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Since implementation of Minsk II was cited by both EU and US officials as the key element to a potential easing of sanctions, Sberbank analysts do not expect any significant changes in the near future given the relatively slow progress in this sphere. “Our baseline scenario assumes that US sanctions will remain fully in place until end 2016, while EU sanctions may be eased mid of 2016. If this happens, we can expect to see more positive sentiment, but doubt that Russian companies or banks will see any significant changes in funding opportunities in 2016”, says Evgeny Gavrilenkov, Chief Economist at Sberbank Russia. Russia seems to have adapted to the sanctions imposed mid of 2014. Even though the negative impact of the sanctions has been obvious, the Russian economy has survived without any material damage.
Sberbank analysts expect a slow revival of the Russian economy thanks to growth in net exports and consumer expenditures. According to the current estimates, GDP growth may even reach 2.5% next year, while the budget deficit will not likely exceed 0.5% of GDP. According to Sberbank analysts, Russia’s creditability might be therefore stronger than expected. This may also lead to a revision in the country’s credit rating outlook, while no upgrade is expected before 2017.
The emerging consensus is that the global oil oversupply will last through 2016. Oil price will remain depressed, with pronounced downside risks amid a soft price floor and high volatility driven by news flow and changes in market sentiment. Following the sharp fall in the ruble in 4Q14-1Q15 and the drop in the oil price, Russia’s major oil companies became substantially smaller in terms of revenues but mostly retained the same debt they had at end 2013. Due to the substantial reduction in their cost bases in dollar terms of investments, free cash flows before dividends for all entities stayed positive or almost so. Meanwhile, Gazprom saw one of its best ever years for cash generation.
Sberbank analysts do not expect the Finance Ministry to actively borrow from abroad in 2016 as the government decided to cut the annual limit for Eurobond issuance to $3 billion (from $7 bln in 2013-15, annually), preferring the strategic approach of raising funding on the domestic market. The issuance of Eurobonds that will happen in 2016 will depend directly on the budget execution and the ability of the Finance Ministry to issue ruble bonds. It also does not look like many corporates will issue Eurobonds, due to the sanctions, the availability of domestic FX funding and overall low investment activity. According to Sberbank analysts, a total of $10-15 bln in Eurobonds is expected to be placed in 2016, which, given the total amount of regular redemptions scheduled over the next year ($12.7 bln), would mean the market remaining almost flat in the best-case scenario.
Russian Banks: Profitability remains under pressure
Russian banks had to deal with an abrupt surge in funding costs resulting from the CBR’s emergency rate hike in December 2014. Throughout 2015, as the CBR was cutting its rate and the banks started gradual repricing of the outstanding loans, margins were steadily recovering. The 3Q15 Net Interest Margin (NIM) increased to 3.7%, although this is still more than 1pp below than a year ago. The margin squeeze was the main drag on banks’ profitability and hence internal capital generation. Russian banks generated only 1.3% Return on Average Equity (ROAE) for 9m15. Sberbank analysts expect asset growth of the Russian banking sector to be moderate next year given the still struggling economy and scarcity of quality borrowers. On retail side, the first signs of a stabilization in asset quality are visible as well as a first revival of consumer lending, while mortgages may also continue growing, driven by falling rates. Overall, Sberbank analysts expect 5-10% total loan growth next year. Given the expected disinflation trend, the CBR is likely to continue cutting its key rate, which would be reflected in further savings on funding costs and would support bank margins.
Ukraine’s investability will revolve around two major factors in 2016: political stability and economic recovery. “Ukraine’s economic performance will improve in 2016 as we expect economic contraction to slow from 11% in 2015 to only 3% in 2016”, says Gavrilenkov. Domestic demand is likely to remain subdued as elevated inflation will cap real wages and private consumption. Consumer inflation is expected to average 32.5% in 2016, slowing from 50% in 2015 to 15% in 2016. Investments may surprise to the upside thanks to the systematic effect of recovery following the military conflict in the east. Infrastructure and businesses are likely to be rebuilt even though this is not expected to not have a significant impact on GDP. Public spending will be limited due to the IMF-induced fiscal discipline. Ukraine is committed to an ambitious general government fiscal deficit of 3.75% of GDP and a primary balance of 1.4% of GDP in 2016. “To achieve this, Kyiv will implement revenue-raising measures and fiscal consolidation, including cutting the pension bill, downsizing the budget sector and placing a ceiling on budget spending”, adds Gavrilenkov.
Following a serious deceleration in the economy in 2015, Sberbank analysts expect a decent bounce next year (2.7% GDP growth). The current account should be almost balanced (0.7% of GDP or lower in 2016, depending on the volume of external borrowing), continuing a trend which has begun in 2013. “Given that the budget should also remain balanced, we see the government’s financial position improving. As such, we could see Belarus’ credit ratings upgraded by one notch next year, especially if the country manages to raise funding from non-Russian sources and can keep its overall external debt levels under control”, says Gavrilenkov. Belarus might start to receive new loans from both the IMF and EFSD. As the analysts expect, the bulk of sanctions will be removed, which will allow the Finance Ministry to tap the market with a new sovereign Eurobond. The combination of these factors will improve the state’s creditability and may push sovereign spreads lower.
Kazakh economy is expected to experience severe pressure in 2016, though improvements are likely in some areas. The most obvious is the current account. Following the sharp drop of the Kazakh tenge, Sberbank analysts expect imports to contract significantly, while exports (which mainly depend on oil) are likely to remain stable. This will expand the trade surplus and could help to balance the current account. Economic growth is expected to slow significantly this year but remain positive. Higher growth is possible in 2016, but it will most likely not exceed 2.0%. Following the tenge devaluation, which has also spurred inflation, Sberbank analysts do not expect investment activity to be high. Inflation (in annual terms) is not expected to start decelerating before 4Q16 (due to the high base), but we could still see the National Bank starting to cut rates earlier to stimulate economic growth. Given the negative economic trends (at least in 1H16) and the potential continuation of state support for quasi-sovereign corporates, we could see the country’s rating cut by one notch over the next 12 months. However, longer-term trends remain supportive, so it can be expected that Kazakhstan retains its investment grade status.