Amidst much of the (occasionally informed) speculation as to the whereabouts of Russian President Putin (see for example this rather informative piece: http://uk.businessinsider.com/what-is-putin-doing-2015-3?r=US#ixzz3UWqOOHLc), President Putin has finally reappeared from wherever he might have been over the last how-many days... Of course, his reappearance promptly led to some 'highly informed' Western analysts seeing President Putin's double...
The matters of conspiracy aside (for their endless supply makes their value trend toward absolute zero pretty fast), the Economy Ministry has been busy preparing new forecasts for Russia for 2016, trailing behind the recent forecasts from the Central Bank.
Minister Ulyukaev today said that the economic outlook for Russia is based on the view that Western sanctions will remain in place "at least over the period of 2015-2016" and "most likely, in the following years". Beyond this, the Minister said that 2016-2018 will likely see 2.5%-3% average rate of growth in real GDP and that 2016 growth is likely to be in the same range. New forecasts, according to Mr. Ukyukaev - currently in preparation stages - see economic recovery starting in 2016. This, if confirmed in the official forecasts, would represent a dose of optimism not matched by many independent analysts, and well in excess of the cautious gloom of the Central Bank (see below).
Meanwhile, as The Moscow Times (not a paper known for expressing pro-Kremlin sentiments) noted: foreign investors are heading back into Russian markets http://www.themoscowtimes.com/article/517481.html. I wish them well - they are in for a rough ride, but should enjoy some upside, on average. Do note some of the risks and concerns voiced at the end of the article.
Of course, amidst all this positivity, the real signs are pointing to growing concerns about the state of the economy.
Central Bank published forecasts show "at risk scenario" forecast of -5.8% contraction in GDP in 2015. This assumes average oil prices in the range of USD40-45pb.
Under the base scenario, oil prices are expected to average USD50-55pb in 2015, rising to USD60-65pb in 2016 and USD70-75pb in 2017. These assumptions support GDP growth forecast of -3.4% to -4.0% in 2015, followed by a contraction of -1.0% to -1.6% in 2016, and growth of 5.5% to 6.3% in 2017. In effect, these forecasts imply 2015-2017 growth of between 0.4% and 0.9%, cumulative. Under the base scenario, growth of 4.6% in 2017 would be required to get Russian economy back to the end-2014 levels.
The CBR forecasts decline of USD50 billion in its forex reserves to around USD307 billion in 2015 and no change in reserves in 2016. The balancing out of reserves is based on current account surplus forecast of USD90 billion in 2016 up on USD64 billion in 2015. CBR projects current account surplus of USD119 billion in 2017.
My view is that the above figures err on optimistic side. I expect Russian economy to shrink by around 4-5% in 2015, post GDP growth of between -1.5% to +0.5% in 2016 and grow by around 3% in 2017. I also expect CBR forex reserves to drop by around USD80 billion in 2015 and closer to USD40-50 billion in 2016 to USD225-230 billion at the end of 2017.
Note: a fascinating and exhaustingly detailed account of the short history of Russian Government and business struggles for who will be building the bridge to Crimea: http://www.forbes.ru/print/node/282637 (in Russian).