Monday, November 17, 2014

No, the Ruble Falling Doesn't Mean Russia is Hosed

A friend recently shared an article with me about the ruble dropping (partly in response to sanctions) and asked me what I thought about it.

Go read it first, it's quick. I'm not going to summarize.

Read it yet? No, really, go do it.

Alright, good. Below is a modification of my original response, which I just wanted to share with everyone.

First, I think "2 guys got arrested" --> "Russia's economy is eating itself" is a grossly over-inflated and completely un-supported assertion here. Putin is on top because he does a great job specifically pitting his oligarchs against each other and reminding them that he can snap his fingers and crush them at any time... while keeping them rich. So the government still doing that is not surprising.

The oligarchs aren't in charge of the justice system (Putin wouldn't trust that) so I don't see how the arrests relate at all to oligarchical bickering. 

The ruble dropping isn't great, but it does mean that you can buy more bread (domestically made) for each barrel of oil you sell, so Russia's gas/oil imports will be buffeted here against the drop in the general price of oil/gas. 

Dropping one's currency is also a way to pivot an economy towards internal manufacturing, which may also be a deliberate move by Putin's administration to become less foreign-dependent, and it may be a sign of an economic strategy rather than just a political one. 

So yes, Russia is "digging in," and no doubt, it's getting ready to survive long-haul sanctions. But that doesn't mean the Russian economy is going to collapse. Putin is a smart guy. If he's planning to lose trade with the West, the first thing one wants to do is create as much domestic manufacturing as possible, and the ruble dropping is step one to doing that (because imports get expensive, exports get profitable, so local manufacturing is stimulated). The pain of the ruble dropping will pass as entrepreneurs seize on the opportunity to build new industries that take advantage of new domestic cost advantages. Russia's got the metal to make a lot of what it imports, excepting the luxuries that wealthy Russians love so much (but we don't need to worry about them). 

They'll be fine. The only way to really choke off the Russians is to cut oil/gas imports dramatically, and the Europeans aren't ready to feel the sting of that, themselves.
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