In the previous note I covered Moody's downgrade of Russian sovereign debt rating (see http://trueeconomics.blogspot.ie/2015/02/21215-moodys-downgrade-russia-risks-and.html). 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."