from Follow the Money

The money is flowing out even faster than it flowed in ...

October 31, 2008

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At least for Russia. And probably for a host of emerging economies.

Russia’s reserves fell by over $30 billion during the third week of October -- tumbling from $515.7b on October 17 to $484.7b on October 24. Roughly $15 billion of the fall reflects the fall in the dollar value of Russia’s euros and pounds. But about $15 billion reflects Russian intervention in the currency market, as well as the drain on Russia’s reserves associated with the loans Russia’s government is making to Russian banks and firms seeking foreign exchange to repay their foreign currency debts.

A $15 billion weekly outflow is rather large.

$15 billion is as much as the IMF committed to lend Russia back in 1998. And the IMF actually only disbursed a third of that total.

The most the IMF ever actually lent out to a single country in the past was roughly $30 billion (to Brazil, in 2002-03). At the current rate, Russia will run through that much in two weeks.

The pace of decline in Russia’s reserves is partially a function of the fact that Russia had so many reserves back in July. Countries with less money in the bank tend to husband their scarce resources rather than spend them liberally. A lot Russia’s reserve buildup reflected private inflows rather than the oil surplus, so in some sense Russia’s government is just facilitating the reversal of those flows. In the process, of course, the Russian state is helping out some of Russia’s biggest businessmen. Russia’s state will likely end up controlling a broader swath of Russia’s economy at the end of the "deleveraging" process.

But the pace of decline in Russia’s reserves is also evidence of the scale of the reversal in capital flows to emerging economies -- and the pace of the current outflow.

More money is probably leaving Russia than is leaving other countries, as Russia has some uniquely Russian vulnerabilities that other emerging economies lack. But even if Russia is at one end of the distribution, it certainly isn’t atypical ...

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