Opinion

The Great Debate

Sanctions finally find Russia’s Achilles heel

Russia's President Vladimir Putin gestures as he chairs a government meeting at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow

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.

Obama had raised the ante for Russia the day before the Malaysian airliner disaster by unexpectedly announcing a new round of sanctions. The designated enterprises included several major Russian banks (Gazprombank, VEB), energy companies (Rosneft, Novatek) and arms manufacturers. They were not, however, the full sectoral sanctions that Putin dreads the most. These would essentially exclude Russia from the international financial system and restrict major technological transfers. Though key Russian banks and energy companies are now prohibited from receiving medium or long-term dollar financing, U.S. companies are not otherwise prohibited from conducting business with them.

But even by hinting as to what sectoral sanctions might look like, Obama has upset Russia’s economic calculations. Obama is often criticized for not backing up the “red lines” that he draws. But in Ukraine, Obama essentially has drawn a “gray line” — demanding Russia take certain actions to end the crisis. No one knows when this gray line is crossed, however. So these new sanctions only heighten the uncertainty — and risk — of doing business in Russia.

Russian President Putin and German Chancellor Merkel walk during a meeting in Rio de JaneiroThe market responded immediately, with dramatic declines in the Russian ruble and the Moscow stock market. In addition, the sanctions only exacerbated an already difficult situation for Russian companies. Syndicated loans for Russian commodities producers are down more than 80 percent over the past six months. The appetite for Russian bonds has also decreased considerably in the aftermath of the Ukraine crisis. So the current round of sanctions made a bad situation worse.

from Summit Notebook:

Does Germany need Europe?

Jim O'Neill, the new Goldman Sachs Asset Management chairman who is famous for coining the term BRICs for the world's new emerging economic giants, reckons he knows why Germany might not be rushing to bail out all the euro zone debt that is under pressure. Europe is not as important to Berlin as it was.

Speaking at the Reuters 2011 Investment Outlook Summit being held in London and New York, O'Neill pointed out that in the not very distant future Germany will have more trade with China than it does with France.

"It's a different global environment. That's why maybe Germany (ties)  itself to a rules-based game with the rest of Europe because economically it doesn't mean so much to them now. What goes on in China is more important than what goes on in France and that's puts a different economic (spin) on the situation for the Germans."

from MacroScope:

What emerging animal are you?

Ever since Goldman Sach's Jim O'Neill came up with the idea of BRICs as an investment universe, competitors have been indulging in a global game of acronyms. Why not add Korea to Brazil, Russia, India and China and get a proper BRICK? Or include South Africa, as it wants, to properly upper case the "s" - BRICS or BRICKS?

Completely new lists have also been compiled -- HSBC chief Michael Geoghegan has championed CIVETS to describe Colombia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey and South Africa (ignoring the fact, as Reuters' Sebastian Tong points out here, that a civet is a skunk-like animal blamed for the spread of the deadly SARS outbreak in Asia).

Fun though some of this is -- and no one can argue that BRICs has not had an impact -- there is a danger that the acronym could become more relevant  than the actual countries involved. For example, imagine Mexico, Uruguay, Panama, Philippines, Egypt, Turkey and Sierre Leone being lumped together because they spell MUPPETS.

from The Great Debate UK:

Pranab Bardhan on the economic rise of China and India

In its May economic outlook, the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development projected upward growth outlooks for BRIC countries Brazil, Russia, India and China -- the world's four largest emerging economies.

Strong growth in those economies is helping to pull other countries out of recession, the OECD said. The Paris-based organisation projects that China’s GDP growth will exceed 11 percent for 2010, and anticipates that India's real GDP growth will be 8.3 percent. Russia's GDP growth is expected to be 5.5 percent, and Brazil's is projected at 6.5 percent. By comparison, the OECD projects that the Euro area will see 1.5 percent real GDP growth, while the UK will see a 2.2 percent growth.

The "BRIC" acronym was created by Goldman Sachs economist Jim O'Neill in 2001 to mark a shift of economic power from the West. In June 2009, the BRIC leaders met in Yekaterinburg, Russia, for a summit, which was seen as the beginning of a geopolitical alliance, although their economies are very different: Brazil's economy is based on agriculture; Russia's on energy exports; India's on services and China's on manufacturing. At that time, the BRIC countries accounted for 40 percent of the world's population and about 15 percent of its economy.

from The Great Debate UK:

Vikas Pota on ten business icons in India

VikasAmid jitters about uncertainty in the financial markets over the past 16 months, many investors have continued to look toward the BRIC countries -- Brazil, Russia, India and China, which by 2050 are expected to be wealthier than most current major economic powers.

In all four countries, GDP has more than doubled since 1998, and in China and India it has trebled.

The Confederation of Indian Industry, a non-profit non-governmental, industry-led organisation, estimates India's GDP growth rate at 6.1 per cent in 2009-10.

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