Category Archives: CBR

15/8/15: Russian External Debt: Big Deleveraging, Smaller Future Pressures

Readers of this blog would have noted that in the past I referenced Russian companies cross-holdings of own debt in adjusting some of the external debt statistics for Russia. As I explained before, large share of the external debt owed by banks and companies is loans and other debt instruments issued by their parents and subsidiaries and direct equity investors - in other words, it is debt that can be easily rolled over or cross-cancelled within the company accounts.

This week, Central Bank of Russia did the same when it produced new estimate for external debt maturing in September-December 2015. The CBR excluded “intra-group operations” and the new estimate is based on past debt-servicing trends and a survey of 30 largest companies.

As the result of revisions, CBR now estimates that external debt coming due for Russian banks and non-financial corporations will be around USD35 billion, down on previously estimated USD61 billion.

CBR also estimated cash and liquid foreign assets holdings of Russian banks and non-bank corporations at USD135 billion on top of USD20 billion current account surplus due (assuming oil at USD40 pb) and USD14 billion of CBR own funds available for forex repo lending.

Here are the most recent charts for Russian external debt maturity, excluding most recent update for corporate and banks debt:

As the above table shows, in 12 months through June 2015, Russian Total External Debt fell 24%, down USD176.6 billion - much of it due to devaluation of the ruble and repayments of maturing debt. Of this, Government debt is down USD22.1 billion or 39% - a huge drop. Banks managed to deleverage out of USD59.9 billion in 12 months through June 2015 (down 29%) and Other Sectors external liabilities were down USD88.8 billion (-20%).

These are absolutely massive figures indicating:
1) One of the underlying causes of the ongoing economic recession (contracting credit supply and debt repayments drag on investment and consumer credit);
2) Strengthening of corporate and banks' balance sheets; and
3) Overall longer term improvement in Russian debt exposures.

11/8/15: Russian 2Q growth: beating forecasts on the wrong side

With apologies for a slight delay (I am actually away from work these weeks), here is a quick update on Russian 2Q 2015 GDP figures.

Those who read my musings on the Russian economy would recall that in recent months we have been seeing some signs of stabilisation in the economy performance, albeit I have been reluctant to call these signs a full turnaround as data required robustness confirmation and broadening of any improvements.

Good thing I stayed more cautious on the matter of calling a recovery. In 1Q 2015, Russian economy shrunk 2.2% y/y, surprising on the positive side the consensus expectation of a 3.7% drop. However, this time around, 2Q 2015 preliminary estimate for real GDP growth came in at 4.6%, worse than consensus forecast for 4.5%.

Now, 0.1 percentage points on expectation is not quite ugly, but -4.6% is ugly. Thus, in itself, the 2Q 2015 figure does not quite put under sever pressure the expected 3.4-3.6% annual contraction for 2015 as a whole, but it does put question marks around the thesis of Russian economy's recovery.

The contraction in 2Q takes us into July-August when oil prices have fallen even further and ruble devaluation pressures returned - both making it hard for the CBR to cut rates to support economy.

Noticeably, acceleration in the decline can be seen in q/q seasonally-adjusted figures. These are yet to be released, but Capital Economics shows estimates of 2.5% q/q decline in real GDP on seasonally adjusted basis, nearly double the rate of contraction (1.3% q/q) recorded in 1Q 2015.

The charts below show just how ugly 2Q 2015 figures are on a historical perspective:

 and over the shorter horizon:

Source: both: Capital Economics

As noted by Barclays, much of the deterioration in growth in 2Q was down to oil prices

 Source: @Schuldensuehner

Although in terms of pressures on growth, consumption component of the Domestic demand remains weak.
Source: @Schuldensuehner

The CBR policy rates are clearly weighing on the consumption and investment ability to rebound, with high policy rate (11%) compounding already tight funding markets for the banks, resulting in very high cost of credit.

We have no details on the GDP figure breakdown, yet, but Capital Economics suggested that based on 2Q headline figure, household expenditure fell at a rate similar to 1Q 2015 (-8.9%). Which implies that it was industrial production that drove growth figures further down in 2Q 2015.

The latter point is consistent with the evidence from Manufacturing PMIs in recent months:

So what's the top level conclusion from all of this? 2Q was ugly. Signs of stabilisation in the economy are still present, but robustness of these signals is now more under question than a week ago. In simple terms, we will need to see Q3 data posting closer to 0% change in GDP and beating 1Q 2015 reading, if we are to confirm expectation for growth recovery in 4Q 2015 - 1Q 2016. 

18/6/15: Russian Central Bank Targets Rebuilding of Foreign Reserves

Recently, speaking at a banking conference in St Petersburg, Elvira Nabiullina, head of the Central Bank of Russia outlined the CBR position on foreign exchange reserves. Nabiullina note that Russian reserves are large - sufficient to cover almost 11 months of imports. However, Nabiullina's 'comfort zone' target for the reserves to cover 2-3 years of "substantial capital outflows", implying she would like to see Russian reserves rising back to USD500 billion mark. Nabiullina is now targeting purchases of forex over the next few years to drive up reserves and to that objective she has been buying on average USD200mln worth of forex per day since mid-May.

In line with forex reserves rebuilding objective, Nabiullina cautioned about markets expectations of further large scale cuts to interest rates as the CBR is trying to balance out inflation targeting (requiring tighter monetary policy), investment supports (requiring looser policy) and accumulation of reserves (implying looser policy).

Per Nabiullina: "Attempts to reduce the interest rates too fast or even acquire certain assets may simply lead to stronger inflation, to an outflow of capital or to dollarisation of the economy, and that would slow down the economic growth, other than promote it."

In its latest outlook, CBR forecast unemployment reaching 6.5% this year from the current rate of 5.6%, before falling to 5.6-5.8% by 2018. GDP is expected to shrink 3.2% in 2015, returning to trend growth of 1.7-2.4% around 2017-2018. Inflation is expected to hit 11% at the end of 2015 with rather optimistic outlook for a decline to "less than 7%" by June 2016, and "close to the target level" of 4% in 2017.

Net capital outflows are expected to decline from USD90 billion in 2015 to USD55-65 billion in 2018. "We are expecting the financial sanctions against Russia to remain in place. Payments on foreign debts during this period will constitute the bulk of the capital outflow. It will gradually reduce from $90 billion to about $55-65 billion during 2015-2018, depending on the scenario," according to Nabiullina.

Russian International Reserves reached USD360.6 billion at the end of last week, up on USD356 billion low registered in April 2015. Still, the reserves are down USD117.7 billion y/y (-24.6%) and down USD132.73 billion (-26.9%) on pre-sanctions period.

15/6/15: CBR Cuts Rates to 11.5% in Hope of Lifting Sagging Investment

Central Bank of Russia cut policy rate to 11.5% today from 12.5%, undershooting markets expectation for a 150bps cut to 11.0%. The move was expected and relatively modest cut this time around suggests more heavy cuts in 2H 2015. In part, this reflects relatively sharp decline in growth in April: having contracted modest 1.9% in 1Q 2015, Russian GDP fell at an annual rate of 4.2% in April. Another incentive for CBR to lower rates is the Ruble, which posted surprising comeback in early 2015, putting new pressure on the federal budget. CBR bough USD3.6 billion in May, in an attempt to keep Ruble lower.

Rate cut is a welcome move, but in current environment it also shows just how little room for manoeuvre the monetary policy has. Russian banks are deleveraging. Loans outstanding in the corporate and household sectors have fallen in 1Q 2015. The trend continued in April: SME loans share of total corporate loans fell from 22% in April 2014 to 18% in April 2015. In January-April 2015, corporate lending outstanding was up nominally 17% in ruble terms compared to the same period 2014. Inflation run at around 15.8%, which means that in real terms, corporate loans remained basically flat. Household loans grew by 4% y/y in ruble terms. Which means in real term, level of outstanding loans to households fell. As usual, roughly 1/3 of all corporate loans were denominated in foreign currency.

The rate cut will also help with non-performing loans. Stock of NPLs in the corporate sector rose by roughly 30% y/y in the first four months of 2015 to 6% of the total stock of corporate loans. Household credit NPLs stood at 7%. Both rates of NPLs are relatively benign, by Western standards, but the growth rate in NPLs is worrying. Lower cost of carrying these loans will help alleviate some of the pressures.

Overall, Russian investment remains a major bottleneck for the economy. Chart below shows Russian Investment as percentage of GDP, compared to both the Emerging Asia economies and Emerging Europe economies. This clearly highlights the dire state of Russian investment over 2000-2013, and a significant decline in investment from 2014 on, including the IMF forecasts for 2015-2020 period.

24/5/2015: Russian Economy: Weaker April Signals Renewed Risks

When I remarked recently on some less negative than expected developments in Russian economy over Q1 2015, I noted that these were fragile signs of potential stabilisation and that the risks remain to the downside. April industrial production appears to signal the same. April industrial production numbers are down 4.5% y/y and manufacturing is down 7% - the rates of decline that are significantly sharper than recovered over 1Q.

Remember that Russian GDP fell 1.9% in 1Q 2015 y/y, based on preliminary estimates - a decline that is shallower than what was expected by the analysts. Overall output (GDP at factor cost) fell slightly more sharply - by 2.3% over the same time, while domestic demand (Consumption + Investment) fell at just under 7%. The gap between output and domestic demand declines can be in part explained by imports substitution going on across a number of sectors, such as food, agriculture, industry and manufacturing, plus improved trade volumes also driven by ruble devaluation.

The decline in industrial production and manufacturing signals a feed through from collapsing investment to production sectors, as well as continued weakness in consumption and strengthening of the ruble. More significantly, ruble firming up is not helping imports substitution-driven demand. CBR has now returned to buying forex and selling ruble in order to, both, increase its reserves and also sustain lower ruble. Higher ruble valuations hurt fiscal balance and at the same time inducing weaker external balances. As the result, CBR is now regularly purchasing USD100-200 million daily and is raising cost on banks' access to repo facilities.

All in - just another reminder that the Russian economy is not out of the woods yet. For all the positive developments in recent months, the situation remains fragile and structural drivers for growth are still lacking, so any recovery, if sustained, will have to come from either external demand factors (oil prices, commodities prices, etc) and/or imports substitution effect supported by lower CBR rates.