Reuters blog archive
from The Great Debate:
I find Vladimir Putin annoying at the best of times, but this month my distaste has blossomed into unbridled loathing. By imposing sanctions on food imports from the United States, European Union, Canada and Japan, Russia’s kefir-drinking head of state scuppered my chances of making a decent plate of cacio i pepe or a batch of brownies for the next calendar year. The specter of Soviet-era scarcity is already making itself felt in eerie ways in supermarkets all over Moscow.
An entire section of the once expansive dairy aisle at one market is empty and shuttered with a sign citing “technical difficulties” where once Irish butter, French creme fraiche and Finnish skim milk stood proudly alongside Russian sour cream, kefir and milk. The Indian host of a sushi restaurant in my neighborhood, hugely popular with Japanese businessmen and diplomats, shook his head in despair, as he relies heavily on fish imports from Norway for his delectable sashimi and sushi. Heading back to Moscow from Italy yesterday, I loaded up my suitcase with 10 pounds of parmesan, vacuum-packed smoked ham and elegant jars of sage, rosemary, basil and mushroom pesto. Less than a week ago, they were all available at select grocery stores and wholesalers. Now, everyone is scrambling.
"Uh…uh..agh…aghhhhhhhh….?” was all my buddy, Michelle, who is a chef at the American Embassy, could spurt when she heard the news. She couldn’t stop long to chat; she was on her way to loop through all the upscale supermarkets to stockpile the Belgian baking chocolate she relies upon to make her legendary cakes and cookies.
With the food ban, Putin has also hammered the final nail into my professional coffin. I write about two things: humor and food in Russia. 2014 hasn’t been a bumper year for humor in Russia, and now the foodie story is all but pipped at the post.
from Global Investing:
By Andrew Winterbottom
Russian stocks are up today, for the fifth day in a row and at the highest level in two weeks. What's going on? As we wrote here earlier in the week, foreign investors have been fleeing this market. However it could be that some of them are starting to put aside concerns about the potential for further sanctions on Moscow and are scouring Russia's stock markets for contrarian buying opportunities.
Russian stocks, chronically undervalued, are trading now at a discount of more than 60 percent to broader emerging markets, and to China which by all accounts is the standout beneficiary of the Russian woes. Just how cheap Russian shares are can be gauged from the fact they trade at a discount event to turbulent Pakistan. Here is a link that compares Russian equity valuations with other emerging and developed markets: http://link.reuters.com/guv77v
Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet his top security officials prior to visiting annexed Crimea on Thursday with members of his government.
One way or another, with Ukrainian government forces encircling the main pro-Russian rebel stronghold of Donetsk, matters are coming to a head. Putin must decide whether to up his support for the separatists in east Ukraine or back off.
Financial markets perked up on Monday after Russia called off military exercises near the Ukraine border but was the confidence well founded?
NATO’s chief told Reuters there was a "high probability" Russia could launch an invasion of Ukraine where the government said it was in the "final stages" of recapturing Donetsk, the main city held by pro-Russian rebels, a battle that could be a decisive turning point in the biggest confrontation between Russia and the West since the Cold War.
Ukrainian government forces say they are preparing for the final stage of recapturing the city of Donetsk from pro-Russian separatist rebels after shelling its outskirts and making significant gains over the weekend.
The city faces increasing shortages of food, water and electricity. Vladimir Putin must now decide whether to leave the rebels to their fate or step up his support. Kiev said on Saturday it had headed off an attempt by Russia to send troops into Ukraine under the guise of peacekeepers accompanying a humanitarian convoy sanctioned by the Red Cross. Moscow dismissed the allegation as a "fairy tale".
A day before the European Central Bank’s monthly policy meeting, ECB President Mario Draghi will travel to Luxembourg for talks with incoming European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker. Oh to be a fly on the wall.
Some in the ECB are concerned that ultra-low sovereign borrowing costs and Draghi’s “whatever it takes” promise has relieved pressure on euro zone governments to carry on with structural economic reforms.
Juncker has signalled he is comfortable with a Franco-Italian drive to focus on growth and job creation rather than cutting debt.
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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.
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.