It’s two years since Russia invaded Ukraine. Western countries responded by imposing large-scale sanctions. These targeted a range of businesses, banks and other financial institutions, payments systems and Russian exports and imports. Some $1 trillion of Russian assets were frozen. Many Western businesses withdrew from Russia or cut off commercial ties. In addition, oil and gas imports from Russia have been banned by most developed countries and some developing countries, and a price cap of $60 per barrel has been imposed on Russian oil. What is more, sanctions have been progressively tightened over the past two years. For example, on the second anniversary of the invasion, President Biden announced more than 500 new sanctions against individuals and companies involved in military production and supply chains and in financing Russia’s war effort.
The economy in Russia has also been affected by large-scale emigration of skilled workers, the diversion of workers to the armed forces and the diversion of capital and workers to the armaments industry.
So has the economy of Russia been badly affected by sanctions and these other factors? The IMF in its World Economic Forecast of April 2022 predicted that the Russian economy would experience a steep, two-year recession. But, the Russian economy has fared much better than first predicted and the steep recession never materialised.
In this blog we look at Russia’s economic performance. First, we examine why the Russian economy seems stronger today than forecast two years ago. Then we look at its economic weaknesses directly attributable to the war.
Apparent resilience of the Russian economy
GDP forecasts have proved wrong. In April 2022, just after the start of the war, the IMF was forecasting that the Russian economy would decline by 8.5% in 2022 and by 2.3% in 2023 and grow by just 1.5% in 2024. In practice, the economy declined by only 1.2% in 2022 and grew by 3.0% in 2023. It is forecast by the IMF to grow by 2.6% in 2024. This is illustrated in the chart (click here for a PowerPoint).
Similarly, inflation forecasts have proved wrong. In April 2022, Russian consumer price inflation was forecast to be 21.3% in 2022 and 14.3% in 2023. In practice, inflation was 13.8% in 2022 and 7.4% in 2023. What is more, consumer spending in Russia has remained buoyant. In 2023, retail sales rose by 10.2% in nominal terms – a real rise of 2.8%. Wage growth has been strong and unemployment has remained low, falling from just over 4% in February 2022 to just under 3% today.
So why has the Russian economy seemingly weathered the war so successfully?
The first reason is that, unlike Ukraine, very little of its infrastructure has been destroyed. Even though it has lost a lot of its military capital, including 1120 main battle tanks and some 2000 other armoured vehicles, virtually all of its production capacity remains intact. What is more, military production is replacing much of the destroyed vehicles and equipment.
The second is that its economy started the war in a strong position economically. In 2021, it had a surplus on the current account of its balance of payments of 6.7% of GDP, reflecting large revenues from oil, gas and mineral exports. This compares with a G7 average deficit of 0.7%. It had fiscal surplus (net general government lending) of 0.8% of GDP. The G7 countries had an average deficit of 9.1% of GDP. Its gross general government debt was 16% of GDP. The G7’s was an average of 134%. This put Russia in a position to finance the war and gave it a considerable buffer against economic sanctions.
The third reason is that Russia has been effective in switching the destinations of exports and sources of imports. Trade with the West, Japan and South Korea has declined, but trade with China and various neutral countries, such as India have rapidly increased. Take the case of oil: in 2021, Russia exported 4.4 billion barrels of oil per day to the USA, the EU, the UK, Japan and South Korea. By 2023, this had fallen to just 0.6 billion barrels. By contrast, in 2021, it exported 1.9 billion barrels per day to China, India and Turkey. By 2023, this had risen to 4.9 billion. Although exports of natural gas have fallen by around 42% since 2021, Russian oil exports have remained much the same at around 7.4 million barrels per day (until a voluntary cut of 0.5 billion barrels per day in 2024 Q1 as part of an OPEC+ agreement to prop up the price of oil).
China is now a major supplier to Russia of components (some with military uses), commercial vehicles and consumer products (such as cars and electrical goods). Total trade with China (both imports and exports) was worth $147 billion in 2021. By 2023, this had risen to $240 billion.
The use of both the Chinese yuan and the Russian rouble (or ruble) has risen dramatically as a means of payment for Russian imports. Their share has risen from around 5% in 2021 (mainly roubles) to nearly 75% in 2023 (just over 37% in each currency). Switching trade and payment methods has helped Russia to circumvent many of the sanctions.
The fourth reason is that Russia has a strong and effective central bank. It has successfully used interest rates to control inflation, which is expected to fall from 7.4% in 2023 to under 5% this year and then to its target of 4% in subsequent years. The central bank policy rate was raised from 8.5% to 20% in February 2022. It then fell in steps to 7.5% in September 2022, where it remained until August 2023. It was then raised in steps to peak at 16% in December 2023, where it remains. There is a high level of confidence that the Russian central bank will succeed in bringing inflation back to target.
The fifth reason is that the war has provided a Keynesian stimulus to the economy. Military expenditure has doubled as a share of GDP – from 3.7% of GDP in 2021 to 7.5% in 2024. It now accounts for around 40% of government expenditure. The boost that this has given to production and employment has helped achieve the 3% growth rate in 2023, despite the dampening effect of a tight monetary policy.
Despite the apparent resilience of the economy, there are serious weaknesses that are likely to have serious long-term effects.
There has been a huge decline in the labour supply as many skilled and professional workers have move abroad to escape the draft and as many people have been killed in battle. The shortage of workers has led to a rise in wages. This has been accompanied by a decline in labour productivity, which is estimated to have been around 3.6% in 2023.
Higher wages and lower productivity is putting a squeeze on firms’ profits. This is being exacerbated by higher taxes on firms to help fund the war. Lower profit reduces investment and is likely to have further detrimental effects on labour productivity.
Although Russia has managed to circumvent many of the sanctions, they have still had a significant effect on the supply of goods and components from the West. As sanctions are tightened further, so this is likely to have a direct effect on production and living standards. Although GDP is growing, non-military production is declining.
The public finances at the start of the war, as we saw above, were strong. But the war effort has turned a budget surplus of 0.8% of GDP in 2021 to a deficit of 3.7% in 2023 – a deficit that will be difficult to fund with limited access to foreign finance and with domestic interest rates at 16%. As public expenditure on the military has increased, civilian expenditure has decreased. Benefits and expenditure on infrastructure are being squeezed. For example, public utilities and apartment blocks are deteriorating badly. This has a direct on living standards.
In terms of exports, although by diverting oil exports to China, India and other neutral countries Russia has manage to maintain the volume of its oil exports, revenue from them is declining. Oil prices have fallen from a peak of $125 per barrel in June 2022 to around $80 today. Production from the Arabian Gulf is likely to increase over the coming months, which will further depress oil prices.
With the war sustaining the Russian economy, it would be a problem for Russia if the war ended. If Russia won by taking more territory in Ukraine and forcing Ukraine to accept Russia’s terms for peace, the cost to Russia of rebuilding the occupied territories would be huge. If Russia lost territory and negotiated a settlement on Ukraine’s terms, the political cost would be huge, with a disillusioned Russian people facing reduced living standards that could lead to the overthrow of Putin. As The Conversation article linked below states:
A protracted stalemate might be the only solution for Russia to avoid total economic collapse. Having transformed the little industry it had to focus on the war effort, and with a labour shortage problem worsened by hundreds of thousands of war casualties and a massive brain drain, the country would struggle to find a new direction.
- How Russia’s economy survived two years of war
The Bell (23/2/24)
- How Russia uses China to get round sanctions
The Bell, Denis Kasyanchuk (20/2/24)
- As Ukraine’s economy burns, Russia clings to a semblance of prosperity
The Observer, Larry Elliott and Phillip Inman (24/2/24)
- ‘A lot higher than we expected’: Russian arms production worries Europe’s war planners
The Guardian, Andrew Roth (15/2/24)
- There are lessons from Russia’s GDP growth — but not the ones Putin thinks
Financial Times, Martin Sandbu (11/2/24)
- Russia’s economy going strong
DW, Miltiades Schmidt (21/2/24)
- The West tried to crush Russia’s economy. Why hasn’t it worked?
Politico, Nahal Toosi, Ari Hawkins, Koen Verhelst, Gabriel Gavin and Kyle Duggan (24/2/24)
- Don’t Buy Putin’s Bluff. The West Can Outspend Him.
Bloomberg UK, Editorial (23/2/24)
- Russia’s war economy cannot last but has bought time
BBC News, Faisal Islam (11/2/24)
- US targets Russia with more than 500 new sanctions
BBC News, George Wright and Will Vernon (24/2/24)
- Russia’s economy is now completely driven by the war in Ukraine – it cannot afford to lose, but nor can it afford to win
The Conversation, Renaud Foucart (22/2/24)
- Argue the case for and against including military production in GDP.
- How successful has the freezing of Russian assets been?
- How could Western sanctions against Russia be made more effective?
- What are the dangers to Western economies of further tightening financial sanctions against Russia?
- Would it be a desirable policy for a Western economy to divert large amounts of resources to building public infrastructure?
- Has the Ukraine war hastened the rise of the Chinese yuan as a reserve currency?
- How would you summarise Russia’s current public finances?
- How would you set about estimating the cost to Russia of its war with Ukraine?
In recent months the Chinese central bank (the People’s Bank of China) has taken a number of measures to boost aggregate demand and arrest the slowing economic growth rate. Such measures have included quantitative easing, cuts in interest rates, a devaluation of the yuan and daily injections of liquidity through open-market operations. It has now announced that from 1 March it will reduce the reserve requirement ratio (RRR) for banks by a half percentage point.
The RRR is the percentage of liabilities that banks are required to hold in the form of cash reserves – money that could otherwise have been used for lending. This latest move will bring the compulsory ratio for the larger banks down from 17.5% to 17%. This may sound like only a small reduction, but it will release some ¥650bn to ¥690bn (around $100bn) of reserves that can be used for lending.
The cut from 17.5% to 17% is the fourth this year. Throughout 2014 and 2015 it was stable at 20%.
The hope is that this lending will not only help to boost economic growth but also stimulate demand for the consumption of services. The measure can thus be seen as part of a broader strategy as the authorities seek to re-balance the economy away from its reliance on basic manufacturing towards a more diversified economy. It is also hoped that the extra demand will help to boost jobs and thus provide more opportunities for people laid off from traditional manufacturing industries.
It is expected that further reductions in the RRR will be announced later in the year – perhaps a further 1.5 to 2 percentage points.
But what will be the effect of the releasing of reserves? Will the boost be confined to $100bn or will there be a money multiplier effect? It is certainly hoped by the authorities that this will stimulate the process of credit creation. But how much credit is created depends not just on banks’ willingness to lend, but also on the demand for credit. And that depends very much on expectations about future rates of economic growth.
One issue that concerns both the Chinese and overseas competitors is the effect of the measure on the exchange rate. By increasing the money supply, the measure will put downward pressure on the exchange rate as it will boost the demand for imports.
The Chinese authorities have been intervening in the foreign exchange market to arrest a fall in the yuan (¥) because of worries about capital outflows from China. The yuan was devalued by 2.9% in August 2015 from approximately ¥1 = ¢16.11 to approximately ¥1 = ¢15.64 (see chart) and after a modest rally in November 2015 it began falling again, with the Chinese authorities being unwilling to support it at the November rate. By January 2016, it had fallen a further 2.8% to approximately ¢15.20 (click here for a PowerPoint file of the chart).
But despite the possible downward pressure on the yuan from the cut in the reserve requirement, it will probably put less downward pressure than a cut in interest rates. This is because an interest rate cut has a bigger effect on capital outflows as it directly reduces the return on deposits in China. The central bank had already cut its benchmark 1-year lending rate from 6% to 4.35% between November 2014 and October 2015 and seems reluctant at the current time to cut it further.
China central bank resumes easing cycle to cushion reform pain Reuters, Pete Sweeney (29/2/16)
China cuts reserve requirements for banks to boost economy PressTV (29/2/16)
China Moves to Bolster Lending by Easing Banks’ Reserve Ratio New York Times, Neil Gough (29/2/16)
Economists React: China’s ‘Surprise’ Bank Reserve Cut Wall Street Journal (29/2/16)
China Cuts Banks’ Reserve Requirement Ratio Bloomberg, Enda Curran (29/2/16)
China Reserve-Ratio Cut Signals Growth Is Priority Over Yuan Bloomberg, Andrew Lynch (29/2/16)
China reserve ratio cut not a signal of impending large-scale stimulus: Xinhua Reuters, Samuel Shen and John Ruwitch (2/3/16)
China injects cash to boost growth and counter capital outflows Financial Times, Gabriel Wildau (29/2/16)
China’s Economic Policy Akin To Pushing On A String Seeking Alpha, Bruce Wilds (2/3/16)
China cuts banks’ reserve ratio for fifth time in a year: Why and what’s next Channel NewsAsia, Tang See Kit, (1/3/16)
- Explain what is mean by the required reserve ratio (RRR).
- Explain how credit creation takes place.
- What will determine the amount of credit creation that will take place as a result of the $100bn of reserves in Chinese banks released for lending by the cut in the RRR from 17.5% to 17%.
- What prompted the recent cuts in the RRR?
- Why may China’s recent monetary policy measures be like pushing on a string?
- Is the reduction in the RRR a purely demand-side measure, or will it have supply-side consequences?
- Explain how different types of monetary policy affect the exchange rate.
- Should other countries welcome the cut in China’s RRR? Explain.
There is a select group of countries (areas) that have something in common: the USA, the UK, Japan and the eurozone. The currency in each of these places is one of the IMF’s reserve currencies. But is China about to enter the mix?
The growth of China has been spectacular and it is now the second largest economy in the world, behind the USA. It is on the back on this growth that China has asked the IMF for the yuan to be included in the IMF’s basket of reserve currencies. The expectation is that Christine Lagarde, the IMF’s Managing Director, will announce its inclusion and, while some suggest that the yuan could become one of the major currencies in the world over the next decade following this move, others say that this is just a ‘symbolic gesture’. But that doesn’t seem to matter, according to Andrew Malcolm, Asia head of capital at Linklaters:
“The direct impact won’t be felt in the near term, not least because implementation of the new basket won’t be until Q3 2016. However the symbolic importance cannot be overlooked…By effectively endorsing the renminbi as a freely useable currency, it sends a strong signal about China’s importance in the global financial markets.”
Concerns about the yuan being included have previously focused on China’s alleged under-valuation of its currency, as a means of boosting export demand, as we discussed in What a devalued yuan means to the rest of the world. However, China has made concerted efforts for the IMF to make this move and China’s continuing financial reforms may be essential. The hope is that with the yuan on the IMF’s special list, it will boost the use of the yuan as a reserve currency for investors. It will also be a contributor to the value of the special drawing right, which is used by the IMF for pricing its emergency loans.
Although the Chinese stock market has been somewhat volatile over the summer period, leading to a devaluation of the currency, it is perhaps this move towards a more market based exchange rate that has allowed the IMF to consider this move. We wait for an announcement from the IMF and the articles below consider this story.
Chinese yuan likely to be added to IMF special basket of currencies The Guardian, Katie Allen (29/11/15)
‘Chinese yuan set for IMF reserve status BBC News (30/11/15)
IMF to make Chinese yuan reserve currency in historic move The Telegraph, James Titcomb (29/11/15)
China selloff pressure Asia stocks, yuan jumpy before IMF decision Reuters, Hideyuki Sano (30/11/15)
IMF’s yuan inclusion signals less risk taking in China Reuters, Pete Sweeney and Krista Hughes (29/11/15)
Did the yuan really pass the IMF currency test? You’ll know soon Bloomberg, Andrew Mayeda (29/11/15)
- What is meant by a reserve currency?
- Why do you think that the inclusion of the yuan on the IMF’s list of reserve currencies will boost investment in China?
- One of the reasons for the delay in the yuan’s inclusion is the alleged under-valuation of the currency. How have the Chinese authorities allegedly engineered a devaluation of the yuan? To what extent could it be described as a ‘depreciation’ rather than a ‘devaluation’?
- Look at the key tests that the yuan must pass in order to be included. Do you think it has passed them given the report produced a few months ago?
- The weighting that a currency is given in the IMF’s basket of currencies affects the interest rate paid when countries borrow from the IMF. How does this work?
China has a key role in the global economy. Recording double digit growth for a number of years and posting impressive export figures, China’s has been an economy on an upward trajectory. But its growth has been slowing and this might spell trouble for the global economy, as was discussed in the following blog. For many, China is the pendulum and the direction it moves in will have a big influence on many other countries.
There are some suggestions that China’s rapid growth has been somewhat artificial, in particular following the financial crisis, where we saw massive investment by state-owner enterprises, banks and local government. This has led to a severe imbalance within the Chinese economy, with high levels of debt. One of the key factors that has enabled China to grow so quickly has been strong exports. China has typically had a large current account surplus, often balanced by large current account deficits in many Western countries.
The exchange rate is a key component in keeping strong export growth and the devaluation of the Chinese currency in August (see What a devalued yuan means to the rest of the world) is perhaps a suggestion that export growth in China is lower than desired. Devaluing the currency will boost the competitiveness of Chinese exports and this in turn may lead to a growth in the current account surplus, which had fallen quite significantly from around 10% to 2%.
The problem is that China is currently imbalanced and this is likely to create problems around the world. With globalisation, the free movement of capital and people, deflation in the West and falling world asset prices, the situation in China is crucial. Although you will find many articles about China and blogs on this site about its devaluation, its growth and policy, the BBC News article below considers the conflicts that exist between three key economic objectives:
1. currency stability
2. the free movement of capital
3. independent monetary policy
and the need for some international co-operation and co-ordination to enable China’s economy to return to internal and external balance.
China’s impossible trinity BBC News, Duncan Weldon (8/9/15)
- What is meant by internal balance?
- What is external balance?
- Would you suggest that China is suffering from an imbalanced economy? If so, which type of imbalance and why is this a problem for China and for the world economy?
- The article refers to the trilemma. Why can an country not achieve all 3 parts of the trilemma? You should explain why each combination of 2 aspects is possible, but why the third is problematic.
- Use a diagram to explain why a fall in the exchange rate will boost the competitiveness of exports and why this can create economic growth.
- Why is a devalued Chinese currency bad news for the rest of the world?
- How could international co-operation and co-ordination help China?
On August 11th, China devalued its currency, the yuan, by 1.9%. The next day it devalued it by a further 1.6% and on the next day by a further 1.1%. Even though the total devaluation was relatively small, especially given a much bigger revaluation over the previous three years (see chart below), traders in world markets greeted the news with considerable pessimism. Stock markets around the world fell. For example, the US Dow Jones was down by 1.1%, the FTSE 100 was down by 2.5% and the German DAX by 5.8%.
There are three major concerns of investors about the devaluation. The first is that a weaker yuan will make other countries’ exports more expensive in China, thereby making it harder to export to China. At the same time Chinese imports into the rest of the world will be cheaper, thereby making it harder for domestic producers to compete with Chinese imports.
The second is that cheaper Chinese imports will put downward pressure on prices at a time when inflation rates in the major economies are already below target rates. The fear of deflation has not gone away and this further deflationary twist will intensify such fears and possibly dampen demand.
The third is that the devaluation is taken as a sign that the Chinese authorities are worried about a slowing Chinese economy and are using the devaluation to boost Chinese exports. The rapidly expanding Chinese economy has been one of the major motors of the global economy in recent years and hence a slowing Chinese economy is cause for serious concern at a time when the global economy is still only very slowly recovering from the shock of the financial crisis of 2007–8
But just how worried should the rest of the world be about the falling yuan? And will it continue to fall, or could this be seen as a ‘one-off’ correction? What effect will it have on the macroeconomic policies of the USA, the eurozone and other major countries/regions? The following articles analyse Chinese policy towards its currency and the implications for the rest of the world.
China weakens yuan for a third straight day on Thursday CNBC, Nyshka Chandran (13/8/15)
Markets reel as investors fear worst of Chinese slowdown is yet to come The Telegraph, Peter Spence (12/8/15)
China cannot risk the global chaos of currency devaluation The Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard (12/8/15)
Beware a China crisis that could crash down on us all The Telegraph, Liam Halligan (15/8/15)
The curious case of China’s currency The Economist, Buttonwood’s notebook (11/8/15)
China’s yuan currency falls for a second day BBC News (12/8/15)
China slowdown forces devaluation BBC News, Robert Peston (11/8/15)
What the yuan devaluation means around the world BBC News, Lerato Mbele, Daniel Gallas and Yogita Limaye (12/8/15)
China allows yuan currency to drop for third day BBC News, various reporters (13/8/15)
The Guardian view on global currencies: it’s the economy, stupid The Guardian, Editorial (14/8/15)
China’s currency gambit and Labour’s debate about quantitative easing: old and new ways to cope with economic crisis The Guardian, Paul Mason (16/8/15)
- By what percentages have the nominal and real yuan exchange rate indices appreciated since the beginning of 2011? Use data from the Bank for International Settlements.
- Explain the difference between nominal and real exchange rate indices.
- Compare the changes in the yuan exchange rate indices with that of the yuan/dollar exchange rate (see Bank of England Interactive Database). Explain the difference.
- How is the yuan exchange rate with other currencies determined?
- How have the Chinese authorities engineered a devaluation of the yuan? To what extent could it be described as a ‘depreciation’ rather than a ‘devaluation’?
- Why have world stock markets reacted so negatively to the devaluation?
- Why, in global terms, is the devaluation described as deflationary?
- How much should the rest of the world be worried by the devaluation of the yuan?
- Explain the statement by Robert Peston that ‘Beijing has done the monetary tightening that arguably the US economy needs’.
- Comment on the following statement by Stephen King of HSBC (see the second Telegraph article below): ‘The world economy is sailing across the ocean without any lifeboats to use in case of emergency.’