The growing Russian economy is increasingly open for business (article by Ambassador Yakovenko for The Daily Telegraph, 6 March 2017)
Tough challenges, including weak global growth, low energy prices and Western sanctions have been used by the Russian Government as incentives to make difficult, but sound decisions to keep our economy in shape. Most of the problems have been overcome, and we have adapted to the new, tougher trade and economic environment, that some call deglobalisation.
While Russia’s GDP fell by 3.7pc in 2015, last year the contraction was insignificant (0.2pc), and we witnessed a transition to growth already in the third quarter of 2016. Now experts have to admit that the results surpass most predictions, and fundamentals of the Russian economy have strengthened. GDP is expected to grow between 1 and 2pc this year.
The Russian Government has been working hard to minimise negative external effects and to secure a structural transformation of the economy. A well-timed anti-crisis programme was launched and has proved successful. The Government is actively scaling down the dependence on commodities and implementing structural reforms. We have maintained macroeconomic stability, preserved and even enlarged our financial reserves. As of 1 January 2016, the reserves stood at around $370 bn, and now there are almost $400 bn.
Public debt is low. Obligations for external debt repayment will have decreased from $130 bn in 2015 to $80 bn by the end of 2017. The federal budget deficit remains at safe level and will be financed by loans, which should not exceed the ceiling of 17pc of GDP. That is much lower than in EU member states. Despite the difficulties, the Government is meeting all of its social obligations in full. The unemployment rate stays reasonable.
Russian financial authorities have been doing an important job in stabilising the markets and bringing inflation down. The inflation rate has steadily decreased and has a potential to meet the 4pc target by the end of this year. Foreign direct investment inflow increased from $6 bn in 2015 to more than $25 bn last year. At the same time, capital outflow decreased from $150 bn. in 2014 to $15.5 bn. in 2016. Industrial production growth rates are expected to rise from 0.4pc in 2016 to 1.1pc in 2017 and up to 2.1pc in 2019.
Over past two years the financial stability of Russian banking system was restored. The profits of the Russian banks grew five-fold over the year. The volume of bad debt saw no increase. The loan portfolio remained stable without marked decrease. The dollarisation of the Russian economy (deposits and loans in US dollars) has been brought to 24pc, which is much less than in other emerging markets (in some countries this indicator is 60 to70pc).
Overall, the Russian economy is on a trajectory of sustained growth in the coming months making most international economists revise upwards their forecasts. We believe that foreign direct investment will increase substantially. We welcome major foreign companies and hedge pensions funds, which have serious long term interests in investing in the Russian economy, bonds and stock markets. In early February a leading global Russian agrocompany PhosAgro, which makes phosphate-based fertilizer, successfully completed its SPO at the Moscow Exchange, selling 4,5pc of its share capital for 15 bn roubles (about $250m) in just one hour. It is one example among many indicative of how Russia is viewed by international business.
The Russian Government is committed to providing every help and support to companies starting or continuing their business in Russia. Rouble devaluation has made Russian assets very attractive for purchase. Real sector companies, including agriculture, car and other industries, will benefit from localising their production in Russia.
I am confident 2017 will dramatically improve prospects for the Russian economy, raising its attractiveness further for foreign investors, including those from the UK.