Friday, October 24, 2014

24/10/2014: Weekly Russian Economy Update

Bofit released some latest data on Russian economy, so here is the summary, with some of additional points by myself.

September economic activity acceleration came as a bit of a surprise.

  • Manufacturing output was up 4% y/y, driven in part by devaluation of the ruble and in part by increased oil refining activity.
  • Defense spending is up 33% y/y in January-September, which also is helping manufacturing orders.
  • Agricultural output is sharply up as harvest hits near-record levels.
  • Consumption is up as retail sales rose 1.7% y/y with non-food sales up 3.5%. Some observers suggest that households are taking out savings to prepare for higher inflation (inflation hit 8.3% in September, sharply up on 8% in August). Since incomes declined in real terms (down to devaluation and inflation), we can assume that this is to some extent true, although banks are not reporting declines in deposits.
  • New car sales shrank 20% y/y in September from 0% y/y in Q1 2014. 
  • But consumption is most likely showing lags relative to the rest of the economy, so we can expect continued deterioration in retail sales into Q1 2015.
  • Decline in fixed capital investment shallowed out by about 2 percentage points, as Bofit notes "thanks to distinctly better development in investment of large energy and transport enterprises than other investment".
  • Meanwhile, construction activity is slowing down from the H1 2014 boom.

Net outcome: the Economy Ministry estimates GDP growth at +0.7 % y-o-y in January–September 2014, with only slight deceleration in the July-September.

This is strong reading, considering some forecasts (e.g. World Bank at 0.5% for 2014). That said, as I noted earlier today, with Central Bank heading into October 31 decision on rates with expected 50-100 bps hike, we might see a sharp decline in the economy in Q4 2014. It would take 0.2% drop in Q4 to get us to WB outlook.

On the other front, everyone who grew tired of focusing on ruble collapse have switched into prognosticating federal budget meltdown on foot of falling oil prices. Yes, Brent fell by a quarter compared to 2014 highs. And Urals followed the trend with prices around USD85/barrel. The chart below (via Bofit) illustrates.

But no, this is not a letdown yet on fiscal side. Here's Bofit analysis: "If the price of crude oil holds at the $85–95 level for a longer time, Russian growth will be much slower than current consensus forecasts predict… Russia’s 2015 federal budget also assumes an average oil price of $100 next year, producing a budget deficit of 0.5 % of GDP. The impact of a lower oil price on Russia’s fiscal balance will still be manageable; the nominal increase in budget revenues from ruble depreciation will in part off-set losses. Prof. Sergei Guriyev estimates public sector finances could withstand an oil price of $80–90 for a couple of years thanks to reserve funds and the weak ruble. Sberbank’s research department has calculated that the current account will remain in surplus next year even if the oil price holds at $85. Export revenues will fall, but also imports will decline substantially on e.g. the weak ruble and impacts from economic sanctions."

How fast Russian imports fall relative to exports? Tough guess, but here's IMF data showing 2009 crisis period:

One thing is clear: the above forecasts by the IMF for 2015 show pretty small reaction in imports. If Russian demand for imports goes negative, it will be down to a number of factors:

  1. Lower ruble leading to imports substitution - which is GDP-enhancing;
  2. Russian sanctions leading to imports substitution - which is GDP-enhancing;
  3. Government contracts shifting to imports substitution (including those with Ukraine, relating to military equipment) - which is GDP-enhancing.

And as 2009 shows, the room for contracting imports is massive: 28.7% y/y in one shot. And IMF is forecasting 2015 decline to be just 0.3% y/y.

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