Growth in Russian economy, but no champagne corks yet

russian economyRussia’s economy may have expanded as much as 4% in the last quarter of 2009 following a timid return to growth in the third quarter, according to Deputy Economy Minister Andrei Klepach speaking at a conference in Moscow last week.

The economy may show “quite strong growth” of between 3% & 4% in the fourth quarter from the previous three months, Klepach said. This is an interesting claim, and doubly so given that Klepach has been quite cautious so far this year in his claims. Evidently the rising price of oil and the return of some financial flows into Russia is firing up optimism.

GDP expanded 0.6 percent in the third quarter as compared to the second quarter according to Economy Ministry data out this week. Whilst the economy also grew 0.5%  between August and September, with month-on-month growth being due to a “good grain harvest,” increased meat production and an improvement in manufacturing output, the Economy Ministry said.

Nonetheless the economy still managed to register an annual decline of 9.4%, compared with a 10.9%  record annual contraction in the second quarter.

Certainly foreign investment into Russia is on the rebound. On Oct. 19th Klepach predicted the country may see a small capital inflow this month, and no net outflow in the fourth quarter. This compares with a net capital outflow of $31.5 billion in the third quarter. In September, the net outflow was $6 billion, down from $16 billion in July. This indicates that foreign investors are returning to Russia’s capital markets, while Russian companies and banks are increasingly able to access international markets. However,  this improvement isn’t necessarily great cause for celebration. The increase in foreign investment is largely being driven by bank lending and portfolio investment, which can easily go into reverse.

This must most certainly be one of the reasons behind Russia’s central bank recent decision to lower key interest rates by half a percentage point for the second time in a month, in a bid to both stimulate lending & also to stem the inflow of funds & the rise in the value of the ruble which is making the work of restoring competitiveness to the manufactured sector all the more difficult.

Six million Russians were added to the government’s official poverty count in the first quarter. By the end of 2009, 17.4% of the population or 24.6 million people will be living beneath the subsistence level of $185 per month, almost 5% more than before crisis, according to World Bank estimates. Unicredit analysts forecast that the number of Russians with disposable incomes of more than $1,000 per month will fall 48% this year to about 13.6 million, or roughly 10% of the population.

Russia’s consumer prices were flat in August, the lowest monthly reading in four years, but annual inflation was still running at 11.6%. Producer prices, on the other hand, are falling fast, and declined an annual 10.8 percent in August, compared with a record 12.3 percent in July. Today’s decision follows the announcement earlier this month that the Russian economy suffered a record economic contraction in the second three months of the year and refelect the growing recognition that the country now faces a painfully slow recovery. Just how painful things might become will form the subject matter of this report.

The full report from Bank Rosii can be accessed here : Country Briefing Report

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