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Worrying data raise Russia recession odds: Economist

Data released Monday shows Russia's economy "worryingly" deteriorated at the end of last year with oil prices in a tailspin only bolstering the odds of a second year of recession for Moscow, an analyst has told CNBC.

Russia's state statistics agency, Rosstat, reported preliminary figures Monday that showed its gross domestic product contracted by 3.7 percent in 2015, much worse than the 0.6 percent growth tracked in 2014 but roughly in line with forecasts.

However, William Jackson, a senior emerging markets economist at Capital Economics, told CNBC that new industrial, retail and wage growth figures paint a more accurate portrait of Russia's economic decline.

A pedestrian walks along a bridge in central Moscow, Russia, January 25, 2016.
Maxim Shemetov | Reuters
A pedestrian walks along a bridge in central Moscow, Russia, January 25, 2016.

"Worryingly, December's activity data, also published this morning, suggest that the economy deteriorated towards the end of the fourth quarter," Jackson wrote in a Monday research note, noting the 4.5 percent annual drop in industrial production for December, accelerating the 3.5 percent contraction reported a month earlier.

What's concerning is that the companies should have benefited from a weaker ruble — which fell to fresh lows of over 85 rubles per dollar last week: by making their prices cheaper to the export market and their home-produced goods more attractive over more expensive imports, Jackson told CNBC by phone.

"Domestic demand is too extremely weak," Jackson said. Still, "it pales in comparison to the retail sales and investment declines," he explained.

Retail sales plunged 15.3 percent year-on-year, while fixed investment dropped 8.7 percent. And though unemployment was unchanged at 5.8 percent, wage growth fell a whopping 10 percent, which Jackson says will only further hurt consumption.


Now, as a weak ruble tracks oil prices lower — with the global benchmark sitting around $30 per barrel — "a second year of recession is much more likely than it was even a few weeks ago," Jackson said.

Joseph Dayan, head of markets at BCS Global Markets, noted that a second year of economic contraction hasn't been seen in Russia since the 1990s, and even if oil managed to hold at $35 the economy would be likely to contract between 2.5 to 3.5 percent in 2016.

Dayan explained that that underlying Russia's economic and financial woes is a lack of reforms.

"The reality is that policymakers — the Kremlin, CBR (Central Bank of Russia), etcetera — have proven again that they're very good at crisis management," he told CNBC on Monday.

"But that doesn't mean that Russia is very attractive now and that doesn't mean that they're very good or policy makers or reformists , which is really what investors want to see," Dayan explained.