The landmark unconventional gas deal that Ukraine signed with Royal Dutch Shell in Davos on Thursday is not just a boost to its hopes of reducing its energy dependency on Russia.
It could give a much-needed fillip to its investment climate.
As two of the biggest beasts in the central and east European banking jungle, Raiffeissen Bank and Unicredit’s Bank Austria have good reason to talk up the region’s prospects. Right now, they have a motive too: over 1,200 delegates are in Vienna on Tuesday and Wednesday for an annual Euromoney conference that is a key date in the CEE investor calendar.
The outline agreement by BP’s billionaire partners in TNK-BP to sell their stake to Rosneft for about $28bn is a very big deal indeed – Russia’s largest to date by value.
But it seems likely to pave the way for an even bigger one: Rosneft taking control of the whole of the joint venture by buying out BP’s 50 per cent stake too.
Many headlines surrounding the shock victory of Bidzina Ivanishvili’s opposition alliance in Georgia’s elections have focused on the billionaire’s plans to rebuild relations with Moscow. With Ivanishvili also stressing he wants to stick with Georgia’s integration with the west, political analysts are wondering which way he will go.
But for investors, this is something of a sideshow. More pressing is whether domestic stability can be maintained, and with it the relatively positive climate for foreign investment created in the past eight years.
Just as Hungary moved in from the cold a little on Friday, opening the way for talks on a new IMF/EU support package, bigger neighbour Romania was fast moving the other way.
The Romanian leu has touched record lows against the euro as parliament voted to suspend the president in what opponents are calling a power grab by the prime minister’s ruling coalition. The currency could remain under pressure for some time.
So the EBRD has a new, British, president, breaking the Franco-German stranglehold on the institution and elected for the first time through an open competition. Will the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and other multilateral bodies now come under pressure to do the same?
Well, possibly. Sir Suma Chakrabarti, the winning candidate, said after his victory the “open, fair and merit-based process has been a credit to the Bank and to all the other candidates”.
At least the economic outlook in central and eastern Europe has stopped getting worse, for now. Forecasts published on Friday by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development foresee 1 per cent growth in 2012 in south-eastern Europe unchanged from the bank’s previous forecast in January.
For central Europe and the Baltic states, moreover, the bank has actually lifted its 2012 forecast by 0.2 points since January, to 1.6 per cent, driven by growth upgrades for Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Poland, and a smaller forecast contraction in Hungary.
The two-day annual meeting of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, starting on Friday, promises more drama than usual. Not only must the key east European lender find further ways of stemming contagion from the escalating eurozone crisis – and Greece’s possible exit – into its core region. It also faces a leadership contest that some European officials say could become a “battle for the soul” of the institution.
If Britain’s Sir Suma Chakrabarti becomes president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development – and some insiders give him a decent shot – employees can expect a rather different style from some of his predecessors.
The bank that helped build market democracy in eastern Europe and aspires to do the same in Arab spring countries needs a president who is more of a “CEO”, says the man who set up and manages Britain’s new justice ministry. That means modern management, “nine-box matrices” of performance versus potential, “pulse” surveys. Chakrabarti is, he says, the kind of guy who lunches in the staff canteen.
And they’re off. European Union finance ministers’ failure last Friday to agree on the next president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has turned the appointment from a quick decision into a protracted contest between five candidates.
The outcome depends on some complex politics. The job heading the lender to “emerging” Europe has become enmeshed with negotiations over three top eurozone positions. France is understood to have indicated it does not now want to see decisions on any of those until its own presidential election process is completed on May 6.
So that leaves observers time to study the runners and riders. Here is beyondbrics’s guide to their prospects:
Jockeying among the European Union countries for top eurozone financial jobs has thrown into question the chances of Germany’s Thomas Mirow (pictured left) of winning a second four-year term as president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
That could yet lead to a real contest for the first time for leadership of the bank, set up two decades ago to assist eastern Europe’s post-communist transformation.
Were those really tears running down Vladimir Putin’s cheeks? The returning Russian president has long nurtured a he-man image, but as he addressed thousands of supporters outside the Kremlin walls on Sunday night his voice was, unusually, cracking.
Momentum is building behind another big anti-Kremlin protest on Saturday – despite the authorities’ dirty tricks against opposition leaders. By mid-Wednesday, more than 36,000 people had clicked on a Facebook page to indicate they were going (8,000 more say “maybe”), and 10,000 on the Russian site VKontakte.
With the protest occurring on Christmas Eve, at least in the western calendar (though not in Orthodox Russia), when other news tends to be scarce, it will certainly be prominent in TV news bulletins. How rattled should investors be?
Photo: Eurasian Law
These are tricky times to be an oligarch in Russia – and an even tricker to be an oligarch with a media empire. How far can you go in joining those who have taken to the streets to criticise alleged fraud in last week’s parliamentary election?
Alisher Usmanov, the billionaire metals tycoon, has drawn a line. He has fired two senior executives of his Kommersant publishing house after its weekly news magazine, Kommersant-Vlast, printed a photograph of a ballot paper scrawled with a profanity addressed to Vladimir Putin.
Ewald Nowotny, Austria’s central bank governor, had soothing words when he spoke to beyondbrics about new rules curbing Austrian banks’ future lending to central and eastern Europe.
The countries affected are not so sure. In his usual trenchant way, Romanian president Traian Basescu (pictured) warned on Thursday the new regulation was not “fair play”, and might even reflect a “mistake or a misunderstanding of its impact”. Mojmir Hampl, deputy governor of the Czech central bank, told a newspaper Prague was not informed in advance. Europe’s central bankers may all be in the same boat. But not everybody gets a paddle.