Counting the Cost

Russia: From oil curse to sanctions

We analyse how Moscow has steered its economy away from the brink of collapse, despite sanctions and falling oil prices.

Oil is often seen as a curse for energy producers and this has certainly been the case for Russia – 70 percent of its exports are oil and gas.

But things could be changing, as Western sanctions designed to punish Moscow over the conflict in Ukraine seem to backfire. It appears Russia’s economy could recover from hitting rock bottom. Many local industries are picking up the slack from international companies.

The country was importing around $900bn worth of food from approximately 6,000 European companies before the Russian government banned food imports from the EU and US in August in retaliation for Western sanctions imposed on Russia following its annexation of the Crimea.

The country’s agricultural sector suffered years of underinvestment and President Vladimir Putin says the food embargo is Russia’s chance to become more self-sufficient.

In December last year the Russian currency was tanking. In an attempt to stop money flooding out of the country, interest rates rose to 16 percent, and more than $100bn were spent propping up the rouble.

Inflation, currently at about 16 percent, is likely to fall to 12 percent this year according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). And while the economy is going to contract 3.4 percent this year, 2016 should see a small upturn with 0.2 percent growth.

But the money in people’s pockets nowadays is going a lot less far than it used to be, mainly because of sanctions imposed on the country and the falling oil price. 

So what are the challenges facing Russia? How are sanctions affecting Russia’s economy and ordinary Russians? And can the Kremlin steer Russia away from economic crisis in 2015?

Charles Stratford reports from Moscow. And Oleg Kouzmin, an economist and vice-president of Renaissance Capital, talks to Counting the Cost about sanctions and the future of Russia’s economy.

South Africa: What has gone wrong?

The World Economic Forum, a meeting place for presidents, chief executives and NGOs descended in Cape Town. 

The end of apartheid more than 20 years ago was a momentous achievement for South Africa; the establishment of democracy equally so, but economic gains have proved to be a tougher challenge.
South Africa became the fifth member of the BRICS nations in 2010, joining Brazil, Russia, India and China. It is currenly the second biggest economy in Africa. 
According to numbers from the IMF, the picture does not look too bad but growth averaged just 1.3 percent between 1995 and 2008. And that has pretty much lagged behind world growth over the last 20 years. But the jobless rate has actually risen, and currently stands at 25 percent.

So what has gone wrong? Why has the country not made progress on cutting jobs?

Hendrik du Toit, the chief executive of Investec Asset Management, joins the programme.

Qatar’s migrant workers 

Qatar has taken a lot of flak for its treatment of foreign workers, but that has not stopped them from coming.
Overseas workers, mainly from Asia, send back billions in remittances to their families back home. Pakistan, for example, received $13.3bn in the first three-quarters of its 2014-2015 financial year.

Raja Ashfaq Sarwar, Pakistan’s minister for labour and manpower, spoke to Osama bin Javaid. He explained why Pakistan wants to send 150,000 people to work in Qatar.

Venezuela’s oil dependency 

As an oil-based economy, Venezuela has long enjoyed the benefits of high prices for this essential global commodity. But oil prices have taken quite a tumble since last year.
Now Venezuelans are looking at the prospect of things staying that way for the forseeable future. 
Virginia Lopez asks just how low would be too low for Venezuela’s oil-dependent economy.