Moody’s a changé le 3 décembre la perspective de la note de la dette souveraine russe de “négative » à « stable ». La notation de la Russie est confirmée à Ba1 / Not prime.
Voici un large extrait du communiqué public de Moody’s :
The key drivers for the decision to change the rating outlook to stable from negative are the following:
- The stabilization of Russia’s external finances, resulting from a macroeconomic adjustment that has helped to mitigate the effect of the fall in oil prices on official FX reserves.
- The diminished likelihood of the Russian economy or finances facing a further intense shock in the next 12-18 months, such as from additional international sanctions given some easing of the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
RATIONALE FOR THE STABLE OUTLOOK
First driver: continued stabilization in the country’s external position
The first driver for changing the rating outlook to stable from negative is Moody’s expectation that Russia’s external financial position will remain relatively robust despite ongoing pressures on public and external finances exerted by weak oil and gas prices. The negative effect of low oil prices, in addition to the sanctions-related impact of the Ukraine conflict, on Russia’s foreign exchange reserves this year has not been as severe as Moody’s initially expected due to a combination of macro policy adjustments that helped mitigate the shocks. The resilience of official foreign exchange reserves was partly due to the introduction of the floating exchange rate in November 2014, and the steep depreciation of the ruble exchange rate which that permitted. FX reserves have dropped by USD20 billion to about USD308 billion between the end of 2014 and October 31, 2015, a much smaller decline than the losses Moody’s had anticipated and a significant contrast to the USD129 billion drop in reserves that occurred in 2014.
Although the government is drawing down its accumulated savings in its Reserve Fund in order to finance the budget deficit this year, in an amount expected to reach RUB 2.6 trillion (USD40 billion), the withdrawals from its deposits at the central bank have been made almost entirely in rubles. So, while the government’s savings are being depleted, the official foreign exchange reserves have been left largely intact.
As regards Russia’s external liabilities, Moody’s notes that a steep fall in imports as a consequence of constrained household finances and a plunge in investment spending meant that the current account surplus largely covered external debt repayments made by the government, banks and corporate issuers in the first nine months of 2015. As a consequence, gross external debt declined by USD77 billion in the period (and more than USD200 billion since external debt peaked in June 2014), further reducing refinancing risks facing Russian corporates and banks.
Second driver: diminished likelihood of a further shock, e.g. from tighter international sanctions
The second driver for changing the rating outlook to stable is that the likelihood of a further economic or financial shock has diminished relative to earlier in the year. In particular, the relative stability in eastern Ukraine suggests a lower likelihood of sanctions being tightened as a consequence of that conflict in the near future. Tensions in the region have lessened significantly and, as per the Minsk II agreement, local elections are scheduled to take place in the contested regions early in 2016 after being held elsewhere in Ukraine in October (and in November in Mariupol, the port city close to the contested eastern regions). At the same time, we do not expect existing sanctions to be loosened or removed until such time that the parties involved in the conflict demonstrate their willingness to abide by the terms of Minsk II for a sustained period of time, especially with Crimea’s status remaining a potentially insoluble impediment to any final resolution of the impasse between Ukraine and Russia.
RATIONALE FOR THE AFFIRMATION OF RUSSIA’S Ba1 GOVERNMENT BOND RATING
Moody’s assessment of Russia’s creditworthiness balances very strong although weakening government finances against low growth potential, weak institutional strength and still elevated geopolitical risks. Russia has a low level of general government gross debt, which Moody’s estimates at 19% of GDP as of year end 2015, combined with the presence of substantial accumulated financial assets. However, the government balance sheet is weakening as the authorities are using significant amounts of fiscal reserves to finance wider government budget deficits and, to a lesser extent, to support local companies and banks. The government projects that the Reserve Fund and the eligible portion of the National Welfare Fund will be fully depleted by the end of 2017.
The uncertainty surrounding the economic situation, including the oil price, led the government to drop formal medium-term budget planning temporarily. The authorities intend to introduce a revised fiscal rule before formulating the next three-year budget framework, which if approved would base revenue forecasts on lower average oil prices and provide for rebuilding fiscal reserves should oil prices subsequently recover.
The affirmation of Russia’s Ba1 government bond rating also reflects the country’s increasingly limited growth potential, a key rating constraint. Overreliance on the oil and gas industry makes the economy vulnerable to shocks to that sector, and to its highly cyclical nature, which creates significant economic distortions regardless of whether prices are elevated or low. While this dependence is not new, the likelihood that oil prices will stay low for several more years during a period in which we expect to see the government’s financial assets largely depleted, significantly constrains the room for budgetary maneuver.
Moreover, the dominant oil and gas sector has limited room to expand capacity due to the lack of sufficient investment over a number of years. The international sanctions make investment capital more scarce, so that companies must rely on their own funds or in some cases, assistance from the government. The sanctions also prevent Russian companies from obtaining advanced technology to explore for oil offshore and other areas that are more difficult to reach, which will be needed if the anticipated decline in oil output is to be reversed.
Against this backdrop, we expect Russia’s growth will remain modest even when the economy starts to recover. The economy’s potential growth rate is estimated at only 1%-1.5%, constrained by declining oil output capacity, underinvestment, fiscal consolidation and highly indebted households. The one-off boost from net exports in 2015 is not expected to recur, since it was driven by a sharp contraction in imports, so further support from this source is unlikely. Finally, the availability of investment capital and technology transfer will be limited as long as sanctions remain in place.