The Coming Winter is Hopelessly Bleak for Russia

Owen Matthews, reporting for Newsweek:

With both the price of oil and the Moscow Stock Exchange having roughly doubled in value over the past six months, Russia’s leaders are downright bullish. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has refused to make deep cuts in government spending, choosing instead to rely on $200 billion of saved up oil money. He recently told banks to increase lending and lower rates in order to signal the end of the crisis.Don’t be fooled: Russia’s still reeling from the commodities crash, and things are poised to get worse before they get better. Putin’s oil fund will be “practically exhausted” by the end of 2010, says Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin. By the Russian government’s own estimate, the economy will shrink by up to 8.5 percent in 2009. Worse, many Russian businesses appear to be all but insolvent. They face a $200 billion mountain of debt, much of which comes due this fall. With Russia’s indebted businesses expected to net a mere $70 billion in profits this year, that leaves a potential $130 billion private-sector shortfall. Putin has tried to help by capping interest rates charged to private borrowers, but that means the pricing of risky loans has become artificially reduced. Overleveraged banks and corporations aren’t just a Russian phenomenon, but no other economy is as dangerously dependent on the boom-and-bust cycles of the world’s energy markets. Turns out Russia’s recovery isn’t nearly as tough as Putin’s talk.

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