Thursday, March 14, 2013

14/3/2013: Comment of the Appointment of the New Governor of the Bank of Russia

Surprise nomination of Elvira Nabiullina (economic policy adviser to President Putin) as the incoming Governor of the Bank Rossiyii (Bank of Russia) prompted some speculation as to what this all means for the CB interest rates policy. Ms Nabiullina will take her position in June, subject to the approval by Duma (Lower House of the Russian Parliament). Here are my comments to the Central Banker on the topic:

There is no doubt that Ms. Nabiullina is well suited for the job of the Governor of the Bank of Russia both in terms of her qualifications and her knowledge of the Russian economy, economic policy formation and, in particular, the fiscal aspects of the policies. Ms Nabiullina also brings to the table a longer-term reformist perspective on the Russian economy - a much welcomed development especially given the overall environment of moderating inflationary pressures, slower and more sustainable growth rates, lower reliance in growth on domestic consumption and credit, and relative successes in liberalising foreign exchange rates policies recently delivered by the Bank of Russia. 

Perhaps the only three potential critical points in which Ms Nabiullina's appointment can be considered at this time relate to her close connections to the current Administration and her lack of experience in monetary policy and economics, as well as her predominantly applied and policy-focused knowledge of economics. 

The first criticism, while warranting some caution, in my opinion is over-played at this time. Following the sharp correction in economy in 2009, Russian economic environment has improved significantly along structural trend. This suggests that previously present tensions between fiscal and monetary policies have dissipated, as evidenced by the overall successful (albeit still incomplete) execution of longer-term monetary policies objectives by the Bank of Russia in 2011-2012. I do not expect significant fiscal/monetary policy tensions to arise in 2013, allowing Ms Nabiullina sufficient time to establish her relative independence from the Executive branch of the Russian Government. One critical area of the policies overlap is in the area of increasing foreign investment inflows and here too, the Bank of Russia and the Executive branch are on the same page.

It is also worth noting that Bank of Russia core policy targets: reduced inflation and free float for the ruble are supported by virtually all political parties in the Duma and by the Executive branch of the Government. Lastly, completion of structural correction period in Russian banking sector is also politically popular and is unlikely to cause much of a rift with Ms Nabiullina's Governorship.

The second and third areas of criticisms are more important in my opinion. 

Bank of Russia is engaged in continued process of freeing ruble exchange rate regime while simultaneously pursuing the objective of reducing inflationary pressures in the economy extremely exposed to price volatility in oil and gas markets. It is worth noting that recent inflationary pressures in the economy were driven primarily by tariffs and strong ruble weighing on imports bills, including via household consumption. In the near term, I expect capex uplift to add to these pressures, offsetting moderation in consumption growth. Overall, however, longer-term inflation is abating and the wage inflation is likely to become the core driver of the monetary policy in H2 2013 and thereafter. This means that the job of the Governor in months to come will be technical in nature, rather than broad policy-based. Here, technical monetary skills are required.

Critical issue that Ms Nabiullina is likely to face once she takes over the reigns at the Bank of Russia is the overall tighter monetary policy space. With wage inflation and trade policy (trade balance) driven inflation, Bank of Russia simply lacks tools to reduce significantly inflationary pressures. Despite this, Bank of Russia, in my view, has managed to establish (over 2012) its rates policy as a credible tool for combatting core inflation. As the result, I expect Russian headline inflation to moderate from 6.9-7.1% in H1 2013 to 5.4-5.7% in H2 2013. If this trend is established in the next two-three months, we are likely to see Bank of Russia moving to ease the headline rate, starting with a relatively conservative move in Q2 2013 and possibly accelerating cuts toward the end of the year.

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