Tag Archives: Russian economy

The ongoing decline in global oil prices is very bad news for Putin’s regime which depends on oil and gas revenues for about 40% of its federal budget.

This “black swan” comes in a flock— it coincides with the global coronavirus pandemic, the introduction of new US sanctions targeting the Russian energy sector; and on the domestic front, exacerbated by an extremely unpopular move by Putin to rewrite the Constitution with the sole goal of remaining in power for life.

We put together a matrix with scenarios for Russia under various energy market assumptions. Below, we have put together a matrix with scenarios for Russia and various energy market assumptions.

This is an excerpt from a Free Russia Foundation study Russian Scenarios 2030, that also includes chapters on:

· Elites’ Cohesion and Coup D’état
· Military Confrontation
· Russia as a Proxy Superpower of China
· Decentralization
· Local Military Conflicts
· Two Positive Scenarios
· The Sanctions Scenario
· State Crony Capitalism
· Russia and China in 2030
· De-escalation
· Succession after Putin’s Unexpected Death

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In early March 2020, OPEC has failed to reach a deal with Russia who refused to reduce its oil production in response to the plummeting demand due to the global coronavirus epidemic. “We are confident that Russia will resume its cooperation,” said OPEC’s Secretary General Mohammed Barkindo to a Russian news agency Interfax. According to the latest forecast by the International Energy Agency, 2020 will see a significant drop in global demand for oil, for the first time since 2009.

During the March 6, 2020 negotiations, OPEC members proposed to not only extend the current quota on oil productions through the end of the year, but also suggested to further reduce daily outputs by 1.5 mln barrels. Russia, however, was willing to extend the current quotes only through the end of the second quarter of 2020, and refused to further reduce production (a measure that is seen by OPEC as necessary for sustaining the current level of global oil process).

OPEC+ has sought to stabilize global oil prices since 2017. The OPEC failure to reach a deal means that, starting with April 1, 2020, there will be no limitations on oil production. Following Russia’s rejection of a new deal limiting oil production, Saudi Arabia announced its intention to increase output in April. The reaction of global markets to the prospect of a new energy price war was instantaneous: within a few seconds from the morning opening on March 9, 2020, Brent oil prices fell 30%, its biggest drop since 1991. Russian national currency – ruble – was immediately affected – its exchange with euro exceeded the 86 to 1, and with the US dollar – 75 to 1 rate.

“At this point there are no factors that would limit the drop in oil prices. Under an optimistic scenario, they may stabilize at $30 per barrel, after which the markets may start recovery,” believes Nikolai Ivanov from the Energy and Finance Institute (Moscow, Russia). However, according to a recent Goldman Sachs projection cited by the CNN, due to perturbations on the global oil market the price can go down as low as $20 per barrel.

The deficit in the Russian federal budget that would result from the drop in oil prices can be compensated by the National Wealth Fund, announced the Russian Ministry of Finance statement on its website (as quoted by a Russian news agency RIA News). The Ministry projects that even under a pessimistic scenario with prices at $25 per barrel, the Fund will last for six years.

In his statement to a Russian news agency TASS, Energy Minister Aleksandr Novak said that the prospect of oil production increase in April will be determined by ROSNEFT’s plans. Following the failure to reach a deal with OPEC, Russian State Corporation ROSNEFT (currently under sanctions by the US and EU) began planning to increase its oil output, according to Bloomberg reports citing insider sources.

“I doubt that Russian officials, who are now in the midst of a constitutional reform and government restructuring, meant to intentionally harm the Russian economy and weaken the national currency,” says Nikolai Ivanov. Ivanov believes that Russia was forced to break off its negotiations with OPEC. “On the one hand what happened was a manifestation of domestic political intrigues in Saudi Arabia; on the other hand, one can detect the U.S. influence,” said the expert. “The US Secretary of Energy Mike Pompeo flew to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia right before the OPEC break down. The young and very capable Crown Prince bin Salman had just averted a coup in his country and arrested several key government figures. He had conducted an IPO round for Saudi Aramco and no longer had any motivation to sustain oil prices.” For Russia, on the other hand, new production quotas would mean a reduction of half a million of barrels per day. “Unlike Saudi Arabia, Russia, due to its geological characteristics cannot quickly reduce the production of oil and then ramp back up,” believes Nikolai Ivanov. “For Russia, with its high share of “old” oil deposits, which actually already require intensification of extraction rates, it is impossible to increase production after a forced decrease.”

“This decision could have only been made by Vladimir Putin personally,” asserts Mikhail Korchemkin, Director of the East European Gas Analysis consultancy. He recalls Gazprom’s unfortunate experience from the 2009 crisis. As gas prices in Europe plummeted, the Russian President decided to keep the contract prices high despite a shrinking market share. “I would imagine, today, Putin is applying this past experience to the oil market. In 2009, he learned that a reduction in exports leads to a loss,” suggests Korchemkin. “However, shortly thereafter Gazprom came to its senses, lowered prices, increased its market share,” recalls Korchemkin. Aleksandr Baunov from the Moscow Carnegie Center agrees with this assessment. Baunov believes that a shrinking market and its restructuring are the two major factors. “The rest is just an afterthought: the prices first started dropping, and then the government recalled that it was bad for the shale industry,” he suggested. Korchemkin also notes that the US shale oil production has lived through two major price shocks of 2009 and 2015, each deeper than the current one so far.

“Russian leadership still does not understand the US shale mining industry,” – says Ivanov. The expert is confident that this sector cannot be shut down by external shakeups. “Production volume can be varied. Profits are realized even under modest volumes of extraction,” he explains. According to Ivanov, the US may even decide to increase output despite lower global prices as certain costs can go down through such periods. “The United States has such a diversity of producers – at the major, medium and smaller size levels. They can diversify their investments. The advantage of shale production is that it’s very dynamic, and one can adjust approach to oil extraction based on demands of the market,” concludes the expert.

According to Robert Tummel, a portfolio manager at Tortoise Capital Advisors, currently the impact of coronavirus on global oil demand is uncertain. Estimates for 2020 for global oil demand reduction range from 600,000 to 1.3 mln barrels per a day. “Global oil supply could increase by 500,000 to 1 mln barrels per a day, based on how much Saudi Arabia increases production. And that will result in an oversupply on global oil market between 1.1 and 2.3 mln barrels per a day,” predicts Tummel. According to his estimates, the market is going to oversupplied by 1% to 2%. “We think that the US oil producers are most likely to accelerate the capital discipline, and they’d already began doing one to two years ago. The US production is likely decline if low oil prices persist,” says Robert Tummel.

This publication is the product of an initial effort undertaken by Free Russia Foundation in 2018 to stimulate public discussion of Russian scenarios, mitigate the likelihood of a bad surprise or missed opportunities, and support the country’s transition to a more positive future. Continue reading Russia scenarios 2030

Dmitry Medvedev’s new Administration has already been dubbed “the stagnation cabinet” and for a good reason. Despite some rotations, the new government is dominated by well-known bureaucrats who have hopped between various positions within the Putin system for years but have never established themselves as agents of change. There simply are no reformers or rabble-rousers in this cabinet, and consequently, no reasons to expect substantial changes in economic policy. The overwhelming majority of officials from the previous administration have kept their posts, just like Medvedev himself, who has long become the national symbol of stagnation and imitation of competent economic management.

At the same time, certain shifts within the government do offer clues on exactly what kind of adjustments of the economic management style we should expect in the coming years. Let’s discuss this in detail.

The most glaring change is the dramatic beefing-up of the fiscal component of the cabinet. The opposition of the fiscal hawks to all development proposals had figured prominently in all of the previous administrations. As a rule, all breakthrough proposals require either lower taxes or increased spending for purposes of development. The fiscal hawks are categorically against such proposals, as a balanced budget is their foremost priority. This is exactly what type of standoff shook the Kasyanov government in early 2000, when Kasyanov and Gref sought to lower the taxation burden, but Finance Minister Kudrin was opposed.

The most striking feature of Medvedev’s “old new” cabinet is the unprecedented power of the fiscal hawks; they are probably the most powerful they have been in the past twenty-five years. First of all, the government now has a de facto shadow Prime Minister — Anton Siluanov — who has not only been given the powers of a First Vice Minister and now is in the supervisory position over everyone else in the government but has also kept his full control over the powerful Ministry of Finance, the very agency that regulates the state financial flows.

Siluanov will inevitably grow stronger due to the weakness of Medvedev himself, who is by far less proficient financially, and to the new arrangement where Siluanov will oversee the political process of budget negotiations with the Duma lobbyists — he would always have the pretext of telling other agencies: “apologies, you will have to take a hit on this issue due to the current political situation.” A balanced budget and growing reserves to fight off inevitable future crises are the traditional priorities of Siluanov. That means we should anticipate an increasingly restrained discussion of spending increases and, conversely, very lively discussions of tax hikes.  Such fixation on balanced budgets and reserve growth is not great news for Russia’s weak economy.

Siluanov is not the only bad news. Tatyana Golikova, the new public-sector czarina, in fact, is yet another fiscally rigid official who has spent years overseeing the budget process at the Ministry of Finance. That fact is even more important than the widely-publicized business interests of the Khristenko-Golikov family in the pharmaceutical industry, — it’s hard to imagine Golikova aggressively demanding dramatic increases in spending for health and education.  The opposite is more likely.  Against the backdrop of the bureaucratically weak Ministers Skvortsova and Vasilyeva, who were retained in their posts, we anticipate new waves of public sector “optimization”.

In that regard, a telling appointment is that of the new Minister of Science and Higher Education Mikhail Kotyukov. The appointment came a few days after the announcement of the abolition of the Federal Agency of Scientific Organizations (FANO- ФАНО) and the creation of the new Ministry. The scientific community was jubilant— finally, the benevolent President had responded to the pleas of the learned men and fired from the FANO the squad of heartless boys with no real science background who were intent on consolidating their control of the budgets and properties of the scientific sector.  But their glee was short-lived, for appointed to the post of the new ministry was precisely the head of the much-hated FANO Mikhail Kotyukov, barely over 40 years of age, who has spent most of his career in finance and has no background in science. This was a sophisticated way for Putin and Medvedev to spit into the face of a scientific community. To put it bluntly, the “old new” Medvedev Administration will basically finalize the process of cashing out Russia’s social services and science — and that explains the current appointments very well.

One should not expect a comprehensive policy of human capital development when everything is administered exclusively by finance cadres with a very different way of looking at things. Veronika Skvortsova can be an award-winning doctor three times over, but we have already seen her real position within the decision-making process. In that regard, the situation has gotten even worse.

Consistent with this overall picture is the reappointments into the “old new” financial block of two ministers — Siluanov and Oreshkin.   Before the new cabinet was announced, a broad range of forecasts was floated that Putin may surprise everyone with appointing into the government new strong cadres with a mandate to resuscitate economic policy.

Dirigistes had hoped for the appointment of their own gurus; traditional in-system liberals for Kudrin’s appointment. But it is clear now that Putin is quite content with the people who keep the government piggy-bank under control and keep feeding us fairy tales about the growth which is not even on the horizon.

Of course, there are a number of other odious appointments offensive to those who understand our country’s problems even a little. For example, Mr. Kobylkin, under whose governorship the Yamalo-Nenents Autonomous Okrug witnessed the first epidemic outbreak of anthrax in 75 years, has been appointed the Minister of Environment and Natural Resources. Medinsky, with his plagiarized dissertation, has kept his Minister of Culture position. Everyone has heard about Mutko and the Ministry of Construction.

However, the most scandalous appointment, of course, is that of Dmitry Patrushev, the son of former FSB Director and closest friend of Putin Nikolai Patrushev, to the post of Minister of Agriculture. Must we highlight the fact that Patrushev Jr. has only worked in agriculture for…. never! He has never worked in agriculture, not a single day. He has worked in banking, and not very successfully: the Rosselkhozbank (the Russian Agrarian Bank — Россельхозбанк) which he headed since 2010, has not managed to get out of the red, despite numerous promises of the management, and is now one of the largest recipients of government subsidies. The reason — reserves backed by bad debt which consume all of the bank’s interest profits. To put it bluntly, loans were generously issued for random projects and now the taxpayers (that is you and me) are bailing them out.  By the way, my personal theory on Patrushev’s appointment to the Ministry of Agriculture is that he was removed from the Bank because he simply was not up to the job, and the Ministry of Finance got fed up with constantly having to bail him out. So, it was an honorary discharge, of sorts. However, considering the high-powered daddy Dmitry Patrushev, this is definitely not the end of his career.

Therefore, the new edition of Dmitry Medvedev’s Administration — is not just a stagnation cabinet, but also a parade of egregious incompetence as well as the first in history barefaced attempt to introduce the corrupt practice of appointing the sons of the new high nobility to ministerial posts (I am struggling to recall such an impudence, frankly).

At the same time, we should note that the numerous forecasts of anonymous Telegram channels foretelling the strengthening of Igor Sechin’s position in the new Administration have not come true. Not only has Sechin not realized any gains, he has lost ground. For example, even the new head of the Ministry of Environment Kobylkin is much closer to Novatek (Новатэк) and Gazprom, but definitely not to Sechin himself, in contrast to the previous head of that agency Sergey Donskoy. It is hard to say whether Donskoy was a “Sechin man” in the full sense of that term, but the obvious trend is definitely not to the advantage of the head of Rosneft.

Sechin’s frenemy ArkadiyDvorkovich has left the government. However, Dmitry Kozak who replaced him as the Energy Czar is not any closer to Sechin. Another obvious opponent of Sechin, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, has managed to wrangle an important position of the Chief of Staff for his college classmate Konstantin Chuychenko, despite Medvedev’s conspicuous lack of competence.

However, overall, it would be fair to say that Medvedev’s Cabinet is consistent with Vladimir Putin’s view of the situation. He is content with everything, he does not want any radical changes, he does not want any reforms. All that he is after is further fiscal consolidation. Putin is satisfied with fairy tales about economic growth told him by the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Economic Development. An old joke comes to mind: “Experts say people’s incomes are growing. — But our income has not grown! — Clearly, you are not the experts!”

He is unwilling to undertake any serious attempts to change the situation, just as he is unwilling to alter fundamentally the existing balance between the power clans.

It’s difficult to come up with a better illustration of the term “stagnation” (or in common parlance, zastoy) than the composition of the new Medvedev Cabinet. In some distant future, this Administration will become the textbook example of regulatory stagnation

This Article first appeared in Russian at the Insider’s site

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