The Russian GDP Indicator has been developed for VTB Bank Europe by Markit Economics to provide a tool to help policymakers and investors monitor economic conditions in Russia. Key features of the Russian GDP Indicator are:
It is available several weeks ahead of official first estimates of GDP (for example, Goskomstat did not release their first estimate of 2005 third quarter growth until December 2005);
It is produced monthly, rather than quarterly, allowing quicker identification of changing business conditions and turning points in the economic cycle;
It is internationally comparable with other GDP Indicators that Markit Economics has launched, including the Eurozone GDP Indicator;
On average, Markit Economics’s GDP Indicators have been more accurate at estimating GDP growth rates than official first estimates (the latter tending to be revised significantly after initial publication)
In December, the Russian GDP Indicator fell below zero for the first time since March 1999, to -1.1%, from 2.1% in November. Over Q4 as a whole, the GDP Indicator has signalled a year on year expansion of 2.0%.
But this is perfectly consistent with a quarter on quarter contraction, as we can see in the monthly diffusion index GDP chart. So there is no doubt about it as far as I am concerned, the Russia economy contracted in Q4 2008, and really, effectively, the Russian recession has now started.
Further evidence for the slowdown can be found in the fact that unemployment rose 400,000 in November and while retail sales grew at the slowest annual rate in five years. Also in November, real disposable income fell on an annual basis while capital investment growth continued to drop back. The rouble ended 2008 20% lower versus the US dollar and 15% weaker against the euro, while the budget for 2009 remains under threat from falling oil prices.
The most recent official GDP figures from the Federal Statistics Service indicated year on year GDP growth of 6.2% in the third quarter of 6.2%, a figure which was itself a three-year low. This result was rather weaker than the advance trend registered by the GDP Indicator, which averaged 6.8% over the same period. The stronger VTB GDP Indicator may well reflect the absence of construction coverage in the PMI surveys – annual growth of construction value added in Q3 almost halved compared to the previous quarter – and probably also did not fully capture the effect of plummeting oil prices and weakening investment growth, on the other hand it the number is not a bad first estimate at all, and I emphasise, we get it at the end of the month in question.
In fact over the past nine years the official statistics office series and the VTB GDP Indicator have had a pretty close relationship, and the correlation is currently 0.88 (see chart below). Moreover, the Indicator has successfully captured the major peaks and troughs in growth throughout the period, thus I think we need to take the latest PMI based data very seriously indeed.
The ruble depreciated today to 33.1710 per dollar, its lowest level since early 1998. The ruble has lost 7.7 percent since official trading resumed this year, extending the decline to 29 percent since August, 2008. Investors have now withdrawn $245 billion from Russia since August according to data from PNB Paribas. Russia’s reserves, which are the world’s third-largest, fell by $171.6 billion to $426.5 billion between August and Jan. 9.
Bank Rossii, which manages the ruble against a basket of about 55 percent dollars and the rest euros, widened its target range again today. The currency has fallen 29 percent versus the basket since Aug. 1 and is now able to decline about 22 percent from a target rate, from about 3.6 percent on Nov. 11, the start of the current round of depreciation. The ruble weakened 1.4 percent to 37.8224 against the dollar-euro basket by 5 p.m. today in Moscow, extending this year’s drop to 6.7 percent. It depreciated to 43.8880 per euro, the lowest since the common currency’s introduction in 1999, and has lost 5.7 percent this year.
The ruble weakened 5.3 percent against the dollar and 9.8 percent versus the euro last week, the most since 1999. That compares with a record 71 percent slide in the week to Aug. 28, 1998, and a 42 percent slump the week after. Russia’s Mosprime rate, the average interest- rate banks charge to lend money to each other, rose to a two- month high of 12.5 percent today, according to the central bank.
Russia’s economy will probably grow more slowly this year than earlier forecast as the price of oil, the country’s chief export earner tumbles, according to Merrill Lynch & Co. Gross domestic product will probably expand 0.9 percent, rather than the previous projection of 3.7 percent, Merril’s Moscow-based economists Yulia Tsepliaeva and Ivan Bokhmat wrote in a report sent to clients.
“Russia has been unable to avoid the strongly negative impact of the global crisis and downward correction of commodity prices,” Tsepliaeva and Bokhmat said. “The inefficiency of the government plan and limited channels to deliver government support and liquidity to mid-sized companies make a hard landing scenario more and more likely for Russia.”