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...