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As growth returns, Russia sticks to tough economic policies

As growth returns to Russia’s economy, policy makers make clear that tough monetary and fiscal policies prioritising inflation reduction are to be continued.

Alexander Mercouris

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Alexey Kudrin, Russia’s former Finance Minister and hero of the Western and Russian financial establishment and media, has now also said what The Duran previously reported – Russia has exited recession.

Latest figures from Rosstat (Russia’s statistical agency) confirm this.  GDP in August was at the same level as in August 2015, whilst industrial output grew by 0.7% and agricultural output by 0.5% with the Russian Agriculture Minister recently informing Putin that Russia will have a record harvest this year.

Inflation continues to fall at a faster rate than almost all independent forecasters predicted.  Though final figures for September have not yet been published, annualised rate of inflation in Russia as of the end of September was certainly no higher than 6.5% and is probably well below this figure.  The Central Bank is predicting that inflation at the end of the year will be 5.5-5.6%, which is in line with its current underlying rate.

Investment decline slowed in August and the Central Bank is claiming that an improvement in investment trends is underway.

Real incomes in August however continued to fall, with Rosstat reporting the fall as 0.7%.  (Some reports claimed preposterously that the fall was 7%.  Presumably some people ‘corrected’ the actual figure by moving a decimal point).

The fall in real incomes is the deliberate consequence of the government’s anti-inflation policy which by limiting economic activity through its tough monetary and fiscal policy is keeping the growth in wages below the continuing rise in prices.  The decline in real incomes reduces demand, which all other things being equal over time makes prices and therefore inflation fall still further.

The fact output is rising as real incomes fall incidentally shows something else: the economy is becoming more competitive.  It is also undoubtedly a reason why despite the recession unemployment never rose significantly (it peaked at 5.8% and has now fallen back to 5.2% in a country where the labour participation rate is currently 70%).

There are several reasons why during the recession unemployment in Russia never took off.  One is the decline in the working age population caused by the 1990s demographic crisis.  Another is the return of migrant workers during the recession to Central Asia, leaving vacancies free for Russian workers.  However the most important reason almost certainly is that by accepting a fall in their real incomes Russian workers did not price themselves out of their jobs.

Like the Central Bank Kudrin is reported as saying that growth will be slow initially, though he predicts it will rise to 3-4% “within five years”.  The Interfax report of his comments does not say whether Kudrin said why this would be so.  However The Duran has explained it previously: despite denials it is the tough monetary and fiscal policy the government and the Central Bank are following in order to bring inflation down to 4% by the end of next year.

On this subject Central Bank Chairman Nabiullina provided further clarity during a press conference in September

She admitted that the underlying inflation rate in Russia is now 5-6% and that it will not rise above this range even if interest rates are reduced and monetary policy is eased.  In other words there is space for cutting interest rates and easing monetary policy if the priority were to strengthen the recovery and increase growth.

The reason interest rates are being kept high is because the government’s and the Central Bank’s priority is not to strengthen the recovery and to increase short term growth.  It is to reduce inflation from its current underlying rate of 5-6% to 4% by the end of next year, and to keep it there indefinitely.  Here is what Nabiullina said about this

“It should be stressed once again that inflation risks are not understood to be the risks of inflation strengthening. Inflation will continue its downward movement – we are fully confident here, as well as market participants are. These risks consist in the rates of inflation ‘getting stuck’ at around 5%-6%, failing to reach the target level needed to enable a more favourable environment for economic growth.

We are sure that we will be able to reduce inflation to the target level even in case of the inflation risks materialising. As I say so, I want to emphasise that our target is to reach not a one-off mark of but a steady level of inflation. Yes, the task on hand is to deliver on its reduction to 4% in 2017. Yet, what we mean is not to have this level registered at a certain point in time, but to ensure that inflation resides sustainably around this mark of four per cent. And it is not a magic figure of some kind, yet a new level of price stability, inflation expectations and credibility in macroeconomic policy.”

(bold italics in the original)

In other words, as The Duran has explained, the government and the Central Bank are – quite consciously – accepting a trade-off: lower growth in the short term in return for sustainably lower inflation and higher and better quality growth in the future.  Nabiullina explained it again

“Living in a high price and income growth environment may seem to be more customary and even attractive. Yet, this is a deceptively easy and, obviously, a non-performing direction. What needs to happen is a change in our conventional ideas on what should be price growth in the economy. No less important is it for businesses to continue on the path of performance improvement, for the structure of the economy to upgrade and for competition to advance. These all would create a strong foundation to enable reduction in inflation and to spur economic growth of a higher grade.”

Moreover at a recent meeting to discuss budget policy Putin made clear that the policy has his full support

“The macroeconomic environment remains challenging. In fact, the Russian economy is gradually recovering from the downturn, but the positive trends are still fragile. Make no mistake, we need to create a macroeconomic environment that would foster economic growth, while keeping in place the downward trend in consumer inflation. In the medium term, the inflation rate should decrease to 4 percent.”

In a world where Central Banks around the world prioritise short term growth seemingly over everything else, are trying to increase inflation rather than reduce it.

Where there is quantitative easing, zero or even negative interest rates, and serious talk of ‘helicopter money’, and where the US Federal Reserve agonises over even the tiniest increases in interest rates.

I appreciate it must seem strange to many people that there is a government and a Central Bank in one country who are pursuing diametrically opposite policies of tight budgets and high real interest rates in order to reduce inflation, increase savings, and boost long-term investment so as to make the economy more efficient, productive and competitive over the long term.  However that is the policy Russia has now.

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Social media purge continues, as platforms operate as publishers (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 80.

Alex Christoforou

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Following the suspension of Alex Jones, Twitter has also moved to restrict Jones’ Infowars account.

BuzzFeed News is reporting that the Infowars account will be restricted from tweeting, but will still be able to browse Twitter and send direct messages to other users, while users will still be able to view the account.

The move, which essentially puts the account in read-only mode, comes less than a day after Twitter temporarily limited Infowars proprietor Alex Jones for a week after he tweeted a link to a video in which he called on his supporters to get their “battle rifles” ready. That video, which was shared on Twitter-owned live streaming service Periscope, was also shared by Infowars earlier on Wednesday.

A Twitter spokesperson confirmed that Infowars’ account, which has more than 430,000 followers, will be prevented from tweeting, retweeting, liking or following other users during a seven-day window. The account will stay online, allowing users to view it during that period.

Via Zerohedge

On Tuesday, Twitter suspended the conspiracy theorist and blogger for violating the social media company’s policies, in a stark reversal for Jack Dorsey who previously bucked the trend by other tech giants to muzzle the Infowars creator.

As CNET first reported, Jones’ account was put in “read only” mode and will be blocked from posting on Twitter for seven days because of an offending tweet, the company said. While Twitter declined to comment on the content that violated its policies, a Twitter spokesperson told CNN the content which prompted the suspension was a video published Tuesday in which he said, “now is time to act on the enemy before they do a false flag.”

A Twitter spokesperson wouldn’t say what would get Jones or Infowars permanently suspended, however they noted “We look at [the] volume and nature of violations before suspending an account,” according to Buzzfeed.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the latest twists and turns in the vicious social media purge of conservative right and libertarian accounts. Platforms are acting like publishers and this may mean the end of monopoly social media services.

Remember to Please Subscribe to The Duran’s YouTube Channel.

Meanwhile, in a censorship move against Libertarian commentary, Ron Paul Institute director Daniel McAdams and Antiwar editor Scott Horton were suspended by Twitter for simply retweeting. Justin Raimondo informs…

Target Liberty reports

Update from Justin:

Neither @scotthortonshow nor @DanielLMcAdams have been reinstated. You can see their tweets: they can’t tweet.

RW

Daniel McAdams explain what happened…

Robert I can give you an update from my perspective regarding what happened:

Yesterday on Twitter, former US diplomat Peter Van Buren (@WeMeantWell) took members of the mainstream media to task for swallowing and printing government lies without even bothering to check them out. He said as a former US government official (turned whistleblower) he also lied to the press on behalf of the government and was astonished that the press swallowed each one, hook, line and sinker.

Several corporate media hacks and in particular one employee of an NGO funded by George Soros — a fellow called Jonathan Katz — piled on Peter, accusing him of all manner of treachery. When Peter ended one response with a sarcastic reference to zombie attacks – “I hope a MAGA guy eats your face” — which is obviously a joke, Katz replied that he is reporting Peter for promoting violence.

So he and his buddies ganged up on Peter and got him banned. Scott Horton and I were incensed over the ban, which seemed to us totally arbitrary. There was no threat of violence and it was no different than millions of Tweets all the time. So Scott and I both joined in and criticized Katz for running off to the authorities in attempt to get someone banned rather than just walk away from the debate.

Katz then did his usual routine and ran to the authorities and had Scott and me banned. Mine was for, as Twitter informed me, because “you may not promote violence against, threaten, or harass other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or serious disease.” There is no way at all that my Tweet violated the above rule. In no way did I harass or threaten based on those criteria. I merely strongly criticized Katz for running to the authorities to get Peter banned.

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“I’m Not A Racist, But I’m A Nationalist”: Why Sweden Faces A Historic Election Upset

Sweden is set to have a political earthquake in September.

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Via Zerohedge


“Trains and hospitals don’t work, but immigration continues,” Roger Mathson, a retired vegetable oil factory worker in Sweden, told Bloomberg on the same day as the violent, coordinated rampage by masked gangs of youths across five Swedish cities.

We noted earlier that Swedish politicians were quick to react with anti-immigrant party ‘Sweden Democrats’ seeing a surge in the polls ahead of the September 9th election.

“I’m not a racist, but I’m a nationalist,” Mathson said. “I don’t like seeing the town square full of Niqab-clad ladies and people fighting with each other.”

Is Sweden set to have its own political earthquake in September, where general elections could end a century of Social Democratic dominance and bring to power a little known (on the world stage), but the now hugely popular nationalist party often dubbed far-right and right-wing populist, called Sweden Democrats?

Sweden, a historically largely homogeneous population of 10 million, took in an astounding 600,000 refugees over the past five years, and after Swedes across various cities looked out their windows Tuesday to see cars exploding, smoke filling the skies, and possibly armed masked men hurling explosives around busy parking lots, it appears they’ve had enough.

Over the past years of their rise as a political force in Swedish politics, the country’s media have routinely labelled the Sweden Democrats as “racists” and “Nazis” due to their seemingly single issue focus of anti-immigration and strong Euroscepticism.

A poll at the start of this week indicated the Sweden Democrats slid back to third place after topping three previous polls as the September election nears; however, Tuesday’s national crisis and what could legitimately be dubbed a serious domestic terror threat is likely to boost their popularity.

Bloomberg’s profile of their leader, Jimmie Akesson, echoes the tone of establishment Swedish media in the way they commonly cast the movement, beginning as follows:

Viking rock music and whole pigs roasting on spits drew thousands of Swedes to a festival hosted by nationalists poised to deliver their country’s biggest political upheaval in a century.

The Sweden Democrats have been led since 2005 by a clean-cut and bespectacled man, Jimmie Akesson. He’s gentrified a party that traces its roots back to the country’s neo-Nazi, white supremacist fringe. Some polls now show the group may become the biggest in Sweden’s parliament after general elections on Sept. 9. Such an outcome would end 100 years of Social Democratic dominance.

The group’s popularity began surging after the 2015 immigration crisis began, which first hit Europe’s southern Mediterranean shores and quickly moved northward as shocking wave after wave of migrants came.

Jimmie Akesson (right). Image source: Getty via Daily Express

Akesson emphasizes something akin to a “Sweden-first” platform which European media often compares to Trump’s “America First”; and the party has long been accused of preaching forced assimilation into Swedish culture to be become a citizen.

Bloomberg’s report surveys opinions at a large political rally held in Akkeson’s hometown of Solvesborg, and some of the statements are sure to be increasingly common sentiment after this week’s coordinated multi-city attack:

At his party’s festival, Akesson revved up the crowd by slamming the establishment’s failures, calling the last two governments the worst in Swedish history. T-shirts calling for a Swexit, or an exit from the EU, were exchanged as bands played nationalist tunes.

Ted Lorentsson, a retiree from the island of Tjorn, said he’s an enthusiastic backer of the Sweden Democrats. “I think they want to improve elderly care, health care, child care,” he said. “Bring back the old Sweden.” But he also acknowledges his view has led to disagreement within his family as his daughter recoils at what she feels is the “Hitler”-like rhetoric.

No doubt, the media and Eurocrats in Brussels will take simple, innocent statements from elderly retirees like “bring back the old Sweden” as nothing short of declaration of a race war, but such views will only solidify after this week.

Another Sweden Democrat supporter, a 60-year old woman who works at a distillery, told Bloomberg, “I think you need to start seeing the whole picture in Sweden and save the original Swedish population,” she said. “I’m not racist, because I’m a realist.”

Sweden’s two biggest parties, the Social Democrats and Moderates, are now feeling the pressure as Swedes increasingly worry about key issues preached by Akesson like immigration, law and order, and health care – seen as under threat by a mass influx of immigrants that the system can’t handle.

Bloomberg explains further:

But even young voters are turning their backs on the establishment. One potential SD supporter is law student Oscar Persson. Though he hasn’t yet decided how he’ll vote, he says it’s time for the mainstream parties to stop treating the Sweden Democrats like a pariah. “This game they are playing now, where the other parties don’t want to talk to them but still want their support, is something I don’t really understand,” he said.

Akesson has managed to entice voters from both sides of the political spectrum with a message of more welfare, lower taxes and savings based on immigration cuts.

With many Swedes now saying immigration has “gone too far” and as this week’s events have once again thrust the issue before both a national and global audience, the next round of polling will mostly like put Sweden’s conservative-right movements on top

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The Turkish Emerging Market Timebomb

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s populist economic policies have finally caught up to him.

The Duran

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Authored by Jim O’Neill, originally on Project Syndicate:


As the Turkish lira continues to depreciate against the dollar, fears of a classic emerging-market crisis have come to the fore. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s populist economic policies have finally caught up to him, and sooner or later, he will have to make nice with his country’s traditional Western allies.

Turkey’s falling currency and deteriorating financial conditions lend credence, at least for some people, to the notion that “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” I suspect that many Western policymakers, in particular, are not entirely unhappy about Turkey’s plight.

To veteran economic observers, Turkey’s troubles are almost a textbook case of an emerging-market flop. It is August, after all, and back in the 1990s, one could barely go a single year without some kind of financial crisis striking in the dog days of summer.

But more to the point, Turkey has a large, persistent current-account deficit, and a belligerent leader who does not realize – or refuses to acknowledge – that his populist economic policies are unsustainable. Moreover, Turkey has become increasingly dependent on overseas investors (and probably some wealthy domestic investors, too).

Given these slowly gestating factors, markets have long assumed that Turkey was headed for a currency crisis. In fact, such worries were widespread as far back as the fall of 2013, when I was in Istanbul interviewing business and financial leaders for a BBC Radio series on emerging economies. At that time, markets were beginning to fear that monetary-policy normalization and an end to quantitative easing in the United States would have dire consequences globally. The Turkish lira has been flirting with disaster ever since.

Now that the crisis has finally come to pass, it is Turkey’s population that will bear the brunt of it. The country must drastically tighten its domestic monetary policy, curtail foreign borrowing, and prepare for the likelihood of a full-blown economic recession, during which time domestic saving will slowly have to be rebuilt.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s leadership will both complicate matters and give Turkey some leverage. Erdoğan has  constitutional powers, reducing those of the parliament, and undercutting the independence of monetary and fiscal policymaking. And to top it off, he seems to be reveling in an escalating feud with US President Donald Trump’s administration over Turkey’s imprisonment of an American pastor and purchase of a Russian S-400 missile-defense system.

This is a dangerous brew for the leader of an emerging economy to imbibe, particularly when the United States itself has embarked on a Ronald Reagan-style fiscal expansion that has pushed the US Federal Reserve to raise interest rates faster than it would have otherwise. Given the unlikelihood of some external source of funding emerging, Erdoğan will eventually have to back down on some of his unorthodox policies. My guess is that we’ll see a return to a more conventional monetary policy, and possibly a new fiscal-policy framework.

As for Turkey’s leverage in the current crisis, it is worth remembering that the country has a large and youthful population, and thus the potential to grow into a much larger economy in the future. It also enjoys a privileged geographic position at the crossroads of Europe, the Middle East, and Central Asia, which means that many major players have a stake in ensuring its stability. Indeed, many Europeans still hold out hope that Turkey will embrace Western-style capitalism, despite the damage that Erdoğan has done to the country’s European Union accession bid.

Among the regional powers, Russia is sometimes mentioned as a potential savior for Turkey. There is no doubt that Russian President Vladimir Putin would love to use Turkey’s crisis to pull it even further away from its NATO allies. But Erdoğan and his advisers would be deeply mistaken to think that Russia can fill Turkey’s financial void. A Kremlin intervention would do little for Turkey, and would likely exacerbate Russia’s own .

The other two potential patrons are Qatar and, of course, China. But while Qatar, one of Turkey’s closest Gulf allies, could provide financial aid, it does not ultimately have the wherewithal to pull Turkey out of its crisis singlehandedly.

As for China, though it will not want to waste the opportunity to increase its influence vis-à-vis Turkey, it is not the country’s style to step into such a volatile situation, much less assume responsibility for solving the problem. The more likely outcome – as we are seeing in Greece – is that China will unleash its companies to pursue investment opportunities after the dust settles.

That means that Turkey’s economic salvation lies with its conventional Western allies: the US and the EU (particularly France and Germany). On August 13, a White House spokesperson confirmed that the Trump administration is watching the financial-market response to Turkey’s crisis “very closely.” The last thing that Trump wants is a crumbling world economy and a massive dollar rally, which could derail his domestic economic ambitions. So a classic Trump “trade” is probably there for Erdoğan, if he is willing to come to the negotiating table.

Likewise, some of Europe’s biggest and most fragile banks have significant exposure to Turkey. Combine that with the ongoing political crisis over migration, and you have a recipe for deeper destabilization within the EU. I, for one, cannot imagine that European leaders will sit by and do nothing while Turkey implodes on their border.

Despite his escalating rhetoric, Erdoğan may soon find that he has little choice but to abandon his isolationist and antagonistic policies of the last few years. If he does, many investors may look back next year and wish that they had snapped up a few lira when they had the chance.

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