Saturday, August 4, 2012

4/8/2012: IMF Article IV assessment of Russia

Latest IMF Article IV paper for Russia was published this week. The link is here.

A number of points worth highlighting:

  1. "The current account has strengthened in 2011 aided by high oil prices, but net capital outflows persist, broadly mirroring the current account surplus." In effect, this is continued worrying trend, although one has to recognize that some of the outflows get recycled back into Russian investment via off-shore companies. Nonetheless, the Government efforts to-date to reduce outflows have been unsuccessful. While no one expects capital controls, it is likely that to lower incentives to ship capital out of Russia, absent deep and effective reforms of the legal protection for investors, Russian authorities will need to raise internal interest rates and strengthen the ruble. These measures will, however, reduce growth capacity in the economy.
  2. "Following two years of stagnation, credit growth rebounded strongly in 2011. This partly reflected a switch by the corporate sector from external to domestic funding. Consumer credit also grew strongly. On the credit supply side, improving bank balance sheets (with declining nonperforming loan ratios and improving profitability) and funding conditions (reflecting solid deposit growth and the Central Bank of Russia’s liquidity provision) allowed for the expansion of lending." In other words, there is increased stability within the internal financial system. While the process of weeding-out weaker banks is ongoing, this is now organic, rather than disruptive as in the earlier stages of the global financial crisis. Expect no significant adverse surprises in the sector, as consistent with rating agencies position on Russian banks.
  3. "Fiscal policy tightened in 2011, but it remains procyclical. The federal non-oil deficit declined from 12.7 percent of GDP in 2010 to 9.8 percent of GDP in 2011. This improvement was due to both non-oil revenue overperformance and expenditure under-execution. Some of the windfall oil revenues from 2011 were deposited in the Reserve Fund in early 2012. However, the 2012 budget implies an increase in the federal non-oil deficit of about 1 percent of GDP." This is consistent with the policy stance announced during the last Presidential elections and is a short-term positive for the economy that is still recovering from the capex slowdown. We have to keep in mind that Russia will have to undergo twin spikes in demand for capital in the next decade or so. The first one will be driven by rapidly accelerating depreciation of the core capital stock - with replacement rates on capital only starting to catch up with amortization and depreciation since 2003-2004. The second one will be driven by the need to lift up overall productivity in the industrial and manufacturing sectors. Parts of this will have to be financed off the private sector investment pools, but parts will have to come from the state coffers.
  4. In line with (3) above and also noting that the Central Bank has put on hold further tightening of the monetary policy during the second half of 2011, IMF advised the CB to continue tightening monetary policy. Again, in my view this puts a clear contradiction into the policy mix. Federal Government objective is to push through aggressive investment and modernization programmes over the next few years. This can be aided on supply of capital side by raising rates of return, including by strengthening the ruble. Alas, the demand side will suffer. As will exports. On the positive side, imports of capital equipment will be cheaper, but in the long run, this will also mean fewer imports substitutes emerging in the process of modernization. In other words, Russian monetary, fiscal and development policies are now somewhat out of synch, but they can become even more so, should Russia listen to the IMF advice. 

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