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Russia’s 5 Big Challenges

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With Russia’s economy set to shrink by 4.2% in real terms this year, the country clearly faces several major challenges. Beyond the most immediate concerns of the oil price shock and the impact of sanctions, the economy faces major hurdles in the long-term if sustainable growth is to be achieved.

1.       An out-dated growth model

First and foremost Russia’s reliance on the oil and gas sector poses a major challenge to the economy. The danger of this reliance has been brought into sharp focus by the low oil price. In 2014, mineral fuels accounted for 71.1% of the country’s total exports. Russia was the world’s largest exporter of mineral fuels in that same year. Russia must diversify its economy away from the sector in order to put growth on a sustainable footing.

Russian Exports: 1996-2014


Source: Euromonitor International from United Nations (UN), International Merchandise Trade Statistics

2.       A lack of investment

Investment, a key driver of growth, is lacking in Russia. Gross Fixed Capital Formation (GFCF) amounted to just 20.6% of GDP in 2014, and fell by 5.6% in real terms in 2014. Foreign Direct Inflows plummeted in 2014 – a result of the slowdown, oil price and sanctions. The cumulative effect of this lack of investment is telling. Real productivity growth slipped to 0.4% in 2014 – measured in US$ per person employed.  Russia’s weak competitiveness cannot improve without a boost to investment.

Year-on-Year Growth of GDP and GFCF: Q1 2008-Q4 2015


Source: Euromonitor International from Eurostat/OECD/IMF/National statistics

Note: Data are in current terms and Q3 and Q4 2015 data are forecast

3.       A difficult business environment

The business environment in Russia poses many challenges: from the extent of state ownership through to red tape and corruption.  In 2013, the OECD estimated the state-owned sector at around 50% of GDP, with the government pursuing policies to control “strategic sectors” and to promote “national champions”. The government’s response to sanctions preventing food imports from the EU for example, has been to promote self-reliance in the agricultural sector.  Regulatory quality is extremely poor, with Russia ranked 128th out of 202 countries in the World Bank’s rankings – placing it below much poorer countries such as Indonesia, Peru and the Philippines.

Regulatory Quality Ranking in Selected Emerging Markets: 2013


Source: Euromonitor International from World Bank/IMF/OECD/National Statistics

Note: Figure in brackets refers to per capita GDP in US$

4.       Deficient infrastructure

Infrastructure poses a serious challenge to doing business in Russia. The road network is a similar size to that of France, despite its land area being 30 times larger. In fact in terms of road network density (kilometres of road per km2 of land) it ranks bottom in Europe. This adds costs to doing business and weighs on productivity. In terms of the overall quality of infrastructure, Russia ranks 74th out of 144 countries in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness report 2014-2015 – behind other large emerging markets such as Indonesia, Mexico and China.

Land Area and Road Network in Selected Economies: 2014


Source: Euromonitor International from FAOSTAT/IRF/National Statistics

5.       Geopolitical risks

With the backdrop of sanctions and the deterioration of relations with the West, business and consumer confidence in the economy collapsed. On the consumer side this (alongside falls in real wages) has contributed to a decline in consumer expenditure; and on the business side, a lack of investment and capital outflows. Reversing the decline in confidence is imperative in order to meet the challenge of kick-starting economic growth. With the risk of an escalation of geopolitical tensions weighing on the economy however, confidence is likely to remain fragile.

Real Growth in Selected Consumer Market Sizes in Russia: 2015


Source: Euromonitor from trade sources/national statistics

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