Reuters blog archive
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The war in Ukraine has not done great things for the Russian economy. The Economistcalls the latest sanctions, announced on July 29 in the wake of the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine, the “end a 25-year-long quest to make Moscow a partner of the West.” The financial embargoes, which target Russia’slargest banks, are not by themselves enough to cripple the country’s finances, but they are still going to be a big blow to an already faltering economy.
The FT Alphaville team writes that part of the quarter-century attempt to bring Russia into the western fold included “efforts to connect Russia to the plumbing which developed markets take for granted,” like adding its domestic sovereign debt to international clearing systems. Those connections are still in place, but a lot of funds are moving toward ignoring Russian markets entirely. MSCI, which provides a number of investment indexes, announced today that it is creating new emerging markets indexes that exclude Russia for investors who want to avoid exposure to the country.
Sanctions, and subsequent trade disruptions, have implications for Europe as well. AnIMF report published today says that exports are only slightly problematic beyond the former Soviet bloc. However, gas and oil imports are a huge deal, especially because the largest pipeline from Russia into Europe goes through Ukraine. David Roche writes that in the long run, Europe could theoretically free itself from reliance on Russian energy imports thanks to the shale revolution, but “in reality neither Europe’s own shale production, nor U.S. imports will come on line sufficiently and speedily enough.”
European defense firms are also somewhat concerned. Sanctions “will squeeze access to an expanding market at a time when governments at home are tightening military spending,” according to the WSJ (although it’s hard to feel too bad for them, since politically that’s sort of the point).
Manufacturing PMI surveys across the euro zone and for Britain are due. The emerging pattern is of an improving third quarter after a generally poor second three months of the year.
The UK economy continues to romp ahead – growing by 0.8 percent in the second quarter – but on the continent there are signs of a new slowdown. The Bundesbank now forecasts no Q2 growth at all in Germany and though the euro zone flash PMI, released a week ago, showed the currency area rebounding in July, that largely came at the cost of companies cutting prices further, thereby pushing inflation lower still.
Euro zone inflation is the big figure of the day. The consensus forecast is it for hold at a paltry 0.5 percent. Germany’s rate came in as predicted at 0.8 percent on Wednesday but Spain’s was well short at -0.3 percent. So there is clearly a risk that inflation for the currency bloc as a whole falls even further.
The Bundesbank has taken the unusual step of saying wage deals in Germany are too low and more hefty rises should be forthcoming, a sign of its concern about deflation. But the bar to printing money remains high and the European Central Bank certainly won’t act when it meets next week. It is still waiting to see what impact its June interest rate cuts and offer of more long-term cheap money to banks might have.
True to its word, the EU agreed sweeping sanctions on Russia yesterday, targeting trade in equipment for the defence and oil sectors and, most crucially, barring Russia’s state-run banks from accessing European capital markets. The measures will be imposed this week and will last for a year initially with three monthly reviews allowing them to be toughened if necessary.
There was no rowing back from the blueprint produced last week – having already agreed to exempt the gas sector – and the United States quickly followed suit, targeting Russian banks VTB, Bank of Moscow, and Russian Agriculture Bank, as well as United Shipbuilding Corp.
President Barack Obama and the leaders of Germany, Britain, France and Italy agreed on a conference call last night to impose wider sanctions on Russia’s financial, defence and energy sectors.
EU ambassadors are meeting today and are expected to target state-owned Russian banks and their ability to finance Moscow's faltering economy.
from Stories I’d like to see:
There are so many gaps in the reporting about the effort to use economic sanctions against Russia to get President Vladimir Putin to pull back support for the Ukraine separatists that it makes sense to devote my whole column this week to listing them.
Of course, it’s a lot easier to identify the gaps than to do the reporting to fill them. Still, many are so obvious that it suggests that for all the resources spent on getting great video of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash site, interviews with the victims’ families and reports from the war front in eastern Ukraine -- all important stories -- there is more heat than light being produced when it comes to the most critical, long-term question related to the Ukrainian conflict: If economic sanctions are the global economy’s modern substitute for using military force in repelling aggression, how is that playing out in the first test of that strategy against a global economic player like Russia?
If it’s true to its word, the European Union will impose sweeping new sanctions on Russia this week, targeting state-owned Russian banks and their ability to finance Moscow's faltering economy.
EU ambassadors will continue discussions on the detail of new measures, most significant of which would be banning European investors from buying new debt or shares of banks owned 50 percent or more by the state.
The EU is slowly tightening the screw on Russia, with senior officials proposing yesterday to target state-owned Russian banks in its most serious sanctions so far. Ambassadorial talks on how precisely that is to be done continue today and the measures are likely to be enacted next week.
One key proposal is that European investors would be banned from buying new debt or shares of banks owned 50 percent or more by the state. These banks raised almost half of their 15.8 billion euro capital needs in EU markets last year. That is a big deal and there are increasing signs of investors turning their back on Russia lock, stock and barrel. However, with its giant FX reserves, the central bank can provide dollars to fund external debt for a considerable period of time.
Interesting intervention from former Russian finance minister Alexei Kudrin late yesterday who warned that Russia risked isolation and having its efforts to modernize derailed.
That sort of internal criticism is rare but Kudrin has done so before without censure which suggests Vladimir Putin is – or has been - willing to hear it. Kudrin added that Moscow should not intervene militarily in eastern Ukraine.
from The Great Debate:
Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Barack Obama were reportedly engaged in a heated telephone conversation last Thursday when Putin noted in passing that an aircraft had gone down in Ukraine. The tragic crash of the Malaysian airliner in rebel-held eastern Ukraine continues to dominate the headlines, but it is important to remember what agitated Putin and prompted the phone call in the first place -- sanctions.
Sanctions against Russia have been the centerpiece of the U.S. response to Putin’s interference in Ukraine. While they primarily have been directed against prominent friends of Putin and their businesses, the underlying target has been a weak Russian economy. The sanctions have definitely found Russia’s Achilles’ heel, and with harsher sanctions looming in the aftermath of flight MA17, Putin is finding it increasingly difficult to craft an effective reply.