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Bank Rossii Eases Further As Russia's Economy Contracts At A Record Rate

The ECB's Balance Sheet At A Glance.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Russia's Economic And Financial Meltdown Continues Apace

Russia's foreign-exchange reserves have been now been declining very rapidly since mid August, and as the money goes so does the faith that the large stock of reserves the country built up during the boom times would be sufficient to see them through any downturn in energy prices. As the money leaves, so it seems does the decade of economic growth and stability which they symbolised. Indeed so rapid has been the decline that Russia's international reserves, which are the third-biggest after those of China and Japan, have now fallen $161 billion, or 27% percent, since 8 August last, and decreased by $17.9 billion to $437 billion in the week to 5 December. Investors have now pulled $211 billion out of the country since August, according to estimates by BNP Paribas.

But just how difficult managing this process is proving to be was illustrated yet again this morning as Russia’s central bank found itself forced to accept a further devaluation in the ruble - for what is now the second time in a only a week - subsequent to which the ruble fell as much as 1.3 percent (to a four-year low of 37.5015 per euro) as Bank Rossii widened the trading band against the basket of dollars and euros used by the bank as the measure for attempting to manage the exchange rate.

Russia has now used some 27 percent of its reserves in these attempts to stem what has now become a 16 percent decline in the ruble following a 69 percent drop in the price of oil and last weeks decision by credit ratings agency Standard & Poor’s to cut its Russian credit rating on for the first time in nine years.

Thus over at Bank Rossii they have been having their work cut out "fexibilising" the trading band, and it this flexibilisation process that has now allowed the ruble to fall against its target exchange rate against a basket of currencies by 8.6 percent, down further from the 7.7 percent level facilitated last week and the 3.7 percent one of a month ago. Thus the currency has now fallen a net total of 5.9 percent against the basket in the series of six "adjustments" to the trading band implemented since 11 November. However this "slow and steady" approach to devaluation is creating uncertainty, as well as fomenting a loss of confidence with Russians withdrwaing a total of 6 percent from their ruble accounts in October alone, the fastest rate of withdrawal since Bank Rossii started collecting this data two years ago, while foreign currency deposits rose 11 percent. Thus instead of reinforcing confidence in the monetary regime, the slow, step-by-step adjustment of the nominal exchange rate may be perpetuating a steady stream of deposit withdrawals and dollar purchases, and some evidence for this can be found in November's 5.9 percent contraction in the money supply.

Apart from the financial turmoil, Russia's economy is really reeling under the weight of the sharp drop in crude prices, and the price of Urals crude, Russia's main export blend, is currently trading at around $44.13 a barrel, down 69 percent from the July peak, and well below the $70 average required to balance the country's 2009 budget.

GDP Growth Slowing Rapidly

It is hard to get a fix at the present time on what Russia's growth rate will look like in 2009, and estimates vary widely. Deutsche Bank recently cut its Russian growth forecast to 1 percent for next year, down from an earlier 3.4 percent, while the World Bank last month forceast a slowdown to 3 percent from what has been an average expansion of 7 percent a year since 1999. At the bottom end of the forecast range we have Oleg Vyugin, chairman of MDM Bank and a former central banker, who suggests the economy may contract by as much as 4% if the prices of raw materials exports do not recover. My own feeling is that the final figure may well be much nearer to Vyugin's estimate than to the World Bank one, especially if we don't get a strong rebound in commodity prices and given the sharp contraction in non-energy industrial output.

Analysts an OAO Sperbank have gone one step further and come up with two possible scenarios for possible impacts of the economic slump on property prices. For the first (or mild case) scenario they postulate a 2.5-3.5% growth in GDP, 11% inflation and a 30 ruble per dollar exchange rate in 2009. In this case, the bank anticipates a drop in Moscow real estate prices of 34.4% in ruble terms and 46.6% in dollars. On the second scenario GDP stagnates (or even contracts by up to 2.5%), there is higher inflation and an even larger devaluation of the ruble against the dollar. On this (worst) case scenario the Bank suggests that Moscow property prices would plummet by 38.1% in rubles and 59.6% in US dollars. You have been warned!

The Inflation Worm Is At The Heart Of The Problem

The real difficulty facing Russia's macroeconomic managers is that after two years of shocking inflation domestic industry is in no position to compete with its overseas competitors while the ruble remains at its present rate, while any sharp devaluation will have a serious impact on the balance sheets of those who took advantage of cheaper interest rates available abroad to do their borrowing using forex loans. This situation is not that different from that which is to be found in many other economies across the region, in Latvia, Hungary, Ukraine and Romania (for example), with the added rider that the IMF representatives who are in dialogue with policy makers in these very fragile economies would do well to bear in mind the potential knock-on effect of any coming downward adjustment in the ruble.

In annual terms inflation is now slowing, and was down to 13.8% in November, from 14.2% in October. Still, these are very - unacceptably - high numbers, and those who so willingly acquiesced in them earlier will now feel the downside of their negligence, although unfortunately it is - as ever - the poor old Russian in the street who will really pick up the bill.

Basically, the credit driven consumer boom which accompanied the commodities one severely distorted the always delicate balance between Russia's commodities and manufacturing sectors, leaving the manufacturing sector strongly uncompetitive. It is this lack of competitiveness which now exaccerbates the severity of the downturn, just as many commentators, including yours truly, where arguing it would do. Frank Gill from Standard and Poor's puts it like this.

Accompanied by generous government spending, the credit boom also fueled inflation, which weighed on the competitiveness of Russia's noncommodity sector. As wage growth averaged nearly 30 percent over the last two years and the ruble-denominated cost of production rose, domestic manufacturers found it very difficult to compete with cheap high-quality imports. As a consequence, entrepreneurs logically avoided manufacturing and, instead, invested in much more profitable and more import-intensive sectors, such as banking, retail and construction.

The resulting structural imbalances were well camouflaged by the extraordinary growth in energy and other commodity prices. For six straight years, the earnings from Russian oil and commodity exports on world markets have increased much faster than the cost of imports, offsetting the less flattering volume effects. From 2003 through this year, the cumulative difference between export and import price inflation in Russia was a fairly remarkable 74 percent. This put upward pressure on the ruble, encouraging borrowers to take loans in dollars or euros at negative real interest rates, under the assumption that the ruble would appreciate indefinitely. But it also provided an important source of financing.
Frank Gill, director of European sovereign ratings at Standard & Poor's in London, writing in the Moscow Times

The critical part of the overheating process was to be found in the evolution of real wages which continuously outpaced productivity growth, thus undermining competitiveness. According to Rosstat, average real wage growth in the first nine months of 2008 was 12.8 percent, down from 16.2 percent during the same period in 2007 (see chart below). Meanwhile unemployment has continued to decline, and reached 5.3 percent in the third quarter, suggesting that at that point the economic slowdown had still not reached the labour market. But this is expected to change quite dramatically now, as the credit seize up and construction slump lead to lay offs in one enterprise after another.

The Russian government has implemented a programme - worth about $200 billion - involving a mixture of loans, tax cuts and other measures to boost liquidity and reduce borrowing costs as the 50-stock RTS Index heads for its worst year since 1998, while the ruble denominated Micex stock index is down 64 percent since 1 August.

``It's a vortex of despair,'' said Julian Rimmer, head of sales trading at UralSib Financial Corp. Russian stocks are weighed down by ``an economy rendered sclerotic by the vanishing of credit, a market paralyzed by margin calls and illiquidity, the opacity of earnings through 2009 and the ruble quivering while speculators circle''.

Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin has said the government has already spent 90 billion rubles ($3.3 billion) out the available total of 175 billion rubles set aside for investing in domestic stocks and bonds. VTB Group (Vnesheconombank), Russia's second-biggest bank, lent 190 billion rubles ($6.9 billion) to companies in November alone as part of the plan following the supply of 120 billion rubles to what Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin termed the "real sector" (or non financial companies) in October.

FDI Drying Up?

Russia's supply of foreign direct investment seems to be steadily drying up. During the first nine montsh of this year the country attracted 2.3 percent less foreign direct investment than it did in the same period in 2007 as the global credit squeeze reduced investor appetite for emerging market projects. Direct investment was running at $19.2 billion over the period, while total foreign investment, including credits and flows into securities markets, was $75.8 billion, a drop of almost 14 percent over 2007, according to the most recent data from the Federal Statistics Service. Foreign investment in stocks and bonds fell 16 percent to $1.3 billion. Foreign direct investment was at a record $27.8 billion in 2007, up 100% over 2006, and thus the fall has not been that dramatic, so far, but the numbers for the last quarter will undoubtedly be much worse than those for the earlier part of the year.

S&P Downgrade

Russia’s long-term debt rating was lowered earlier this month - for the first time in nine years -by ratings agency Standard & Poor’s, who cited capital outflows and the “rapid depletion” of the foreign currency reserves as their justification. Russia's rating was cut one level to BBB, the second-lowest investment grade, and down from BBB+. The last time S&P downgraded Russia was in January 1999, when the country had a rating of SD (or ‘selective default’) following the government's decision to default on $40 billion of debt. Russia’s outlook remains “negative.”

“The rapid depletion of reserves in order to resist a more substantive adjustment of the nominal exchange rate increases the chances of discontinuous exchange-rate movements later, at a lower level of international reserves, with even more severe consequences for the private sector,” said Frank Gill, S&P’s primary credit analyst in London, in the statement.

S&P said it expected Russia’s current-account surplus to swing into a deficit equivalent to 2.6 percent of gross domestic product next year, compared with a surplus of 5 percent in 2008 due to a “sharp deterioration in the country’s terms of trade”. Russia’s GDP growth is expected to decline “sharply” in 2009, according to the agency.

Energy, including crude oil and natural gas, accounted for 73 percent of exports to countries outside of the former Soviet Union (not counting the three Baltic states), in the first 10 months of this year, according to data from the Federal Customs Service, while the federal budget is likely to “shift into deficit” as the government implements emergency tax cuts, commodities prices remain low, and a weaker economy generates less tax revenue, according to S&P. Russia’s budget surplus amounted to 7.8 percent of GDP in the first 10 months, according to Finance Ministry data, but so sharp is the turnaround that Russia may need to use most, or even all, of the money in its two oil funds to cover the budget deficit and recapitalize banks should oil prices stay at about current levels. These funds - the National Wellbeing Fund and the Reserve Fund - held a combined $209 billion as of 1 December.

Moody’s Investors Service also changed Russia’s rating outlook at the end of November - to stable from positive - citing their opinion that the defense of the exchange rate has been "ineffective and extremely costly for official reserves".
“Russia is now facing a perfect storm of falling commodity prices, weaker external demand, tighter credit conditions and slower real incomes growth for which no amount of currency adjustment can compensate,” Neil Shearing, an emerging-markets economist at Capital Economics Ltd. in London, said in a research note today.

Russia's response to the crisis seems to be what might be termed a "process in development", with new measures being continuously announced. In one of the latest such "developments" Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin said the government is thinking of using some of the funding to buy bank mortgages and will also provide 300 billion rubles ($11 billion) to guarantee corporate loans in a bid to boost liquidity. “In order to strengthen guarantees for loans, including loans for two and three years, the state must be ready to provide 300 billion rubles,” Kudrin said in a televised broadcast on the Russian state channel Vesti-24. “If necessary we can increase this limit.” Thirty billion rubles in loans are also to be provided to large airlines like Aeroflot and Transaero, according to First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov, while Vnesheconombank, Russia’s state-run development bank, has now requested a total of 950 billion rubles ($34 billion) in government funds. To put all this in perspective, the latest amount requested by VEB represents more than 7.5 percent of Russia’s foreign-currency reserves.

Services And Manufacturing Contraction

Russia's real economy is shrinking very rapidly under the weight of all this. Russian service industries shrank in November at the fastest rate on record, and the VTB Bank Europe Services Sector Purchasing Managers’ Index was in contraction mode for a second consecutive month (registering 37.2, a sharp acceleration in the rate of contraction from the 47.4 reading in October). On such indexes a reading of 50 is the dividing line between expansion and contraction. The contraction in service industries was “by far” the biggest since the survey began in October 2001, according to the VTB statement. “Activity, new business, employment and backlogs all registered much steeper contractions than in October.”

VTB Group’s Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index also showed a decline in November, this time for the fourth consecutive month, and the index registered a record low of 39.8, even lower than that of September 1998, when Russia defaulted on $40 billion of domestic debt and sharply devalued the ruble.

The manufacturing reading is also confirmed to some extent by the November industrial output data from Rostat, since output contracted year on year by 8.7 percent after a 0.6 percent rise in October. Production shrank for the first time since new methodology was introduced in 2003 and, again, this was the biggest decline since 1998. Manufacturing fell an annual 10.3 percent compared with growth of 0.3 percent in October. Steel pipe production dropped an annual 36.9 percent and coking coal output fell 38.7 percent. Truck and car production dropped 58.1 percent and 7.2 percent respectively. Russia’s largest steelmaker, OAO Severstal, have announced they are cutting output by half and plan to reduce spending 20 percent in 2009, while Ford Motor announced on 8 December it was closing its St. Petersburg factory between 24 December and 21 January.

Is Russia On The Brink Of Outright Recession?

Russia may well already be in its first recession since 1998, according to what may well have been a slip of the tongue by Deputy Economy Minister Andrei Klepach while Evgeny Gavrilenkov, chief economist at Troika Dialog, estimates that the word's largest energy exporter may already be running a current account deficit.
“The recession has already begun and, I’m afraid, it won’t end in two quarters,” Klepach said in comments made in Moscow today that were confirmed by his press secretary.

Klepach added that the economy would grow by less than the ministry’s current forecast of 6.8 percent for 2008, and that industrial output growth will slow to around 1.9 percent for the whole year.

Gross domestic product growth dropped to 6.2 percent in the third quarter, and this was already the slowest pace in three years. Russia’s last economy fell into recession in the first quarter of 1998, and only returned to growth in the second quarter of 1999. Growth has averaged over 7 percent a year since 2000.

As I said, Klepach's declaration may well have been a (Freudian?) slip of the tongue (or tongue twister) since he later qualified his statement, saying there had been some linguistic confusion given that the Russian words “retsessiya” (recession) and “spad” (decline, slump) “mean the same thing". "This isn’t a technical recession in the American sense.” he said - referring to the fact that a recession is often defined as two consecutive quarters of negative growth. Actually the sticklers among us will note that the two quarters negative growth rule of thumb is not in fact the US criterion (since the NBER business cycle dating committee use their own "in house" methodology, as I explain in applying this methodology to Spain here), but he may be right, and what we have on our hands may best be termed a "slump" rather than a recession, but which ever it is, of one thing I am sure: the contraction has already started.

Whatever the confusion, what Klepach did make clear is that he expected Russia’s economy to grow by only 2.6 percent year-on-year in the fourth quarter (giving total growth for the year of 6 percent) and this does seem to suggest that the economy is already contracting on a quarter on quarter basis.

Equally worrying is the evolution in the current account deficit. The full impact of the fall in oil prices will only be noted in the trade and external current account data in the fourth quarter, when export deliveries based on the new lower oil prices will be effectd. But to this evident oil price impact we need to add the fact that the non-oil external current account deteriorated significantly in 2008 as import volumes shot up considerably faster than non-oil exports (the competitiveness problem). In the second quarter of 2008, the non-oil external current account deficit reached almost US 60 billion, and this was followed by a further USD 62 billion in the third quarter, making Russia’s balance of payments position particularly vulnerable to a continuation in the low level of oil and gas prices.

We also need to consider the problems Russia may now have in financing any such current account deficit (remember this one one of S&Ps concerns). The World Bank estimates Russia’s external debt maturing in the third and fourth quarters of 2008 at around USD 100 billion, of which about USD 45 billion is due in the last quarter of 2008. After including on-demand deposits held by the banking sector, the total debt that requires repayment or refinancing may well exceed USD 120 billion. The external debt maturing for the entire 2009 fiscal year is slightly less, at around USD 100 billion. It is clear, however, that some sectors, especially private financial corporations, are going to face challenges in rolling-over their external debt under current conditions. Further, higher prices for debt refinancing are inevitable, and to all of this you need to add-in the sharp drop in the stock values used as loan collateral which will have resulted in sizeable margin calls on lending facilities with 1-2 year maturities.

All in all the World Bank reached the conclusion that the total debt due in the fourth quarter of 2008 could amount to about USD 60-65 billion. Even so, they concluded that systemic risk to the banking sector, while rising, remained limited due to the government’s resolve in supporting the systemically important banks and the sizable package of measures taken to date. It is hard to assess whether or not they are right in this evaluation, but in any event we are all just about to find out, so those of us who don't especially like mysteries won't have too long to wait.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Massive Foreign Reserves Outflow Puts Russia's Ruble Trading Band Under Threat

Russia's currency reserves, the third-biggest in the world, are falling steadily as tumbling oil prices and an exodus of capital are piling the pressure on the central bank and government policymakers to accept a devaluation in the ruble. Oil prices which are now down 60% from their july peak, slowing economic growth and increasing investor concern are steadily draining Russia's foreign exchange reserves, which fell 19 percent (to $484.6 billion) in the 12 weeks through Oct. 31. This is down from $598.1 billion in the week before the invasion of Southern Ossetia.

Russia had been using the reserves to try and contain the upward movement in the ruble was thought to present a threat to the competitiveness of exports. But resistance is now becoming increasingly difficult in the fact of a 13 percent drop against the dollar since August 1.

Bank Rossii began managing the ruble's exchange rate in February 2005 against a
currency basket comprised of about 55 percent dollars and 45 percent euros.
Policy makers let it trade within a fixed range in mid-May. Since then, it has
dropped 2.1 percent against the basket to 30.4020. Though the central bank
doesn't reveal the limits of the band, BNP Paribas considers 30.40 to be its
weaker end.
Evidently the main responsibility for the drop in the ruble has been a change in the relative values of the currencies in the basket, with the euro falling significantly against the dollar.

The central bank sold a record $40 billion in October, according to Moscow-based Trust Investment Bank, while Troika Dialog, the country's oldest investment bank, have warned that the currency may fall by as much as 30 percent in the event of a devaluation.

The logic behind any impending devaluation would not be too hard to find either. Try looking at the inflation bonfire which has been allowed to rage in Russia over the last eighteen months.

Inflation Drops Back In October, But Is Still At 14.2%

Russia's inflation rate fell to 14.2 percent, the lowest in seven months, in September as grain, legumes and gasoline prices all decreased. The rate dropped from 15 percent in September, according to data from the Moscow- based Federal Statistics Service. Prices were up 0.9 percent on the month, after rising 0.8 percent in September.

Bank Rossii, Russia's central bank, may have to increase the "flexibility'' of the ruble exchange rate, and this will involve a "certain tendency toward weakening'' according to bank Chairman Sergey Ignatiev speaking on state television Vesti-24 last week.

Russia may "gradually'' widen the trading band if the current account falls into a deficit next year, according to Arkady Dvorkovich, an economic adviser to President Dmitry Medvedev, recently.

And Russia's current account, the widest measure of flows in goods and services, seems now to be inexorably headed toward just thatdeficit. Russia's trade surplus narrowed to $16.4 billion in September, from $18.5 billion in August, according to the latest data from Bank Rossii .

Russia's benchmark 30-year government bond has fallen substantially in 2008, pushing the yield to an almost seven-year high of 12.55 percent as of Oct. 27. So far this year, the RTS Index has lost 64 percent, and is headed for its worst performance since 1998.

And Corporate Lending Piles Up And Up

VTB Group, Russia's second-biggest lender, has lent 377 billion rubles ($14 billion) to Russian companies since the beginning of September. The state-run bank provided 120 billion rubles worth of loans in September, 229 billion rubles in October and 28 billion rubles in the first week of November. Most of the money was leant by VTB (94 billion rubles) to metals companies. This was followed by 33 billion rubles for the power industry and 32 billion rubles for retail companies. The bank increased its corporate loan portfolio to 667 billion rubles in the first 10 months of 2008, from 363 billion rubles in the same period last year, according to the bank. The bank has also increased its retail loan portfolio by 183 billion rubles, a 97 percent increase from the first 10 months of 2007.

Russian Services Contract In October

Russia's service industries contracted in October for the first time in more than seven years as the effects of the financial crisis spread into the real economy. VTB Bank Europe's Purchasing Managers' Index of growth in services fell to 47.4 from 55.5 in September. A figure below 50 shows a contraction.

If we put this chart alongside the October manufacturing PMI one, it is clear that something significant happened in October. If things continue this way we are heading straight for recession I would say.

Update Tuesday 11 November 2008

The ruble fell this morning by the most in at least a month against the central bank's dollar-euro basket and stocks fell back as traders speculate policy makers are allowing the currency to weaken. The Micex Stock Exchange halted trading for an hour after the benchmark index sank almost 10 percent. The dollar-denominated RTS Index slipped 8.5 percent to 743.77. The ruble extended its 16 percent drop since August 1 following the statement by central bank Chairman Sergey Ignatiev (see above) that under current conditions the ruble may have a ``certain tendency toward weakening.''

The ruble declined 1 percent to 30.6879 versus the basket as of 1:30 p.m. in Moscow. Against the dollar, it was at 27.3040 having earlier slid by as much as 1.3 percent to 27.3975. It was 1 percent weaker against the euro at 34.8484 per euro.

In other news Fitch Ratings yesterday followed Standard & Poor's and lowered the outlook for Russia's credit rating to negative, while Bank Rossii today set a limit of 10 billion rubles ($366 million) on the amount of so-called currency swaps it offered. The swaps allow traders to bet on the exchange rate without having to sell rubles. The central bank started curbing swaps on Oct. 20 in theory to deter "speculators".

Among the falling stocks were those of OAO Sberbank, which dropped sharply after Vedomosti reported that Russia's largest savings bank had suffered a record $3 billion of withdrawals from retail accounts in October. Sberbank, which is the biggest holder of ruble deposits, fell 3.2 rubles, or 10 percent, to 27.63 rubles on the Micex Stock Exchange. Retail clients of Russia's biggest bank withdrew 80 billion rubles ($3 billion) in October, a record amount for a single month, Vedomosti reported, citing an unidentified person familiar with the bank's accounts. Central bank Chairman Sergey Ignatiev estimated yesterday said net private capital outflows reached $50 billion in October.

Update Wednesday 12 November

Russia's central bank lifted its key policy interest rate to 12 percent from 11 percent after the market closed yesterday. The move is widely interpreted as an attempt to stem the massive outflow of funds. The central bank also widened its trading band target by 30 kopeks (1 cent) yesterday, a move which "achieved almost nothing'' and cost the best part of $7 billion of the nation's foreign-currency reserves, according to analysts at Renaissance Capital. Russia has thus joined central banks in Hungary, Iceland and Pakistan in raising interest rates to stem currency losses while the rest of the world cuts benchmark levels to try to promote lending.

The cost of protecting against a default by Russia also soared after the decisions were announced. Credit-default swaps on Russian government bonds jumped to 7.17 percent of the amount insured from 6.14 percent yesterday, according to CMA Datavision prices. The yield on its 30-year dollar bonds increased to 10.77 percent from 9.1 percent.

The ruble fell back 1 percent yesterday, the biggest daily drop in two months.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Russian Manufacturing Contracts Again In October

Russian manufacturing contracted in October at the slowest pace in over two and a half years as the global financial crisis cut demand, according to the latest reading on VTB Bank Europe's Purchasing Managers' Index, which fell to 46.4 from 49.8 in September. This was the third consecutive month in which Russian industry has been contracting. A figure above 50 on these indexes indicates growth, while one below 50 means contraction.

Banks Lose $1.6 Billion In Assets

Sberbank, VTB Group and the other Russian banks lost a total of $1.6 billion from their stock and bond holdings in September, according to an estimate from UniCredit analysts who based their estimate on central bank data. Overdue loans held by banks rose rose in September to 1.45 percent (up from 1.33 percent tin August, according to Rustam Botashev, a Moscow-based analyst for UniCredit. The central bank said on November 1 that personal deposits in Russian banks fell 1.5 percent in September as people withdrew money amid global financial turmoil. Total deposits declined to 5.89 trillion rubles ($220 billion) on October 1 from 5.98 trillion rubles on September 1

National Wellbeing Fund Continues To Rise

The total assets of Russia's combined oil funds rose 4 percent - to $197.4 billion - in October after the transfer of taxes from oil revenue, according to data from the Finance Ministry. The National Wellbeing Fund held 1.7 trillion rubles as of November 1, equivalent to $62.8 billion, while the Reserve Fund held 3.6 trillion rubles, or $134.6 billion. Russia transfers a part of its oil and gas revenue to its two oil funds, which were created after the Stabilization Fund was split in two in February 2008.

Oil Stabilisation Fund

Reserve Fund
AUM: $134.6 Billion
The Reserve Fund may, by law, only invest in foreign government bonds.

National Welfare Fund
$62.8 Billion
Initially funded with just $32 Billion starting, this fund could increase dramatically in the future if oil prices start to rise again. The fund will mostly be managed by the Russian Ministry of Finance. The fund also has the ability to lend money to Russian banks. Furthermore the Fund is intended to serve as a tool for absorbing excess liquidity, in order to try to reduce inflationary pressure as well as insulate the economy from volatility in oil & gas export prices. The fund may invest in riskier assets, such as corporate bonds and possibly, at some point, equities.

The Russian state banks VEB and Sberbank are to get funds from the National Wealth Fund to place on deposit until 2020 as part of the recent plan to rescue the country's financial sector. The draft of the new law states that Sberbank will get a subordinated 500 billion rouble ($19.11 billion) loan at an annual interest of 8 percent and will issue a bonds to guarantee it. VEB will get the money from the National Wealth Fund at a rate of 7 percent a year and will provide loans to state bank VTB, and other banks and companies at 8 percent a year.

In line with this decision 170 billion rubles from the Wellbeing Fund ($6.3 billion) were last week deposited with the state development bank, Vnesheconombank. Russia has pledged a total of more than $200 billion to replenish liquidity and help companies overcome what is evidently now the worst financial crisis since the 1998 default on sovereign debt. The Russian government has said it will transfer 450 billion rubles from the Wellbeing Fund to Vnesheconombank, known as VEB, at an annual interest rate of 7 percent until 2019 for providing subordinate loans to banks. A further 175 billion rubles will be transferred from the fund at the same interest rate through 2013 to support local securities. Of the money deposited with Vnesheconombank, 125 billion rubles will go toward subordinate loans and 45 billion will be invested in Russian stocks and bonds.

Oil Production Down In October

Russia's oil production continued to fall in October - dropping for the 10th consecutive month - as producers struggled with rising costs and maturing fields, bringing the world's second-biggest crude exporter closer to its first annual drop in output since 1998. Output fell 0.7 percent compared with a year earlier to 9.87 million barrels of crude a day (41.7 million metric tons a month), according to figures released by the Energy Ministry. Output in Russia's oil heartland of western Siberia is sagging as older fields mature and producers are forced into remote regions to tap deposits. Oil companies need credit lines totaling $100 billion to make investments endangered by the global financial crisis, according to the Vedomosti newspaper, which cited a letter from Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin to President Dmitry Medvedev.

Ruble Falls The Most In Nearly A Decade In October

The ruble suffered its biggest monthly decline against the dollar in nine and a half years in October. Investors took $72 billion out of Russia during October, and have now taken around $140 billion since early August, according to estimates by BNP Paribas, while the Micex Index dropped 30 percent and pushed the yield on the 30-year government bond to a seven-year high.

The currency, which the central bank manages against a basket of dollars and euros, weakened 1 percent to 27.0955 per dollar last Friday, taking its decline on the month to 5.6 percent, the most since March 1999.

Bank Rossii, the central bank, buys and sells foreign- currency reserves to keep the ruble within a trading band against the basket. The mechanism comprises about 55 percent dollars and 45 percent euros and is used to protect the competitiveness of Russian exports from currency swings. The ruble fell 0.2 percent to 30.4036 versus the basket, from 30.3512 yesterday, and was little changed from 30.3675 at the end of September.

Bank Rossii - the Russian central bank - sold $40 billion in October, a record, to prevent the ruble from weakening beyond 30.40 to the basket. During the third week in October alone Russia's reserves dropped by $31 billion (another record) according to data from the central bank.