Putin demanding gas be paid in roubles. Can the church help?

This is a useful piece of economic theory which I will be discussing with my classes. After the Russian invasion of Ukraine the Russian currency the Rouble collapsed:

  • Before the invasions 1 euro = 85 Roubles
  • After invasion 1 euro = 110 Roubles
  • After central bank intervention 1 euro = 94 Roubles

This means that it cost post invasion 110 roubles to buy 1 euro, compared to 85 Roubles pre-invasion. The Russian central bank did intervene in the foreign exchange market by using its foreign exchange reserves to buy roubles – demand for roubles goes up. The plan is to sell US$ and euro denomination investments to buy roubles. However a ban on the central bank using swift payments to access reserves overseas has meant that intervention was not an option.

At such low levels the Russian exports are going to bring in less money to ultimately subsidise the war effort. A stronger Rouble will bring in more cash and enhance the image on the country – the value of a country’s currency is a good indicator of how the world views that country.

How will it work?

Putin’s order makes Gazprombank the intermediary in the gas trade. A foreign buyer of gas is required to transfer foreign currency to a special account (so-called K) at Gazprombank. They would then buy roubles on behalf go the gas buyer to transfer roubles to the another special (K) account at Gazprombank – see flow chart.

Why does it matter?

Europe is heavily reliant on Russia for its energy needs, with around 40% of its gas coming from the country. If Moscow decides to turn off the taps it could trigger supply shortages, factory closures and crippling energy costs across the region.

Call in the church to stop the slide in the Rouble

However, a last resort could be a repeat of 2014 (see previous post ‘Russian economy – Priests to halt slide of Rouble?’) when priests blessed the servers at the Central Bank with holy water to reduce the then collapse of the Rouble – see below.

For more on exchange rates view the key notes (accompanied by fully coloured diagrams/models) on elearneconomics that will assist students to understand concepts and terms for external examinations, assignments or topic tests.

Putin and the Russian Economy

Below is a very informative interview with David Remnick of The New Yorker and the historian Steve Kotkin discussing Vladimir Putin and how authoritarian regimes are pushed into misguided foreign wars. Although the interview is mainly focusing on Russian history there is a mention of the Russian macro economic policy and sanctions. Well worth a listen when you think of what is happening in the Ukraine currently.

It’s a military-police dictatorship. Those are the people who are in power. In addition, it has a brilliant coterie of people who run macroeconomics. The central bank, the finance ministry, are all run on the highest professional level. That’s why Russia has this macroeconomic fortress, these foreign-currency reserves, the “rainy day” fund. It has reasonable inflation, a very balanced budget, very low state debt—twenty per cent of G.D.P., the lowest of any major economy. It had the best macroeconomic management. The New Yorker

The shock is that so much has changed, and yet we’re still seeing this pattern that they can’t escape from,” Stephen Kotkin – Russia expert

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How Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea Football Club.

I can recommend listening/subscribing to the David McWilliams podcast – an Irish economist who popularises economics and explains quite complex issues in understandable language. I might be a bit bias here being Irish. He recently held a live podcast to a sold out audience of 1,200 in the 3Olympia theatre in Dublin. This theatre is more used to rock concerts, plays etc so for an economist to have a sold-out gig is quite impressive. Colin Peacock of Radio New Zealand recently interviewed him on Radio New Zealand

A recent podcast looked at Russia and how the oligarchs got their money – he used the example of Chelsea Football Club owned by Russian Oligarch Roman Abramovich. Below is a mind map and a timeline of events.

  • 1990 – Germany reunites – fall of Berlin Wall
  • 1991 – Yeltsin – first president of Russian Federation
  • 1992 – ‘Shock therapy’ economic reforms – spiralling inflation
  • 1992 – Massive privatisation programme of state assets- every citizen 10,000 ruble voucher
  • 1993 – Oligarchs bought vouchers off confused public – very cheap
  • 1996 – Yeltsin offers oligarchs (22 individuals) key state assets (40% of country) for media support and financing re-election
  • 1997 – Government tries to curtail ‘sweetheart deals’ with oligarchs
  • 1997 – Oligarchs get money out of Russia – buy yachts, property, companies, football teams etc
  • 1999 – Yeltsin steps down and Putin becomes prime minister – the rest is history

Estimates of oligarchs worth outside Russia

  • $920bn of net private Russian wealth located offshore
  • $2bn stake in the London property market
  • $11bn in Swiss bank accounts500
  • Russian multimillionaires living in the UK

2020 report from the Atlantic Council on Russian dark money, Vladimir Putin and his closest associates control around one-quarter of the estimated $1 trillion worth of assets stashed away in the West and beyond Russia’s borders. Source: David McWilliams Podcast

For more on economic systems view the key notes (accompanied by fully coloured diagrams/models) on elearneconomics that will assist students to understand concepts and terms for external examinations, assignments or topic tests.

Russia: Goods and services trade with New Zealand

The NZ Parliamentary Library produced some data on the New Zealand’s trade with Russia. The most recent figures for the December 2021 quarter are:
Exports of goods and services to Russia – $75 million
Imports goods and services from Russia – $14 million

Total dairy exports to Russia were $168.9 million for the year ending June 2021. Of this total, butter represented $147.9 million, comprising 5.5% of New Zealand’s total for this commodity – Russia was New Zealand’s 4th largest butter destination in 2021.

Trade with Russia 2019 – 2021

Exports are mainly made up of dairy whilst imports are mineral fuels and oils – crude oil (well over 90%) and Russia was a moderately important source of crude oil imports (16% of New Zealand’s crude imports in 2020). With Marsden Point oil refinery coming offline in April, Korea and Singapore will in future become the main source of refined fuel. The last significant crude oil shipment from Russia was in January 2021. As at 31 March 2021 New Zealand’s total investment in Russia was worth $14 million, a decline from $48 million as at 31 March 2020. During the same period total Russian investment in New Zealand increased from $29 million to $40 million. The graphic on the right (click on it to expand) shows the origin of imports into New Zealand in 2020. Note that Russia has 0.53% of all imports into NZ.

The largest economic impact on New Zealand of the invasion would therefore be mainly indirect, through higher import fuel and commodity prices, instability of financial markets, and the impact on global economic activity.

Sources:

  • Potential impacts of the Russian Invasion of Ukraine on the New Zealand economy, February 2022. New Zealand Foreign Affairs.
  • New Zealand Parliamentary Library – Monthly Economic Review March 2022.

For more on Trade view the key notes (accompanied by fully coloured diagrams/models) on elearneconomics that will assist students to understand concepts and terms for external examinations, assignments or topic tests.

Russia puts up interest rates to 20% as rouble tumbles 40%

In an effort to stop the rapid decline of the rouble to protect Russians’ savings the central bank have increased interest rates from 9.5% to 20%. Furthermore, citizens have been withdrawing money from ATM machines with the loss of confidence in the economy. In order to try and stem the 40% decline in its currency the Russian central bank has been buying roubles with its foreign currency reserves. In the foreign exchange market this, in theory, should have the following effect:

  • increases the demand for the rouble – Demand curve to the right – price up of rouble
  • increases the supply of foreign currency – Supply curve to the right – price down foreign currency.

Another worry for Russia is the downgrade of Russian debt to junk status by Standard & Poor’s the credit rating agency. Below is a mind map that shows the factors that are impacted by a falling exchange rate.

Adapted from: CIE A Level Economics Revision by Susan Grant

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Ukraine conflict sees oil prices go above $100

An excellent video from the Wall Street Journal which explains how higher oil prices impact the inflation rate. By pushing up the price of transport this in turn affects the price of goods / services as producers pass on this extra cost to consumers. Although US focused it does go through simple supply and demand theory to explain how the price may fall or rise.

Today Brent Crude Oil prices rose above $105 a barrel (see graph below) for the first time since 2014 after Russia’s attack on Ukraine amplified concerns about supply disruptions. United States is working with other countries including OPEC on a combined release of additional oil from global strategic crude reserves – in theory the supply curve moves to the right to try and reduce prices. Russia is the third-largest oil producer and second-largest oil exporter and low oil stocks and limited spare capacity, will see additional pressure on prices. Furthermore increased demand with a lot of economies coming out their COVID restrictions will put further pressure on prices.

The RBNZ made a forecast that oil prices should head back to around the $80 per barrel mark but that seems to be rather optimistic with the current political climate. What is sure is that higher global oil prices will continue to put pressure on New Zealand’s CPI.

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Covid-19 hits oil prices hard

With the demand for oil dropping over covid-19 and the over supply in the market, oil prices have collapsed. Brent crude fell by more than half in March to below $23 per barrel. For many years OPEC – Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries – has manipulated supply to maintain higher prices. Since 2017 both Saudi Arabia and Russia have been working together to prop up oil prices but have had a falling out over Saudi Arabia’s insistence on cutting oil supplies by 1.5 million barrels per day.

The Economist – 26th March 2020

Cost of extraction v Price of a barrel

Like any business you need to consider costs relative to the price of your good or service. Some shale oil wells in the US may have a break-even point of $40 a barrel despite the high fracking costs. However some sources say that it is above $60 a barrel with the higher-cost wells coming in at over $90 a barrel. These industries cannot survive in this environment of such low oil prices. Also the Canadian tar sands are another costly method of extracting oil and this could lead to a shut down of production.

By contrast in Saudi Arabia the extraction cost is around $9/barrel with Russia coming slightly higher at $15/barrel. The Middle East and North Africa are also very efficient, producing oil as cheaply as $20 per barrel. Worldwide, conventional oil production typically costs between $30 to $40 a barrel.

Nevertheless countries like Venezuela and Nigeria depend hugely on oil revenue for their spending. Although Russia and Saudi Arabia have significant foreign reserves the more the virus persists and demand keeps falling the greater the damage. Useful video from Al Jazeera below.

Saudi Arabia and Russia – oil price war

Below is a very good video from the FT outlining the latest disagreement between the USA and Saudi Arabia. Since 2017 both Saudi Arabia and Russia have been working together to prop up oil prices but have had a falling out over Saudi Arabia’s insistence on cutting oil supplies by 1.5 million barrels per day.

China the biggest importer of oil has cut back on oil consumption because of the coronavirus outbreak was bringing the economy to a standstill. Oil prices had their biggest one-day fall since the 1991 Gulf Crisis – some are expecting prices to go to $20 a barrel. What is at the heart of the fallout? Russia’s anger over sanctions targeted at its oil giant, Rosneft Trading. Washington imposed the sanctions last month over its continued support in selling Venezuela’s oil. Moscow was hoping to get Riyadh on its side to inflict economic pain on US shale producers, who Moscow feels have been getting a free ride on the back of OPEC+ production cuts. Shale production has pushed the United States into the number one spot as the world’s biggest producer of oil. Moscow hopes it could lead to the collapse of some of those businesses, if oil prices remain below $40 a barrel.

Source: Al Jazerra- Counting the Cost.

Russia – economic concerns.

Part of the excellent Al Jazeera documentary series about Russia, which addresses the problems facing many Russians today. The global economic crisis, conflicts with neighbouring countries and the drop in oil prices all played their part in the demise of the Russian people. There is a very good interview with the former Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenk who held the position during Yelstin’s reign. He explains very simply how you grow your economy and that there must be money in the banks so that companies can borrow and invest. Buying US Treasury Bills was loaning money to the US and paying for their deficit. Meanwhile the infrastructure and public services declined rapidly causing a lot of anguish amongst the people. You can’t suddenly jump from a socialist system into the free market. Worth a look.

Crude problems for Nigeria and Russia

oil prices downWith the fall in the price of oil to under US$30 a barrel, two oil exporting economies in particular have been adversely affected – Nigeria and Russia.

Nigeria

  • Oil accounts for 10% of GDP but 70% of government revenue and almost all of Nigeria’s foreign earnings.
  • Government revenue has fallen by 30% from this time last year
  • Foreign reserves are down by $9 billion in 18 months
  • Growth rate for 2015 was 3% which was down from 6% in 2014
  • Nigerian bank loans are exposed to ups and downs of the oil market. At present about 24% of Nigerian bank loans are to oil and gas producers and struggling power companies. This exposure could lead to a banking crisis in Nigeria.

How is Nigeria tackling the problem?

The Economist outlined 3 responses to the crisis of which the first is the only realistic measure:

  1. An expansionary fiscal policy to stimulate aggregate demand
  2. Protect its hard currency reserves by blocking imports
  3. Try to crack down on inflation by keeping the naira pegged at 197-199 to the US$.

Nigeria is fortunate to have low levels of public debt – 19% GDP – but it is not helped by high interest rates but high interest rates means that 35% of government revenue is taken up by servicing its debt. Lower oil prices would be the catalyst to a serious debt problem.

Russia

Russia’s exports and government revenue are heavily dependent on the price of oil. Since the oil peak in June 2014 GDP has shrunk by approximately by 4%. The Russian budget assumes an average oil price of $50 a barrel, which was to have produced a deficit of 3% of GDP. However the budget deficit rises by roughly 1% of GDP for every $5 drop in the oil price and with the current oil price around $30 a barrel the deficit would probably rise to 7% of GDP.

If the economy does start to run out of cash the option of printing money may be tempting. But with inflation at around 13% this would further fuel inflation and also mean a further weakening of the rouble which wold make Russian imports more expensive for firms and households. Russian economic data does not look healthy:

  • real wages fell by 9% in 2015 and 4% in 2014
  • GDP per person was $8,000 in 2015 in contrast to $15,000 in 2013
  • 2 million fell into poverty on 2015
  • the share of families that lack funds for food and clothing rose from 22% to 39%
  • retail sales have dropped by 13% last year

Opportunity

The 25% fall in the inflation adjusted exchange rate in the past year brought with the opportunity to diverse away from oil. The weaker double makes exports more competitive and now that labour is cheaper in Russia than in China there is great opportunity. However, it is not going to come from foreign investors as foreign investment has fallen from $40 billion in early 2013 to $3 billion in June quarter of 2015.

Russian economy – Priests to halt slide of Rouble?

Russia OilWith oil prices heading to below $60 per barrel and inflation on the rise the Russian economy is bracing itself for some difficult times ahead. Oil is imperative to Russian growth rates and The Economist reported that in 2007, when oil was $72 a barrel, the economy managed to grow at 8.5%. Additionally between 2010 – 2013, when oil prices were high, the country’s net outflow of capital was $232bn – 20 times what it was between 2004 and 2008. See graph from The Economist.

But as oil prices drop so does the currency which mean imports become more expensive – the bigger the drop the more expensive they are. Russia imports a lot of goods – the value in 2000 was $45bn compared to in 2013 $341bn. This lower value of the Rouble fuels inflation and it is expected to reach 9% by the end of the year. To maintain peoples spending power the government will need to intervene in the economy and run bigger deficits.

But there is another problem a weaker Rouble makes debt servicing more expensive so in the long-term more money needs to be found. When there was a high oil price instead of increasing their reserves, money was spent on salaries and pensions and especially the armed forces where spending increased by 30% since 2008. One wonders why they spent so much on the Sochi Winter Olympics. However drastic steps are being taken to reduce the decline of the Rouble with priests blessing the servers at the Central Bank with holy water.

Russia CB

Buckwheat Prices – the true indicator of the Russian economy

BuckwheatA hat tip once again to colleague David Parr for this piece on buckwheat prices. As Russia comes to term with falling oil prices, a depreciating rouble, high inflation and sanctions over the Ukrainian crisis there is one other indicator that is worth a mention – buckwheat prices.

Buckwheat is seen as part of the Russian staple diet and can be eaten with any meal in Russia – porridge, served with liver, stuffed inside a roast piglet. It was when rumours started that buckwheat supplies were running low that shoppers rushed out to supermarkets to fill their trolleys. A drought in Russia reduced the buckwheat harvest from 700,000 tonnes to under 600,000 tonnes but this could hardly cause the rapid increase in prices. However media reports were enough to act as a catalyst for panic buying amongst consumers -it took only four days for the town of Penza to be stripped of buckwheat stocks which normally last for two months. In Moscow buckwheat rose from around 30 rubbles to 50 rubbles. Furthermore with the introduction of Western sanctions people are starting to stock pile buckwheat as they are unsure of what will eventuate. It is estimated that over a third of the population have stocked up on buckwheat over the last month.

It seems that buckwheat is a sacred food for Russians and it tends to be in very short supply when there is any sign of crisis in the economy. But it is not just buckwheat which has increased in price. There has been a 30-40% increase in basic foods such as eggs, fish chicken, and sausages as Russia enforces retaliatory embargo banning Western food imports.

Apple bigger than Russian Stockmarket

A hat tip to colleague David Parr for this interesting item. With Russia being in the news over the Ukraine situation and President Putin coming under a lot of pressure at the G20 Conference in Brisbane (in fact he left early), the Russian stock market – number 20 in the world – was surpassed in value by the iPhone maker last week. According to Bloomberg’s Mark Barton Apple could use the change to buy every Russian a 16GB iPhone Plus.

The value of Russian equities = $531 billion
The value of Apple = $667.2 billion

Singapore and Italy are now worth less than Apple as well. And with Christmas approaching who will be next?

Apple v Russia

Winter Olympics – the return of the Communist-era construction site.

SochiWith four months to go till the Winter Olympics in Sochi Russia the characteristics of a planned economy are still prevalent. In the old Russia of the communist-era concerns about corruption, the cost of a project, the effect on the environment and the working conditions of the labour force were brushed aside. However it seems that nothing much has changed, according to The Economist.

Cost
When the bid was placed Russia proposed to spend $12 billion. The estimated cost now is $50 billion – most expensive games in history. According to The Economist Olympics tend to have overruns of about 180% – Sochi is now at 500%

Corruption
The closeness of the Government with the construction companies involved has led to corruption. Olympstroy, which oversees the construction, are run under the informal influence of a rent-seeking group of people for whom extraction of government funds is the main purpose. Furthermore one of Putin’s friends and judo partner has been awarded$7.4billion – more than the budget on the 2010 games in Vancouver. A road contract worth $9 billion went to the Russian Railways which is headed by a former KGB general and friend of Putin.

Environment

There has been little concern for the environment with construction waste polluting the Black Sea and protected forests being cut down to make way for facilities.

Labour conditions
Low-skilled migrants get paid $500 a month and work 12 hour shifts. There is no protection for them in the form contracts, minimum wage, health and safety, and insurance. Wages are not always paid in full and sometimes not paid at all according to Human Rights Watch.

Former prime minister Yegor Gaidar once wrote about how the Soviet Union had wasted its money on construction projects whose main purpose was to utilise government funds. One wonders has much changed?

What is also quite strange is the fact that Sochi has a sub-tropical climate and is one of the few places in Russia where snow is scarce. This has led organisers to store snow.

BRIC Update

With the CIE A2 Paper 4 exam approaching I thought it would be useful to update what is happening in the BRIC countries – remember developing countries is a popular area that is examined. I was very fortunate to attend the Tutor2u 10th Anniversary Conference in June this year where one of the keynote speakers was Jim O’Neill of Goldman Sachs who coined the acronym in a 2001 paper entitled “Building Better Global Economic BRICs”.

The BRIC’s are struggling hard to ease policies and maintain economic growth in the face of a slowing global economy not of their own making. Although you might think that these rates are high in a developed nation for these 4 developing countries growth rates need to be maintained at much higher levels in order to keep apace with the factors of production that are coming on stream.

One of the reasons for the slowdown is the economic situation in Europe and the downturn on the USA followed by their own uncertainty associated with the coming fiscal cliff. There are also consequences of the BRIC slowdown are on the commodity market. BRIC countries were the reason behind the economic growth in the past decade, which meant they had a great affect on commodity prices. As economic growth decelerates rapidly in these countries, so does energy and commodity demand. Downward pressure on oil prices and other key commodities, such as copper, are likely to continue until one can be sure that the growth trend in the emerging market countries is moving higher again. We are not at that stage yet. BRIC nations, in their own

Other reasons for the growth slowdown is the ever worsening economic situation in Europe, followed closely by the general lack of economic leadership and market confidence coming from the aging industrial countries. One cannot, however, lay all of the economic challenges in the BRIC countries at the doorstep of Europe’s debt crisis and the massive policy uncertainty associated with the coming fiscal cliff in the US.

BRIC currencies represent high-risk, high- return carry trades, due to the near-zero level of interest rates in the U.S., Europe and Japan compared to the much high rates in the emerging market world. When BRIC currencies start to appreciate it will be a sign of confirmation of two important new trends.

1. A necessary, but not sufficient, condition for BRIC currency appreciation is that the global deleveraging process is abating.
2. To complete the scenario, economic growth and the ability to attract capital needs to return to the BRICs.

Source CME Group Market Insights – 25th July 2012

BRIC’s in 2011 – Source: The Economist – 29th Sept 2012

Return of the Gold Standard?

Ever wondered why money isn’t worth the paper it is printed on? Why currencies float and occasionally sink? What ever happened to gold as the cornerstone of the currency market? There are some who believe that the world should return to aligning currency to a gold standard – in other words being able to redeem paper money for fixed weights of gold. For much of the 19th century and part of the present century, the exchange rates of the world’s most important trading countries were fixed in terms of gold. The system was known as the gold standard system of fixed exchange rates.

Why return?
Some economists are very optimistic with regard to gold prices for a variety of reasons:
• The US dollar is trending downward against other major currencies, which increases the US dollar price of gold.
• The quantitative easing by central banks around the world will most likely lead to inflationary pressures which ultimately will increase the price of gold

As a result of this bullish behaviour gold is initially recovering some of its lost standing as the world’s reserve currency. What is more, with many countries now holding significant amounts of US dollars as reserves there is the probability that preference will be given to hold something else that maintains its value – gold is likely to be part of the mix. As a result many countries would favour the inclusion of gold in a currency basket that would make up of a new world currency based on Special Drawing Rights issued by the IMF. Although from 2009 The Daily Telegraph (UK) has an interesting article entitled Russia backs return to Gold Standard to solve financial crisis. It also has a video interview with Arkady Dvorkevich, the Kremlin’s chief economic adviser.