Russia Begins A $100 Billion Debt Bailout As Its Bonds Face 'Junk' Rating

PutinReutersRussian President Vladimir Putin dabs his lip during his annual end-of-year news conference in Moscow, December 18, 2014.

Russia has begun bailing out the debt of its private and state-run companies and banks, which is denominated in dollars, according to Reuters.

Banks and companies owe a total of $US600 billion in foreign debt, of which $US100 billion is due next year.

The value of the ruble has fallen so far, however, that those companies can no longer afford to pay back that debt. The ruble fell 0.3% this morning to just over 54 rubles to the dollar. A year ago a ruble was 32 to the dollar.

The bailout will not help Russia’s bond rating, which suffered a blow yesterday when the credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s said there was at least a 50% chance it would cut Russia’s status to lower than BBB or “junk” status.

S&P said: “We are┬áreviewing our assessment of Russia’s monetary flexibility and the impact of the weakening economy on its financial system.”

The ruble is falling because the price of oil┬áis falling too. Russia’s economy depends on oil. So falling oil prices are devastating Russia’s export economy, threatening $US79 billion from its export revenue, as The Telegraph noted this morning:

Should the current price of Brent, at around $US60 per barrel, be sustained over the next 12 months, that would result in Russia’s export income from crude dropping to $US95bn, from $US174bn in 2013.

That combination — falling oil prices dragging down the ruble, and increased debt payments as everything not denominated in the ruble becomes staggeringly expensive — has triggered a high-inflation/recession scenario in Russia, Reuters says:

But the economic crisis in Russia’s heavily oil-dependent economy goes wider. Moody’s ratings agency said late on Tuesday that it expected Russia’s GDP to contract by 5.5 per cent in 2015 and 3 per cent in 2016, under the effect of the plunge in oil prices and the ruble’s slide.

“These developments will likely lead to a severe deterioration in the operating environment for Russian corporates, namely higher inflation, unemployment and debt-servicing costs as well as lower domestic demand, resulting in a deeper and more protracted decline in domestic economic activity than previously anticipated,” Moody’s said.

Russia has already spent about $US96 billion of its foreign exchange and gold reserves trying to prop up the value of the ruble. It has $US414 billion left, Reuters says.

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