markets, but again, the overall impact is secondary to the bigger issues of sanctions and the freezing of the debt markets for Russian entities.

On the other hand, were the downgrades and markets reaction to push Russians over the line into direct capital controls and suspension of debt redemptions and servicing for entities affected by the sanctions, the impact on Western debt holders will be painful. And the sovereign deficits and debt positions will be fully covered by sovereign reserves.

So the more real the Moody's risks prognosis becomes, the more pain will be exported from Russia our way.