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Russia cuts interest rates whilst maintaining tough monetary policy

As inflation falls, Russia’s Central Bank cuts key rate to 10% but insists its tight monetary policy intended to reduce inflation will continue.

Alexander Mercouris

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The Russian Central Bank has, as predicted, cut its key rate from 10.5% to 10%.

This is consistent with the continuing rapid fall in inflation.  With inflation zero in the first two weeks of September after being zero in the last week of July and through most of August, its annualised rate is now just 6.6%.  The Central Bank has said that it intends to keep its key rate 3% above the annualised rate of inflation for the foreseeable future, so that with annualised inflation running at 6.7% it had the space to announce this rate cut.

However that is where the good news stops.  The Central Bank has signalled that it intends no more cuts to its key rate this year, meaning that the earliest possible date for a further rate cut will not be before January next year.  The Central Bank also says that it will maintain what it calls its “moderately tight monetary policy” – a policy which is in fact giving Russia the highest real interest rates of any major economy in the world – throughout 2017 and indeed beyond.

Here in its own words is the Central Bank’s guidance from its own press release

“On 16 September 2016, the Bank of Russia Board of Directors decided to reduce the key rate from 10.50 to 10.00% p.a. given the inflation slowdown, in line with the forecast, decrease in inflation expectations and unstable economic activity. However, for the trend towards sustainable decline in inflation to strengthen, according to the Bank of Russia’s estimates, the current value of the key rate needs to be maintained till end-2016 with its further possible cuts in 2017 Q1-Q2. Considering the decision made and persistent moderately tight monetary policy, the annual consumer price growth will stand at 4.5% in September 2017 and will then go down to the 4% target in late 2017. When making its key rate decisions in the coming months, the Bank of Russia will assess inflation risks alongside economy and inflation dynamics’ consistence with the baseline forecast.”

The Central Bank admits the market is expecting cuts in the key rate to take place faster, and it even brags that it intends to cut its key rate more slowly than the market expects. 

Its rationale is that the market still expects inflation at the end of next year to be higher than 4%, which is the Central Bank’s target.  However the Central Bank says it is determined, come what may, to achieve its target, which is why it is going to keep its key rate higher than the market expects

“The Bank of Russia expects that the decision made and maintenance of the key rate at the level it reached will bring down inflation expectations. At present, the structure of market interest rates by maturity and survey findings indicate that, in contrast to the Bank of Russia, market players forecast a faster drop in interest rates. Additionally, their end-2017 inflation forecasts exceed the 4% target of the central bank. In reality, the decrease of nominal rates has a limited capacity, and the economy will maintain moderately tight monetary conditions for quite a long period of time. This is implied by the need to keep positive real interest rates at the level supporting demand for credit that does not raise inflationary pressure and keeps incentives for saving.”

In what is the single most extraordinary paragraph in the entire press release, the Central Bank admits that Russia will only achieve 1% growth next year, but denies that this has anything to do with its “moderately tight monetary policy”

“Persistent revival in production activity is still unstable and patchy across industries and regions. According to Bank of Russia estimates, the moderately tight monetary conditions do not hamper recovery in economy, whereas the main obstacles are caused by structural effects. The labour market tries to adjust to new economic conditions, and the unemployment remains stable and low. Import substitution steps up and non-commodity exports expand for certain items. Industry, including technology-intensive production types, discovers new opportunities for growth. Nonetheless, they fail to ensure an overall robust positive production dynamics. At the same time, certain industries stagnate or show slowdown in output growth, while investment continues to contract. More time is needed for positive trends to develop and get rooted.”

(bold italics added)

This is a fantastic claim, and by making it the Central Bank undermines its own credibility.  Quite simply, it is absurd to say that high real interest rates – currently the highest real interest rates of any major economy in the world – are not going to impact on growth. 

Moreover the Guidelines the Central Bank published in November last year explaining its monetary policy shows that the Central Bank is fully aware of the fact.  As the Central Bank knows the reason output is struggling to rise is because of low rates of consumption and falling investment. 

The Central Bank’s press statement actually refers to the fact that “investment continues to contract” (see above).  This is what the Central Bank said in its Guidelines about the effect of interest rates on levels of consumption, investment and inflation

“All things being equal, a downturn in interest rates stimulates lending, helps increase consumption, and leads to investment growth, but inflationary pressure can also increase. By contrast, high interest rates contribute to growth in savings and constrain lending and investment activity, but reduce inflationary pressure.”

(bold italics added)

Yet the Central Bank would have us believe that the high interest rates it is imposing, which in its Guidelines it admits “all things being equal” cause consumption and investment to fall, are not the reason why in Russia consumption and investment are continuing to fall!

What is little understood – and is scarcely ever said – about the present state of Russia’s economy is that though the underlying rate of inflation is now running at 5-6%, which is below its pre-devaluation level, interest rates are higher than they were before the devaluation, and that despite the recent cuts in the Central Bank’s key rate real interest rates in Russia are actually rising. 

This chart shows movements in the Central Bank’s key rate since 2013, the year in which Nabiullina was appointed Chairman of the Central Bank

russian-interest-rate-chart

In 2013, at the time Nabiullina took over as Chairman of the Central Bank, and before she started raising interest rates in 2014, the Central Bank’s key rate was below 6% in a year when annual inflation was 6.48%.  Today she intends to hold the key rate at 10% despite the government’s forecast that inflation this year will be 5.7-5.9%.

Annual inflation in Russia was in double figures in every single year post 1991 up to the crisis year of 2009 save for 2006, when it briefly dipped to 9.02%.  Inflation was in double figures throughout the period 1998 to 2008, when Russia was regularly achieving annual growth rates of 7% and more.

Inflation fell from double figures to single figures in 2009, and has been in single figures ever since save for the brief period of the inflation spike of 2014 to 2015, which was caused by the one-off factor of the devaluation of the rouble in 2014, which caused inflation to rise back into double figures in 2014 and 2015.

This period of single figure inflation since 2009 is the same period during which Russia’s growth rate has fallen from the annual rate of 7% it was achieving before the 2008 crisis to 4.3% in 2011, 3.5% in 2012, and 1.3% in 2013.

In other words there is a direct correlation between the decline in Russia’s growth rate post 2008, and the fall in inflation which has taken place since then – and the rise in interest rates which has happened to achieve it. 

To see how see this World Bank graph which shows movements of real as opposed to nominal interest rates in Russia since 1991.

Russia experienced negative real interest rates from the 1998 crisis until the 2008 crisis.  During the period of the 2008 crisis real interest rates briefly surged into high positive territory as part of the government’s anti-crisis measures.

They then fell back again into negative territory directly after the 2008 crisis was overcome as the Central Bank and the government looked for ways to support the recovery.  However since 2011, as the Central Bank and the government have become more focused on inflation reduction, they have been rising steadily, turning positive in 2012, and remaining positive ever since, even during the period of the 2014-2015 inflation spike when they might have been expected to go negative.

Since the end of the inflation spike in mid 2015, and despite the round of key rate cuts Nabiullina has announced since January 2015, they have been rising again.

Prior to 2008 high growth was the priority, causing the Central Bank to keep real interest rates negative and to increase the money supply in order to sustain growth and to prevent over-rapid appreciation of the rouble in conditions of rising oil prices.  The result was double digit inflation in every year between 1998 and 2008, apart from the brief dip in 2006. 

Since recovery from the 2008-2009 crisis the priority has been inflation reduction, with monetary policy being tightened steadily in order to choke off inflation.  The result is that inflation fell into single figures after 2009, and apart from the short period of the 2014-2015 inflation spike has remained so ever since, and is now falling further.   

Since Nabiullina became Chairman the Central Bank has taken the policy a whole step further, tightening monetary policy even more, so that it is now significantly tighter than it was even during the post-recovery period of 2011-2013 and before the 2014 devaluation, despite the fact that inflation is now actually below the level it was in that period.

In other words Nabiullina and the Central Bank – and indeed the whole government – are using the 2014-2015 inflation spike to give themselves political cover to carry out a policy of monetary tightening the likes of which post-Soviet Russia has not seen since Putin became President.  This objective is to bring inflation down to 4% by late 2017 in order to achieve the long term results I discussed in my previous article

As for the famous ‘structural factors’ about which we hear so much, the Central Bank’s latest press release shows what they really are: an alibi conjured up by the Central Bank and the government so they can pretend that the sharp fall in the economy’s growth rate caused by their own anti-inflation policy and the high real interest rates they are imposing has nothing to do with them. 

That is unless inflation is the ‘structural factor’ which they see as limiting growth in the long term – something which it might be reasonable to say, but which for some reason no-one ever does.

In truth the wonder is that despite interest rates being so high there is any growth in the Russian economy at all, especially as there is no countervailing fiscal stimulus from the budget to offset Nabiullina’s “moderately tight monetary policy”. 

On the contrary – and though you would never know it from the way some people talk – since the start of the recession budget spending has actually been cut, so that coming out of recession Russia’s federal budget deficit in the first 8 months of this year was just 2.9% of GDP.

There are of course many people who find this policy approach commendable.  Reducing inflation to 4% is a worthy aim, and over time it may – and indeed probably will – achieve the good results people like Nabiullina and Kudrin say it will.  I must however say that I can think of no other Central Bank or government in any other G20 economy which in the same conditions would behave in this way. 

At a time when Russia has suffered a recession any other G20 Central Bank or government finding itself in such a position would surely focus on ending the recession, not on further reducing inflation from what is by Russian standards an already historically low level. 

This would be especially so given that the moderate loosening of monetary policy this would call for would be most unlikely to compromise the anti-inflation policy in any serious way.  At worst it might delay achievement of the 4% by a few months, or perhaps a year.

Russia however is different.  With unemployment very low at 5.7% at a time when the country’s labour force participation rate is at an unprecedentedly high 70%, and with political and macroeconomic conditions stable, the Central Bank and the government obviously feel they have the political and economic space to see the policy through, and it seems they are determined to see it through come what may.   Not for nothing is Nabiullina being called “the most orthodox Central Banker in Europe”. 

As for Putin, as I said in my previous article I have no doubt he supports the policy.  With the political situation in Russia stable and his popularity at stratospheric levels, he is moreover under no real pressure to change it.  If only for that reason I don’t expect the policy to change.

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‘I will take over as Brexit Party leader’: Nigel Farage back on the frontline

Nigel Farage says that if the UK takes part in European elections, he will lead his new Brexit Party.

RT

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Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage has announced that he will lead his new Brexit Party into the European elections if UK MPs decide to delay Brexit beyond May 22.

Farage, who has ostensibly appointed himself leader, told various media, including the BBC and Sky News on Friday morning: “I will take over as leader of the Brexit Party and lead it into the European Elections.”

It comes after the Brexit Party’s leader, Catherine Blaiklock, quit over a series of alleged Islamophobic statements and retweets of far-right figures on social media.

It is not yet thought that Farage has officially been elected as leader, as the party does not, as yet, have a formal infrastructure to conduct such a vote.

The right-wing MEP vowed to put out a whole host of Brexit Party candidates if the UK participates in the upcoming EU elections in May, adding: “If we fight those elections, we will fight them on trust.”

On Thursday night, the EU agreed to PM May’s request for a delaying to Brexit beyond the March 29 deadline. Brussels announced two new exit dates depending on what happens next week in the UK parliament.

The UK will have to leave the bloc on April 12 unless British MPs agree to May’s Brexit deal. If the withdrawal agreement is passed by next week, EU leaders have agreed to grant an extension until May 22.

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Baltics cannot rely on Germany any more

The matter is NATO today is not as strong as it is supposed to be. And it is not only because of leadership blunders.

The Duran

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Submitted by Adomas Abromaitis…

On March 29 Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia will celebrate 15 years of becoming NATO member states. The way to the alliance membership was not simple for newly born independent countries. They have reached great success in fulfilling many of NATO demands: they have considerably increased their defence expenditures, renewed armaments and increased the number of military personnel.

In turn, they get used to rely on more powerful member states, their advice, help and even decision making. All these 15 years they felt more or less safe because of proclaimed European NATO allies’ capabilities.

Unfortunately, now it is high time to doubt. The matter is NATO today is not as strong as it supposed to be. And it is not only because of leadership’s blunders. Every member state does a bit. As for the Baltic states, they are particularly vulnerable, because they fully depend on other NATO member states in their defence. Thus, Germany, Canada and Britain are leading nations of the NATO battle group stationed in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia respectively.

But the state of national armed forces in Germany, for example, raises doubts and makes it impossible not only defend the Baltics against Russia, but Germany itself.

It turned out, that Germany itself remains dissatisfied with its combat readiness and minister of defence’s ability to perform her duties. Things are so bad, that the military’s annual readiness report would be kept classified for the first time for “security reasons.”

“Apparently the readiness of the Bundeswehr is so bad that the public should not be allowed to know about it,” said Tobias Lindner, a Greens member who serves on the budget and defense committees.

Inspector General Eberhard Zorn said (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-germany-arms/germany-not-satisfied-with-readiness-of-submarines-some-aircraft-idUSKBN1QS1G7) the average readiness of the country’s nearly 10,000 weapons systems stood at about 70 percent in 2018, which meant Germany was able to fulfill its military obligations despite increasing responsibilities.

No overall comparison figure was available for 2017, but last year’s report revealed readiness rates of under 50 percent for specific weapons such as the aging CH-53 heavy-lift helicopters and the Tornado fighter jets.

Zorn said this year’s report was more comprehensive and included details on five main weapons systems used by the cyber command, and eight arms critical for NATO’s high readiness task force, which Germany heads this year.

“The overall view allows such concrete conclusions about the current readiness of the Bundeswehr that knowledge by unauthorized individuals would harm the security interests of the Federal Republic of Germany,” he wrote.

Critics are sure of incompetence of the Federal Minister of Defence, Ursula von der Leyen. Though she has occupied the upper echelons of German politics for 14 years now — and shows no sign of success. This mother of seven, gynecologist by profession, by some miracle for a long time has been remaining in power, though has no trust even among German military elites. Despite numerous scandals she tries to manage the Armed Forces as a housewife does and, of course, the results are devastating for German military capabilities. The same statement could be easily apply for the Baltic States, which highly dependent on Germany in military sphere.

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Crimea: The Geopolitical Jewel Russia Continues to Polish

As Putin continues to polish his Black Sea jewel, Europe has to decide if it is going to continue playing the U.S’s games over Ukraine or begin the next phase of its independence.

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Authored by Tom Luongo via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


With all that is happening in the world Crimea has taken a bit of a backseat recently. Yes, the US, EU and Canada just added more sanctions on Russia via the odious Magnitsky legislation but this is inconsequential.

There’s been a flurry of good news coming out of Crimea and the Black Sea recently that bears discussion. Let’s start with the most important. President Vladimir Putin was in Crimea earlier this week to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the peninsula’s reunification with Russia. There he also officially inaugurated two major upgrades to Crimea’s power grid.

Located in Simferopol and Sevastopol, two new power plants will produce 940 megawatts and secure Crimea’s energy needs for now and into the future.

Power has been Crimea’s Achilles’ heel since breaking off from Ukraine in 2014. It received almost 90% of its power from the mainland. In November 2015, the trunk lines into Crimea were sabotaged by Ukrainian nationalist radicals, encouraged by President Petro Poroshenko plunging it into darkness as winter took hold.

Does this sound familiar? A place that defies US edicts geopolitically is first hit with a full trade embargo, sanctions and threatened militarily by proxies before having its electricity shut off?

*Cough* Venezuela *Cough*

And there are reports that the US has game-planned a similar fate for Iran as well. For Crimea it was easy because of the single-point-of-failure, the trunks from the mainland. For Venezuela it was as well, with the Guri dam, which affected nearly 70 percent of the country.

So, Putin timing the fifth anniversary of reunification with the announcement of the plants moving to full operational status was yet another smooth bit of international political maneuvering.

A not-so-subtle poke in the eye of the Gang Who Can’t Sanction Straight in D.C. as well as lame duck Poroshenko. Elections are at the end of the month and this celebration by Russia and Crimea will not sit well with many Ukrainians, especially the diaspora here in the US which is virulently anti-Putin in my experience.

Secure and stable power generation is a hallmark of a first world territory. Without that economic growth and stability are impossible. This is why to first help stabilize the situation in Crimea after the blackout Russia brought in 400 MW of power across the Kerch Strait from Krasnodor.

Tying Crimea to the mainland via the Kerch Strait bridge was a masterstroke by Putin. The initial power lines were simply a necessity. For those that complain he isn’t doing enough to counter US and European aggression need only look at the Kerch Strait bridge.

Not only did the Russians not seek international approval given the nearly universal refusal to recognize Crimea as Russian they built the thing in a time frame that defies description.

Imagine if this had been an EU project. They would still be debating the initial engineering plans and the political effects on some protected minority.

Not only does it open up the Eastern Black Sea to trade via Crimea but it ends the use of the Sea of Azov as a potential staging ground for naval provocations as last fall’s incident proved. Ukraine is cut off from acting aggressively and cannot count on any help from the US and Europe.

Moreover, Crimea is now permanently Russia’s. And every bit of infrastructure Russia builds there ties the two further together and weakens any bonds Crimea had with Ukraine. The resultant growth and modernization will make its way, economically and culturally back into southern Ukraine and erode the hard border over time.

This is far more important than striking out and metaphorically punching Poroshenko in the mouth, that many of Putin’s detractors wish for.

Presidents change, after all. Patience and attrition is how you beat an aggressive, distant enemy like the US

To remind everyone just how insane the Trump White House has become on matters international, no less than Vice President Mike Pence lobbied Germany to provoke another naval incident at the Kerch Strait.

If there was ever an example of how little Trump’s gang of moldy neocons think of Europe it is this bit of news. In effect, Pence was saying, “We can’t start a war with Russia because it would go nuclear, but you can because Russia can’t live without your trade.”

This coming after the US unilaterally pulled out of the INF treaty and is now flying nuclear bombers to eastern Europe. The message is clear. If the EU doesn’t get with this open-ended belligerent program against Russia and China of John Bolton’s they will be the ones paying the price when chaos breaks out.

On the other side there is Putin; building bridges, pipelines, power plants and roads.

He’s making it clear what the future holds not only for Europe but the Middle East, central Asia and India. We will defend Crimea at all costs, develop it not only into a tourist destination but also a major trade hub as well.

You are more than welcome to join us. But, we don’t need you.

These power plants will raise Crimea’s power output well beyond its current needs, allowing first export of power as well as providing the foundation for future growth.

And as if it weren’t coordinated in any way, the Chinese, on the morning of Putin’s speech, announced that Crimea would be an excellent fit for investment projects attached to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

That’s according to the head of the association of Chinese compatriots on the peninsula, Ge Zhili. “Our organization is bolstering cooperation ties, exchanges and friendly contacts with the Crimean society,” he said at an event dedicated to the fifth anniversary of Crimea’s reunification with Russia, which was held in the Russian Embassy in Beijing on Monday.

It is also ready to contribute to the establishment of “reliable partner ties” and the explanation of legal details of business cooperation with Crimea, Ge Zhili said. “The Chinese society hopes for the development of friendly cooperation with Crimea; we are ready to overcome difficulties for fruitful results.”

Again this is a direct challenge to the US who has Crimea under strict sanctions in the West. China is happy now to move forward with integrating Crimea into its plans. It’s just another example of how Russia and China simply ignore Trump’s fulminations and move on.

I can’t wait until I get to write this article all over again, this time about North Korea, now that Bolton has thrown Russian and Chinese assistance in getting North Korea to the negotiating table back in their face by destroying the Hanoi talks.

This announcement is not to be underestimated given that Chinese Premier Xi Jinping is in Rome this week to open up relations with the new Italian government. Five Star Movement’s Leader Luigi Di Maio said he would welcome becoming a part of BRI, much to the consternation of Trump, German Chancellor Angela Merkel as well as his coalition partner Lega Leader Matteo Salvini.

It’s already well known that Salvini is interested in ending sanctions on Crimea and re-opening trade with Russia. Italy is desperate for new markets and opportunities, currently stifled under the euro itself as well as Germany’s insistence on austerity hollowing out Italy’s economy and its future prospects.

These issues as well as energy security ones are coming to a head this year with Brexit, the European Parliamentary elections in May and the completion of the Nordstream 2 pipeline later this year.

As Putin continues to polish his Black Sea jewel, Europe has to decide if it is going to continue playing the U.S’s games over Ukraine or begin the next phase of its independence. Salvini will lead a Euroskeptic revolt within the European Parliament in May. It may be big enough to finally defy Merkel and end EU sanctions on Russia over Crimea.

At that point the US will also have a choice, burn down the world economy with even more sanctions, tariffs and acts of war or accept the facts on the ground.

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