Friday, April 28, 2017

28/4/17: Russian Economy Update, Part 4: Aggregate Investment

The following is a transcript of my recent briefing on the Russian economy. 

This part (Part 4) covers outlook  for aggregate investment over 2017-2019. Part 1 covered general growth outlook (link here), part 2 covered two sectors of interest (link here) and part 3 concerned with monetary policy and the ruble (link here).

From the point of Russian economic growth, investment has been the weakest part of the overall ex-oil price dynamics in recent years.

Rosstat most recent data suggests that the recovery in seasonally adjusted total fixed investment continued in 1Q 2017, with positive growth in the aggregate now likely for the 2Q 2017:

  • 4Q16 investment was down about 1% from 2015
  • Total investment rose from 22.12% of GDP in 2015 to 25.63% in 2016, and is expected to moderate to 22.23% in 2017, before stabilsing around 22.9% in 2018-2019
    • The investment dynamics are, therefore, still weak going forward for a major recovery to take hold
    • However, 2017-2019 investment projections imply greater rate of investment in the economy compared to 2010-2014 average
  • However, last year fixed investment was down by 11% from 2014
    • This is primarily down to Rosstat revision of figures that deepened the drop in investment in 2015
  • About a quarter of total aggregate investment in Russia comes from small firms and the grey economy
    • Rosstat data suggests that such investment was roughly unchanged in 2016 compared to 2015
  • Other fixed investments, which are mostly investments of large and mid-sized companies, shrank by about 1% in 2016
    • This compounds the steep drops recorded in the previous three years (down 10% in 2015 alone), so the level of investment last year remained below that of the 2009 recession
    • Investments of large and mid-sized companies within oil & gas production sector rose robustly in 2016
      • This marked the third consecutive year of growth in the sector
      • Much of the increases was driven by LNG sub-sector investments which is associated (at current energy prices) with lower profit margins 
      • On the positive side, investments in LNG facilities helps diversify customer base for Russian gas exporters - a much-needed move, given the tightening of the energy markets in Europe
    • In contrast to LNG sub-sector, investment in oil refining continued to shrink, sharply, in 2016 for the second year in a row, 
    • Other manufacturing investment also recorded continued sharp declines
    • The same happened in the electricity sector
    • In contrast, following two years of contraction, investment in machinery and equipment stabilised for the mid- and large-sized corporates
    • Construction sector activity was down 4% y/y in 2016, marking third consecutive year of declines
      • Exacerbating declines in 2015, commercial and industrial buildings completions fell again in 2016
      • Apartments completions also fell y/y marking the first drop in housing completions since 2010

As the chart above illustrates:

  • The forecast if for 2017-2019 improvements in investment contribution to growth, with trend forecast to be above 2010-2014 average
  • However, historically over 2000-2016 period, investment has relatively weak/zero correlation (0.054) with overall real GDP growth, while investment relative contribution to growth (instrumented via investment/growth ratio) has negative correlation with growth even when we consider only periods of positive growth
  • This implies the need for structural rebalancing of investment toward supporting longer-term growth objectives in the economy, away from extraction sectors and building & construction

Going forward:

  • Russia's industrial / manufacturing production capacity is nearing full utilisation 
  • The economy is running close to full employment
  • Leading confidence indicators of business confidence are firming up
  • Corporate deleveraging has been pronounced and continues
  • Corporate profitability has improved 
  • Nonetheless, demand for corporate credit remains weak, primarily due to high cost of credit 
    • Most recent CBR signal is for loosening of monetary policy in 2017, with current rates expected to drop to 8.25-8.5 range by the end of 2017, down from 10% at the start of the year
  • Irrespective of the levels of interest rates, however, investment demand will continue to be subdued on foot of remaining weaknesses in structural growth and lack of reforms to improve business environment and institutions

Taken together, these factors imply that the recovery in fixed investment over 2017-2019 period is likely to be very slow, with investment recovery to pre-2015 levels only toward the end of forecast period.

Thematically, there is a significant investment gap remaining across a range of sectors with strong returns potential, including:

  • Food production, processing and associated SCM;
  • Transportation and logistics
  • Industrial machinery and equipment, especially in the areas of new technologies, including robotics
  • Chemicals
  • Pharmaceuticals and health technologies


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