Russia Finds Few Spots to Put Oil Wealth to Work
|By Gregory L. White|
The Wall Street Journal
(Copyright (c) 2008, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.)
MOSCOW -- Late last year, the Kremlin gave his bank $7.5 billion and a broad mandate to invest urgently in upgrading Russia's decrepit infrastructure and outdated industry.
But for the moment, Vladimir Dmitriev, chairman of state-owned Vneshekonombank, is holding on to most of his bank's money. The problem? Too few good deals to invest in.
"There aren't enough well-prepared investment projects," Mr. Dmitriev complains in an interview. After decades without major investments in Russia, he says, the basics needed to prepare big capital projects -- engineering companies, project designers -- have atrophied. "This is a big brake on implementing large projects," he says.
For now, Vneshekonombank has put about $4 billion of the oil money the government gave it last year into short-term deposits, helping the local banking system weather the global credit turmoil. Several other big state companies set up last fall to stimulate investment are similarly heavy on cash, waiting for other uses for their billions in capital.
The lack of projects is just one of several barriers Russia is facing on its drive to rebuild roads, bridges, ports and power plants. Everything from skilled managers to cement is in short supply.
The scale of the Kremlin's plans is daunting. Enriched by revenues from its oil and gas exports, Russia plans to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure over the next decade, according to government officials. With the Kremlin increasing the state's role in the economy in recent years, much of that money is coming from the government budget -- and some economists fear this is likely to strengthen the government's hand in the economy even more. Moscow's role is also raising concerns about how efficiently the money will be spent.
To help draw private investors to its projects, Vneshekonombank hopes to use public-private partnerships, putting in some of its own money to attract other capital. "The role of the bank is to put up the flag behind which private investors will follow," says Mr. Dmitriev, 54 years old, a former Soviet diplomat who worked in the finance ministry in the 1990s before moving to state-owned banks.
A novelty in Russia, the public-private partnerships are the latest fashion. Government officials tend to want the private investors to bear all the risks, without providing any assurances about returns, according to bankers.
"This is one of the most expensive ways of financing infrastructure" because of the complexity of the deals, Natasha Khanjenkova of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development warned at a conference in Moscow this spring.
Mr. Dmitriev says his bank is working to set up a national center to develop these partnerships and that Vneshekonombank hopes to attract four to five rubles of private investment for every ruble it puts in.
Last month, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, chairman of Vneshekonombank's advisory board, endorsed what he called the bank's "ambitious" plan to boost its lending portfolio to 850 billion rubles (about $36.3 billion) in 2012 from just over 200 billion rubles today. Mr. Dmitriev says the bank hopes to get more inflows from the government but is also planning domestic and international borrowing to fund its huge expansion.
One of its latest projects is a $1.7 billion wood-pulp plant in an underdeveloped region of Siberia near the city of Angarsk. The government is building rail and road links, as well as ensuring electric supply for what Mr. Dmitriev says is the first new pulp plant in 30 years in Russia, which has some of the world's largest forests. Until now, he notes, most of the factories processing Siberian wood were built across the border in northern China.
Mr. Dmitriev says preparatory work for the project took two years and required the creation of a special engineering company. With the project under way, he says, the bank is now looking for an outside investor to take over. So far, much of the bank's business is with state-controlled companies.
Mr. Dmitriev says his bank's board, made up of top government officials, will protect the bank from getting involved in politicized projects that could be risky.
Nonetheless, Vneshekonombank has been involved in a number of politically sensitive deals already. At the end of last year, it spent about 1 billion euros ($1.58 billion) from the government's capital infusion to buy a stake in Airbus parent European Aeronautic Defence & Space Co. from OAO VTB, a state-controlled bank.
VTB's purchase of that stake in 2006 set off alarm bells in Europe, where officials feared the Kremlin was trying to muscle in on the strategically important Franco-German company, and rebuffed Moscow's efforts to play a greater role in EADS. VTB, which unlike Vneshekonombank is publicly traded, unloaded the underperforming stake. Mr. Dmitriev says his bank plans to swap the EADS shares for a stake in the Kremlin's new aerospace company this fall.
Vneshekonombank also is tasked by the government with helping Russian companies that want to expand overseas, another key Kremlin goal. So far, the bank has lent 350 million euros to a state oil company to rebuild an oil refinery in the Serb part of Bosnia. The bank is planning to invest about 20 billion rubles for a 25% stake in OAO Inter RAO UES, a state-controlled company that is buying up electric-power assets in the former Soviet Union and elsewhere.
FROM SAVINGS TO INVESTING
Expert, #26, 30.06.2008, p.42
Economics and Finance
Vladimir Dmitriev – Chairman of State Corporation ‘Bank for Development and Foreign Economic Affairs (Vnesheconombank)’, doctor of economics
Using savings of the state and citizens to finance long-term investment inside the country is a main way of the Russian financial system’s development. In order to fight inflation we have to establish control over budgetary expenses and raise their efficiency.
The foreign financial markets crisis demonstrated how vulnerable the modern financial system was. The risks that emerged are a sort of pay for a potential gain in economic efficiency achieved through creating more complex financial products, upgrading business models of market participants and further development of financial system as a whole.
Russia was relatively isolated from the financial crisis, which affected it only indirectly by limiting foreign financing channels. High-risk mortgage, which caused losses in the banking sector of the US and other foreign countries, is not common in Russia. The total amount of mortgage credits extended in our country is less than 30 billion dollars. The largest foreign banks’ direct credit losses were close to the said figure but write-offs of their losses were far beyond that amount (about 380 billion dollars). The mortgage amount in the Russian Federation is 1.9% of GDP in the US – more than 75%, in the EU – up to 50%. There are few examples of mortgage credit securitizaton on the Russian market and the use of complex financial instruments is quite limited.
But the past financial markets crisis is a warning for the future. Regulators and market participants should be aware that if problems similar to the said crisis would emerge the Russian market might be a lot less protected This would happened because of expected growth in lending, which is forecast to grow from 36% of GDP to 70-75% of GDP in 2015 as well as because of using more complex financial instruments and new borrowings from abroad.
Potential growth in foreign risks makes it necessary to improve the quality of the Russian financial system and compels us to search for new mechanisms for raising domestic savings as a source of long-term financing. In order to achieve required economic growth we’ll have to reduce the gap between the level of savings in the economy (about 30% of GDP) and fixed assets accumulation (about 20% of GDP) and encourage the growth in private savings. Without it, the financial system might be linked to foreign capital in the amounts exceeding reasonable requirements of international integration.
Volatility of financing sources became quite evident once the world’s liquidity crisis emerged. The crisis reduced lending volumes and increased lending rates. Any financial institutions using or intending to use foreign financing might face increased capital raising costs and this inevitably increases lending rates for borrowers.
If domestic financial resources are to be mobilized we should maintain favorable evolutionary background growth in savings above all through reducing inflation and taking structural measures to promote long-term financing through increased assets and long-term liabilities.
Inflation and efficiency of government expenditures
High inflation and its low predictability is a key reason for the lack of private savings. In all social strata, irrespective of their income levels, consumer behavior, financial literacy, financial investments and in the end, their perception of inflation, price growth discourages savings and confidence in financial institutions’ stability. Increased uncertainty makes Russian companies curtail their investment plans; it hampers their plans’ implementation and shortens their business planning horizons.
One of the reasons for inflation in Russia is the outrunning growth in government expenditures and their low efficiency. In the last three years, the federal budget increased almost by 1.5 times in real terms and in nominal terms it almost doubled. This growth outran that of GDP: the federal budget share of GDP increased from 15.8% of GDP in 2004 to 18.8-19.1 in 2008. Only in the first quarter of this year federal budgetary expenditures increased by one percentage point of GDP. The 2007 budget surplus of 5.4% of GDP is projected to all but vanish in the coming three years.
It was traditionally believed that we could control inflation not only through limiting budgetary expenditures but also through strengthening the ruble, which increases imports. Since 2003, when the ruble’s nominal appreciation started imports rose threefold. But now this gives minimal effect: the ruble’s excessive appreciation has a negative impact on domestic producers and mi-term reduction in Russia’s trade balance surplus would stabilize and might weaken the ruble by as early as 2010-2011.
The surge in food prices in world markets caused by the rapid growth in demand in developing countries results in the import of foreign inflation. In the past year, world food prices increased by more than1.5 times and grain prices almost doubled. Nevertheless, increased food production is not expected to return prices to their previous levels. The situation in regulated tariffs is another component of inflation. Nevertheless, growing government expenditures are now the main factor behind inflation.
We can’t limit our fight against inflation to cutting down budgetary expenditures alone we should analyze budgetary expenses efficiency and their final performance per each ruble spent. Budgetary expenses are noninflationary if they are used to reduce high production costs and help accelerate economic growth.
At present, financial authorities give top priority to using relevant mechanisms for administering expenditure rather than to expenditures efficiency and their practical performance. Essential steps have been taken to make budgetary procedures more transparent, to better report and substantiate them but they do not determine efficiency of government expenditures. An attempt to link government authorities’ performance with their financing does not yield tangible results. And we won’t improve the situation without changing the system of financial administration. Basically, these changes should change the system of personal responsibility inside government agencies. Thus, hard work lies ahead in reforming the budget system, recipient sectors and this work aims to reduce excessive expenses and inflation.
Long financing: role of funded pension system
Control over budgetary expenditures and their performance would allow to make budget surplus more stable and carry on replenishing the National Welfare Fund (NWF), which now amounts to 2.3% of GDP. The establishment of the National Welfare Fund designed to stabilize the pension system is in line with world trends. Already today, the volume of national finds in the world economy established to support pension system exceeds that of sovereign funds accumulating budget surpluses including revenue from raw materials exports and in part international reserves. By an estimate for the year 2007 the amounts of these funds were put at 4,4 and2.5 trillion dollars respectively.
The Budget Code provides for the potential use NWF funds to cover deficit of the Russian Pension Fund and co-finance voluntary pension funds of citizens. These two different options of using NWF funds are designed to secure pension guarantees and raise the level of pension security – two priorities of economic policy.
The decision to use the National Welfare Fund’s financial resources to finance deficit of the Pension Fund is short-term and if we do so we NWF’s resources might be spent very quickly especially under unfavorable foreign oil price conditions. If we finance the insurance pension system’s current deficit we can’t achieve a sustainable solution we can only partially smooth out problems caused by changes in population age structure and imbalance between the Pension Fund’s receipts and liabilities.
The use of NWF’s funds for co-financing individual voluntary savings of citizens sets in motion a principally different mechanism because in this case we do not finance current pension payments but use these funds for building up individual pension savings until a person retires. In this case, pension savings benefit not only citizens but also are a source of long money, which is in short supply in our economy and is needed to finance major investment projects with a long payback period. Thus, NWF’s money will be used to increase lending volumes and credit periods and this would make it possible to finance infrastructure investments.
Hence, we have every reason to use the National Welfare Fund’s financial resources to capitalize pension savings funded portion to promote long –term lending of the economy and improve the pension system. Nowadays, invested pension reserves in Russia are so far as small as about 1.5% of GDP, at the same time in a number of countries this figure exceeds 70% of GDP for example in the US and Great Britain. If we are to achieve percentage levels of such European countries as Germany or Italy (3-4%) we’ll have to increase pension savings by several times.
Increased financial capacity of the funded pension system would yield substantial gains both for the economy and citizens. A part of national savings invested now in the international reserves would secure long-term investment in Russia through the national financial market’s mechanisms. As opposed to using these funds through the budget or for covering deficit of the Pension Fund, their efficiency is much higher if they are invested through the funded pension system including private trust management companies. The funds will be placed to citizens’ individual accounts increasing their own pension savings. In fact, this is the only adequately functioning personicified and transparent way of distributing funds. And principles of calculating accruals bring gains to elderly people.
The decisions taken this year on co-financing citizens’ additional pension savings create an important precedent for using NWF’s funds. The extent of citizens’ participation allows us to reveal their interest in increasing their pension savings and see to what extent they trust the funded pension system. This is a valuable practical experience. Nevertheless, the proposed co-financing volumes would be rather limited and, given citizens limited participation, are comparable with the National Welfare Fund’s interest income.
We must allow for further expansion of financing for pension savings by using NWF’s resources. The flow of these funds into the Russian financial market should be gradual lest an emerging appraisal of Russian assets and interest rates be distorted. If these funds are used in the right way, the proposed reform will improve pension provision to citizens, boost the appeal of the Russia stock and debt market and help establish Russia as the world’s financial center.
A new class of long-term financial instruments
In order to expand long-term investments we’ll have to develop new mechanisms and investment instruments of long duration comparable with the duration of pension liabilities.
This class of debt instruments includes, for example, infrastructure bonds, which are actively used in the US. It’s quite evident now that demand for this type of investments, given increased pension savings, will grow and we should make arrangements for issuing such infrastructure bonds in advance.
There are several options for issuing infrastructure bonds. Under the first option they may be issued in the form of debt instruments of individual or syndicated investment projects with a guarantee granted by the state Russia’s region or a large financial institution. These bonds may also be the state’s target liabilities increasing investment resources of federal or regional budgets. The second option is designed for investments in infrastructure intended for free use, for example, in the education sector. The first option is applicable to paid facilities. This large part of infrastructure includes power engineering, transport, housing and communal services, telecommunications.
Private investors’ interest in infrastructure bonds would depend on the quality of investment projects preparation and implementation because funds are raised for such investment projects. This means that a project’s business model and its organizational and legal framework should be easy to understand, investors should be confident that the project will be paid back, established tariff terms are stable and their investments will be paid back and yield a return.
There is no doubt that by launching a number of new unique projects in various infrastructure segments we are just starting a process of large-scale investing. It is the Bank for Development that is directly responsible for organizing such investments including raising financing and the experience the Bank is gaining in this sector will form the basis for developing and spreading reliable financial instruments including infrastructure bonds. This experience would be highly instrumental in raising long-term financial resources for infrastructure projects on the emerging financial market.