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油价下跌拖累俄罗斯经济 普京面临考验

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Oil's Drag on Russian Growth Poses Test for Putin

2008年10月20日

The prospect of sharply lower prices for oil and other commodity exports -- on top of plunging stock markets and a seized-up financial system -- threatens the economic recovery that's been a foundation of Vladimir Putin's rule in Russia.

Falling prices for crude oil played a role in driving down Russia's benchmark RTS stock index 20% this week to the lowest level since June 2005.

Despite a $160 billion Kremlin bailout package, the market is off 73% from its record high set in May, and Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin warned legislators Friday that the declines are likely to continue. Unable to raise cash, Russia's heavily indebted billionaires have been forced to give up prime assets pledged as collateral or beg for bailouts.

Economists have cut forecasts for growth next year to around 3%-4%, down from a 7.7% rate in the first nine months of this year. Central bank reserves have fallen $66.9 billion since early August as investors and ordinary Russians have fled the ruble. Authorities have effectively nationalized four banks and bankers say dozens more are in trouble.

Mr. Putin 'was very lucky on the way up. This is the first test,' says Rory MacFarquhar, economist at Goldman Sachs in Moscow. 'They haven't grasped yet the magnitude of what they're up against.' Mr. Putin was president until he moved over to the premiership in May.

Poll data released by the non-governmental Levada Center this week showed small declines in the sky-high approval ratings for Mr. Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev. Possibly encouraged by uniformly upbeat economic coverage on state television, 42% of those surveyed said the current financial problems are likely to be temporary. A smaller group, 31%, said the country faces 'serious financial shocks.' The center polled 1,600 people with a 3% margin of error.

So far, the impact on the public has been limited, with only a few mid-sized banks failing to honor deposits, prompting takeovers by state-affiliated banks with funds from the central bank. Unemployment remains low, but big metals and auto companies have announced production cuts and some sectors are reporting sharp slowdowns in October as banks have cut off lending.

But the first sustained declines in the ruble's exchange rate against the dollar in years -- a trend many economists expect to accelerate -- have raised public concerns. 'Make no mistake, it's moving over to the real economy,' said a senior official at a major Russian bank.

At one of the first major official briefings since the crisis began, a top government official Friday said, 'There is no crisis now ... economic growth will remain positive.' He wouldn't venture a forecast for next year, though he indicated it would likely be below 5%.

He said the government's widely praised policy in the last few years of saving the bulk of its oil revenues means the Kremlin, with $531 billion in reserves, has adequate 'safety cushions' to protect the economy and banking system and avoid sharp cuts in government spending.

'Russia's financial system will withstand this, we'll make sure of that,' he said. 'But it's rather expensive.'

Most of the damage to the stock market has already been done, he said. Over $30 billion of foreign capital fled since the August war in Georgia and the ruble's decline against the dollar spooked investors.

The government will begin in the next week or so to spend 175 billion rubles from one of its oil funds to buy blue-chip stocks and bonds in what the official said was a long-term investment, not an effort to reverse the market trend. Already, economists say Russia will have to shelve its plan for a large sovereign-wealth fund that will invest in foreign companies.

The senior official said average prices for the year will be well above the $70 at which the budget is in balance. Even next year, when the needed figure is projected to be $95 and prices are likely to be in the $60-$80 range, he said, the government won't have to slash spending.

He said new projects might be cut back. But that could be politically difficult, since President Medvedev and Mr. Putin have been promising in recent weeks major new military programs, as well as bailouts for struggling industries.

Prices for Russian Urals crude oil fell below $70 this week to some of the lowest levels seen in a year. With global growth slowing sharply, prices for nickel, aluminum and other commodity exports also have plunged, sharply cutting the flow of money into Russia's economy.

Economists warned that a steeper decline in the oil price -- likely if the global financial turmoil continues -- along with $180 billion in debt coming due by the end of next year, could do much more damage. J.P. Morgan analysts warned in a report Friday that in a pessimistic scenario of $50 Urals crude oil next year, Russia could burn through more than half of its reserves as capital flight surges in 2009. Goldman Sachs said a price that low would mean zero economic growth.

Gregory L. White
油价下跌拖累俄罗斯经济 普京面临考验
股市暴跌和金融体系失灵之际,石油等大宗商品的出口价格又面临着大幅下跌的前景;这种状况给普京(Vladimir Putin)在俄罗斯的统治基础──经济复苏带来了威胁。

上周俄罗斯基准RTS指数暴跌20%,创下2005年6月以来的最低水平;原油价格下挫是其中的重要原因。

AFP/Getty Images
普京(左)7月份时参观一座造船厂。
尽管克里姆林宫出台了1,600亿美元的救助计划,市场仍较5月份的历史高点重挫了73%。俄罗斯财政部长库德林(Alexei Kudrin)上周五向俄国家杜马警告说,市场可能会持续下滑。由于无力筹措现金,俄罗斯负债累累的亿万富翁们已经被迫放弃用作抵押品的一级资产,或是请求政府救助。

经济学家已经将俄罗斯明年的经济增速预期下调至约3%-4%,远远低于今年1-9月份的7.7%。由于投资者和普通民众纷纷抛售卢布,自8月初以来,俄罗斯央行储备已经减少了669亿美元。该国有关部门已经将4家银行有效地收归国有,银行业人士表示还有数十家银行处于困境中。

高盛(Goldman Sachs)驻莫斯科的经济学家Rory MacFarquhar说,普京在上升阶段非常幸运,这是他面临的第一个考验;他们尚未明白将要面对的问题规模。普京今年5月份卸下总统职务,就任俄罗斯总理。

非政府机构Levada Center本周公布的民意调查数据显示,普京和总统梅德韦杰夫(Dmitry Medvedev)居高不下的支持率出现了小幅下滑。可能是受到国有电视台对经济问题口径一致的乐观报导鼓舞,42%的受访者表示目前的金融问题可能只是暂时现象。只有31%的受访者认为,俄罗斯面临着严重的金融动荡。该中心对1,600人进行了调查,误差幅度为3%。

到目前为止,金融动荡对公众的冲击尚属有限,只有为数不多的几家中型银行无法留住存款,促使拥有政府背景的银行借助央行资金出手进行了收购。失业率仍较低,不过随着银行收紧贷款,大型金属和汽车企业已经宣布减产,一些行业10月份也出现了大幅放缓的现象。

不过卢布对美元汇率数年来首次持续下滑,已经引起了公众的担忧;很多经济学家预计卢布的跌势还会加速。俄罗斯一家大型银行的高级管理人士说,别搞错,这种冲击已经逐渐转移到实体经济了。

一位政府高级官员在上周五的一次重要新闻发布会上表示,当前不存在危机……经济仍将保持增长。他没有对明年经济增速发表预期,不过暗示可能会低于5%。

他说,政府过去几年受到广为称道的政策就是将留存了大部分的石油收入,这意味着握有5,310亿美元储备的克里姆林宫拥有足够的“安全缓冲”来保护经济和银行体系,避免大幅削减政府开支。

该官员表示,俄罗斯的金融体系能够承受住这场危机,我们一定会做到这点;不过这会付出昂贵代价。

他说,股市已经遭受了大部分损失。自8月份格鲁吉亚战争以来,已经有逾300亿美元的外资流出俄罗斯,卢布的贬值也令投资者惶恐不安。

俄罗斯政府下周前后会从一只石油基金中抽资1,750亿卢布收购蓝筹股和债券,官员们称此举为长期投资,而不是意在扭转市场跌势。经济学家说,俄罗斯已经不得不搁置组建一家大型主权财富基金投资海外公司的计划。

该高级官员说,今年平均油价会远远高于每桶70美元──这一油价是俄罗斯政府维持预算平衡所需要的水平。即使是明年政府需要每桶95美元的油价才能实现收支平衡,而实际油价可能位于每桶60-80美元区间时,政府也无需削减现有开支。

他说,新项目可能会被削减。不过这可能会带来政治问题,因为梅德韦杰夫和普京最近几周一直承诺进行新的大型军事项目,并救助陷入困境的行业。

俄罗斯乌拉尔原油价格本周跌破了每桶70美元,为一年以来的最低水平。随着全球增长大幅放缓,镍、铝等大宗商品出口价格暴跌,导致流入俄罗斯经济的资金大幅缩减。

经济学家警告说,油价加剧下滑(如果全球金融持续动荡的话,这是可能发生的),再加上明年底前有1,800亿美元的债务到期,这会给俄罗斯经济带来更多的损失。摩根大通(J.P. Morgan)分析师上周五在一份报告中警告说,如果明年出现乌拉尔原油价格降至每桶50美元的不利情况,那么随着资本加剧外流,俄罗斯可能会消耗半数以上的外汇储备。高盛认为,这一油价水平将意味着俄罗斯经济会停止增长。

Gregory L. White
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