If oil prices stay where they are now, Russia’s economy could be in serious trouble and could face recession in the coming year, analysts warn.
Sergei Guriev, a former advisor to the Russian government, told CNBC that, should oil prices stay at their near-record lows of around $82 a barrel, Russia, which is basing its economic forecasts on a much higher oil price, would face a “serious problem.”
“The Russian budget now is including $100 per barrel for the next three years and some more optimistic assumptions on economic growth, which are probably over-optimistic,” Guriev, who is currently a professor of Economics at Sciences Po, a French public research and higher education institution, told CNBC at the UBS European Conference in London.
“With $100 a barrel, the Russian budget will probably be balanced over the next two or three years, with eating into reserve funds but not really tragically. But if the oil price is where it is now, it will be a serious problem over the next couple of years.”
Brent crude for December delivery traded just below $82 per barrel (pb) on Tuesday, just above a four-year low of $81.63 hit last week. The price has fallen nearly 30 percent since late June but despite the decline, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) shows no signs of cutting output.
The decline in oil prices has hit Russia hard as its wealth relies heavily on its export-orientated oil and gas markets. In 2013, for example, Russia’s energy exports constituted more than two-thirds of total exports amounting to $372 billion of a total $526 billion, according to research by Renaissance Capital bank released on Monday.
The oil price decline, coupled with Russia’s conflict with Ukraine which has led to Western sanctions on Russia, has hit the economy as well as investor confidence in the country. As a result, the ruble has declined almost 30 percent against the dollar this year.
President Vladimir Putin tried to reassure global investors that Russia’s economy was in safe hands and that there were no “fundamental economic reasons” for the currency’s slide.
Shortly after his comments, however, Russia’s central bank lowered its 2014 growth forecast to 0.3 percent and forecast 0 percent growth in 2015. It also estimated that capital flight had risen above forecasts to 128 billion in 2014 as investors sought a safer haven for their assets.
Russia’s economic growth depends very much on different oil price scenarios, according to Oleg Kouzmin and Charles Robertson, economist and chief economist respectively at Renaissance Capital bank.
Now, investors are eyeing an OPEC meeting on November 27 to see whether the organization could even cut prices further in an attempt to retain its global market share, particularly in the face of competition from the U.S. where oil production has increased thanks to the shale gas industry.
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In a research note entitled “Risk scenarios if oil prices change” published on Monday, the economists gave the best and worst case scenario for Russian growth given an increase or further fall in the oil price.
“If oil prices go to $110 a barrel (bl) or $115/bl, gross domestic product (GDP) growth in Russia might be even stronger next year, at over 2 percent [but] we estimate growth is likely to remain positive only with oil prices above $92-93/bl. Otherwise, we see growth turning negative and the ruble hitting new lows.”
Assuming a Brent oil price of $105/bl for 2014 and 2015, Kouzmin and Robertson forecast GDP growth of 0.8 percent in 2014 and 1.7 percent in 2015 as a base case scenario, far below the central bank’s latest forecasts. Though they added that the “risks to our Russian growth forecast are clearly slanted to the downside.”
Russia’s current significant cyclical headwinds resulted from very tight credit conditions, softened business confidence and other spillovers from intensified geopolitical tension, they said.
A full-year recession would only be likely for Russia in 2015 if oil prices drop closer to $90/bl, above where they are now.
“We would expect -0.4 percent growth in 2015 at $90/bl, given our assumptions on geopolitics. With oil at $90/bl, we also estimate an average annual exchange rate close to 41 rubles against the dollar.” Furthermore, if oil prices dropped further from their current level to $80 a barrel, RenCap’s economists said growth could turn negative, at -1.7 percent in 2015.