By Daniel Gallucci
Half a world away from snowy Moscow, Russia’s deepening economic crisis is reverberating upon the palm-fringed beaches and castaway islands of Thailand. The droves of holidaymakers from Russian cities visiting Thai resorts are dwindling, deterred not so much by the southeast Asian nation’s military coup earlier this year as by the rout of the rouble.
As the chart below shows, Russians seeking a warm refuge from the prolonged winter of home were relatively unfazed in early 2014 by the mounting political tensions in Thailand that led to the May military coup. Read more
Russian asset prices have taken a severe battering this year and are now ranked as among the cheapest in the world. The obvious question many are now asking is, “is this a good time to buy” or “is there more pain to come” which might lead to even lower prices and valuations in 2015?
Apart from the cheap valuations, the reason why investors are asking that question now is because, during Russia’s previous two recent crises, in 1998/’99 and 2008/’09, we had similar situations where the reasons to continue avoiding the country were overwhelming but it was, nevertheless, exactly the right time to buy. Read more
By Timothy Ash of Standard Bank
This time last year I was asked to contribute an article for beyondbrics on the outlook for 2014, and I chose Ukraine (see Hello 2014: Ukraine’s crisis may run and run, December 20, 2014). That post turned out to be prescient, although even I could never have imagined the remarkable turn of events in that country this year.
For 2015 I think Ukraine will remain in the headlines, but its future is likely at least partially to be determined by events in its eastern neighbour, Russia. The new reform administration in Kiev can succeed, if Moscow gives it some breathing space and scales back its own direct intervention in Ukraine. Read more
By Joseph Dobbs, European Leadership Network
Russian aggression towards Ukraine this past year has seen Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, lambasted by Western leaders. China has desisted from such criticism and instead signed two major gas deals worth hundreds of billions of dollars, co-operated in establishing a new development bank, and conducted joint military exercises. For some, Russia and China’s co-operation demonstrates their potential to challenge the global order. But in reality Russia’s pivot east faces too many hurdles to represent a viable alternative to working with the West.
Russia and China have much in common. Both states are increasingly nationalistic and share a common perceived threat of Western containment. In Russia’s case this threat comes primarily from the potential expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato). China’s perception of US containment strategies derives mainly from the American military presence in East Asia. Leaders in Moscow and Beijing have both watched with unease as the West supported the Arab Spring and the so-called “colour revolutions” that rocked the likes of Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan. Read more
Vladimir Putin seemed pretty emphatic on Monday that Russia would stop construction of the South Stream gas pipeline, shelving a strategically important project that Moscow was counting on to cement its influence in south-eastern Europe.
Speaking after talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, his Turkish counterpart, in Ankara, Putin said Russia would abandon the project to bring Russian gas to Bulgaria under the Black Sea, bypassing Ukraine, unless the EU dropped its opposition.
But does this really mark the full stop that it appears to be? It is true that Alexei Miller, CEO of Gazprom, the company charged with building the pipeline, told reporters: “that’s it, the project is closed”. But analysts see a more subtle game in play. Read more
By Timothy Ash of Standard Bank
The drop in the oil price has been long coming but the surprise over the speed and extent extent of the fall reflects how we tend to get cosy with established norms. In the past few years there has been an entrenched idea that with EM growth and the rise of the EM middle class, structural demand for oil and commodities was a long term, one way trend.
This ignores one of the first lessons we should all have learned in Economics 101. Read more
A story told in the Bank of England goes like this. Shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, a group of Russian central bankers with solid grounding in Marxist economics came to London for a training course at the BoE. They patiently absorbed the theoretical run-down of supply and demand curves and how prices were determined, and then asked “But who sets the price?” A world without a state official with a clipboard announcing the cost of everything was unthinkable. Eventually the exasperated BoE economists took them on a trip to Smithfield meat market in the City of London to see the magic in action.
After the Wall came down in 1989 – triggered by a single unguarded remark by an East German Politburo member in a press conference – the speed and size of changes in the economies of central and east European (CEE) and the former Soviet Union (FSU) were unprecedented since the Second World War. Twenty-five years later, with currency crises wracking Ukraine and Russia, and FSU economies like Belarus and Moldova struggling to emerge from the Soviet era, the dispersion of performance has been dramatic. Read more
One of the most powerful emerging markets fund managers in the US is accusing the west of acting “capriciously” by imposing sanctions on Russia.
Justin Leverenz, who controls the $42.3bn Oppenheimer Developing Markets fund, and who has put 7.2 per cent of his fund into Russian stocks, questioned the wisdom and the motives of a confrontation with the Kremlin over the Ukraine. Read more
Source: Thomson Reuters
The Russian rouble dived deeper to new lows on Friday, as the central bank’s decision on Wednesday to let the currency float failed spectacularly to put a floor under the exchange rate. It went briefly through Rbs48 to the dollar during the morning before recovering slightly, down from a low of Rbs45 to the dollar on Wednesday.
“People are in disbelief. The rouble is being smashed again,” said Timothy Ash of Standard Bank. “The central bank is nowhere.” Read more
Two central banks surprised the world last week with unexpected hikes in interest rates in the face of panicky financial markets. Raising rates a startling 150 basis points, the Central Bank of Russia was reacting sharply to yet another week of runs on the rouble. (It fell further this week nonetheless.)
The other, the Central Bank of Brazil, increased the cost of borrowing by a more modest 25 basis points. It seemed to be attempting to re-establish its independence credentials after the previous weekend’s presidential elections and subsequent worries that economic policy would tend towards the populist and the inflationary.
Yet just as with the advanced economies’ central banks – the Bank of Japan ramping up quantitative easing just as the Fed withdraws – monetary policy has diverged rather than unified in the big emerging economies. Read more
By Relte Stephen Schutte, Markit
In spite of what you might expect to be a “perfect storm” scenario for Russian stocks, inflows of investment capital into Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) – investment funds traded on stock markets much as a stock would trade – have remained strong.
Net inflows into the 23 Russian tracking ETFs have proved buoyant in the last three months in spite of continued sanctions by the US and Europe and Moscow’s destabilising actions in Ukraine. Such inflows take 2014 net inflows into Russian ETFs past the $1bn mark (see chart), an extraordinary performance given the negative newsflow surrounding Russia. Read more
By Andrew Foxall, The Henry Jackson Society
Western sanctions against Russia, first imposed in March, have strengthened that significant body of Russia’s elite who want to see a much more state-led style of development. During last week’s Valdai Club meeting in Sochi, President Putin argued that sanctions would help Russia’s ambitions by reducing its economic dependence on the West.
While Russia’s emphasis on self-sufficiency pre-dates the Ukraine crisis, its statism has intensified as Russia’s economy has started to show the strain of sanctions. Read more
By Vladimir Kolychev, VTB Capital
Russian President Vladimir Putin announced this month that Russia should aim to sell its oil and gas for roubles globally, because “the dollar monopoly in energy trade was damaging Russia’s economy”.
This was the clearest indication yet that Russia is serious about its plan to shift away from using the US dollar. Western sanctions against Russia have accelerated this process and encouraged Russia’s close economic alliance with China. Some may question this move but for Russia, a shift away from the dollar makes perfect sense. Read more
By Chris Weafer of Macro-Advisory
Since the start of this year the Russian rouble has collapsed by 20 per cent against a basket of dollars and euros, by far the worst performing of the major emerging market currencies except for the Argentine peso. But Argentina defaulted on debt obligations, while Russia has less than 11 per cent sovereign debt to GDP and is running a triple budget, trade and current account surplus. It is therefore tempting to link the rouble’s demise with the country’s actions in Ukraine and the resulting sanctions imposed by western countries. A prevalent theme in many western political commentaries is that the rouble slide, in tandem with the steep oil price fall, will lead to a collapse in the economy which, in turn, will undermine public support for President Vladimir Putin and force the Kremlin into a more accommodating geo-political stance. Both of those assumptions are very wide of the mark. The reasons for the decline in the rouble are more serious than just sanctions and, at the same time, the central bank’s response and the oil price slide offer cause for some optimism that some positives may yet emerge from this crisis. Read more
As the rouble continues its decline – hitting a new low against the dollar and euro this week – it is Russian consumers who will feel the sharpest pain, says Capital Economics, thanks to increasing inflation, which had already risen in September to its fastest pace in three years. Read more
By Jim O’Neill, Bruegel
Is it all over for the rise of the BRIC grouping (Brazil, Russia, India and China)?
On one level, this seems like a rather odd time to be asking such a question, especially when the political leaders of the BRICS countries (the four named above plus South Africa) have recently agreed to set up a joint development bank to be headquartered in Shanghai. So, the BRICS name is certainly here to stay, and in terms of global governance, their influence is likely to rise as a group because of the bank. Read more
As European leaders threatened yet tougher sanctions to punish Russia for its aggressive policies in Ukraine on Monday, Vladimir Putin was thousands of miles away in oil rich east Siberia making friendly with a visiting Chinese official.
“On the whole we are very careful about allowing our foreign partners in, but of course for our Chinese friends there are no limits,” Russia’s president said.
China is emerging as the winner in the Ukraine crisis even as Russia’s relations with the US and the European Union go from bad to worse. It has secured a huge gas deal with Gazprom and is making strides towards greater involvement in the Russian oil and gas production. Read more
Rosneft has raised the stakes in its campaign to strip Gazprom of its monopoly over Russian gas exports. In a sharply worded statement on Tuesday, Russia’s state oil company threatened to take Gazprom to court unless it opened up a planned pipeline to China to rival gas producers.
Gazprom has been gearing up to build the Power of Siberia pipeline since signing a $400bn gas export contract with China in May. Linking vast Gazprom controlled gas fields in east Siberia with the Russian Pacific, the 4,000km pipeline will feed gas to domestic consumers and to the Chinese border. Read more
By Andrew Foxall of The Henry Jackson Society
The prospect of Russia invading Ukraine may be receding, but Russia’s standoff with the West continues to affect the Russian economy by damaging its banks’ ability to access funding. It has also led Russia to step-up its efforts to decrease its dependency on the West, as part of which it plans to establish a joint rating agency with China.
After the imposition of Western sanctions against Russia in March, Igor Shuvalov, Russia’s deputy prime minister, warned that the biggest damage to Russia would come not from the targeted sanctions but from “hidden” measures, such as political pressure on rating agencies. Read more