RUSSIA MONITOR

Date: 15 May 2018

Trump, Iran and more petrodollars for Russia

World oil prices together with incomes to the Russian budget are rising. This is great news for Vladimir Putin and government at the beginning of new presidential term. Currently, Russian oil exporters earn one third more than six years ago. And prognoses for Moscow are optimistic. Does it mean that funds for realisation an ambitious “May decree” will be attainable?

SOURCE: LUKOIL.COM

On May 14, the price of Brent oil (to be delivered in July) on the London ICE exchange has risen to 78,1 dollar for a barrel. The level of 78 dollars has been exceeded for the first time since November 2014. The biggest reason for the increase in oil prices is the Donald Trump’s decision on exit from an agreement on nuclear programme of Iran, consequent growing tension on the Middle East, escalation of tension between Iran and Israel, increasing threat of war outbreak and prospect of re-closure of global market for Iranian oil. Introduction of embargo on Iranian oil may lead to the decrease in amount of hydrocarbons by 1 million barrels a day. OPEC’s policy (and an agreement with producers from outside the group, with Russia, among others) and terrible situation in Venezuela also influence the increase in prices. Merrill Lynch investment bank predicts that in 2019 oil price will reach the level of almost 100 dollars for a barrel. Many analysts claim that these prognoses are exaggerated – manly due to a rapid development of shale oil and gas extraction sector in the USA.

As estimated in Russia, every barrel of oil now gives Russian exporters 1000 roubles (16 dollars) more than six years ago, which gives an increase by 30%. This is great information for exporters, with Igor Sechin’s Rosneft ahead, but also for Putin and Russian government at the beginning of the new term. The price of 60-70 dollars for a barrel would be enough to close the year without budget deficit – for the first time for seven years. Over 70 dollars for a barrel would allow to again fill the reserve funds, which have been drastically depleting in last years. Ministry of Finance predicts a budget surplus this year on the level of 0,5% of GDP, and Ministry of Economic Development on the level of 1,2% of GDP. Conscious government policy sustains the still weak rouble which results in increase in budget incomes denominated in the national currency (as dollar incomes from oil export are still increasing).

Additional petrodollars do not mean, however, that the chances for realising ambitious socio-economic goals set by Putin to the government in the decree from May 7 are rising. According to the budget bill any incomes from above the level of 40 dollars for a barrel are automatically directed to the reserve funds, not to the current expenditures. Government would have to change law and policy, which is rather unlikely. Having the choice of expenditures on reforms or maintaining business friends, the Kremlin will certainly choose the second option. Russian National Wealth Fund – where surplus from the oil sales is gathered – has recently become a purse which funds investment projects and most of all: helps companies and banks close to the Kremlin which more or less suffer from sanctions from the west.

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