Russia Is Returning to Growth. (Just in Time for an Election.)

Russia Is Returning to Growth. (Just in Time for an Election.)

- in World Biz

Figures discussed on Friday at Mr. Putin’s meeting with government and central bank officials showed strong consumer demand, a main driver of the growth. Retail sales for the month increased 3 percent compared with a year before, according to the state statistics service. The Finance Ministry projects the overall economy to grow 2.1 percent for the year. That would be Russia’s first full year of economic growth since a recession began in 2014.

Other economic indicators have been trending in the same direction. Inflation is expected to be about 4 percent for 2017, low by recent Russian standards. As recently as 2015, official figures showed consumer prices were rising more than 15 percent, and ordinary Russians were feeling the pinch. The cost of Russian staples was rising: The price of bread, an important product because of its mythologized status in the Soviet period as a symbol of well being, increased about 11 percent a year during the recession, according to the state statistics agency.

But as the price of oil, a major export commodity, has recovered from multiyear lows in 2014, Russia’s central bank has resumed purchases of hard currency. It has been replenishing the reserves its uses to maintain the long-term stability of the ruble.

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia is bidding for six more years in power.

Pool photo by Alexey Nikolsky

“It’s a broad recovery, and it will continue,” said Vladimir Osakovsky, chief Russia economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “There is strong fundamental support.”

The country certainly faces challenges, Mr. Osakovsky and other analysts say. It remains vulnerable to swings in the price of oil and natural gas, for example. The two commodities account for about 60 percent of export revenue and 50 percent of the federal government’s tax base, and a sudden drop in prices could expose wider issues with the economy.

Experts also worry that Russia’s banking system is vulnerable. The central bank had to nationalize two midsize private lenders this year, and several banks lost money betting against the ruble in recent years, according to Vladimir Tikhomirov, chief economist at BCS Global Markets, an investment bank.

“So far, the central bank has managed to keep the banking system working,” Mr. Tikhomirov said. But, he added, “the cost of saving these banks is growing.”

Still, positive news has been trickling in.

In September, Fitch, the credit rating agency, revised its outlook for Russian sovereign debt to positive from stable. Through the year, foreign investors have piled into Russian government bonds, raising the share of Russian debt held by foreigners to more than 30 percent, up from 5 percent.

Also helping the recovery was government spending on major infrastructure projects, including a bridge across the Kerch Strait to Crimea, a major gas pipeline to China called the Power of Siberia, and soccer stadiums for the World Cup, which Russia will host next year.

That has helped the country overcome Western sanctions imposed during the Ukraine crisis and over meddling by Moscow in the 2016 presidential election in the United States. These “smart sanctions” were in any case narrowly targeting companies and businessmen aligned with Mr. Putin, meant to affect Kremlin insiders and not to slow the overall economy or hasten political change.

Mr. Putin now finds himself in a more favorable economic environment before next year’s election. And even though Russians have taken a considerable hit to their pocketbooks in recent years — real income, or wages adjusted for inflation, declined through the recession — he remains the overwhelming favorite. In an October survey conducted by the Levada Center, an independent polling organization, two-thirds of likely voters said they would cast their ballots for Mr. Putin.

Spurring growth beyond the 2 percent region forecast by the government will not be easy, though.

The country will very likely have to agree a series of major economic overhauls in order to bolster its long-term growth potential. The retirement age — currently 55 years for women and 60 years for men — will have to be raised, economists say. Without such changes, expansion will remain capped at its current levels, Russia’s central bank chairwoman, Elvira S. Nabiullina, warned this month.

“Without reform,” Mr. Tikhomirov said, “the future for Russia will be fairly bleak.”

Continue reading the main story

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may also like

Who’s Still in Amazon’s HQ2 Contest: DealBook Briefing

• The smallest city is Newark, N.J., whose