An Economy Built on Sand
As you can see from the chart above, over the past four weeks the Russian stock market has lost 12.5% of its value.
For anyone with a lick of sense, this news is truly jolting. Since Russia is benefiting from the stratospheric increases in the prices of oil, the stock market's performance betrays a fundamental weakness in the foundations of the economy itself.
Writing in the Moscow Times James Beadle, a portfolio manager for Pilgrim Asset Management, wrote in column entitled "Russia's economy is stalling" that the government's economic growth data for June fell far below the market's expectations and noted that "initial public offerings have slowed substantially and May industrial production data were also weaker, as they showed manufacturing growth of less than 1 percent over the year. Cooling growth dynamics point to a possible shift in confidence." He concluded: "June's economic data caught the market by surprise and serve to remind that the path ahead is less clear. With the benefit of hindsight, the sharp declines in these economic parameters, which constitute some of Russia's key economic drivers, are not surprising. It has long been recognized that President Dmitry Medvedev faces far greater development challenges than his predecessor ever did. Even if the global backdrop remains benign, the country faces economic constraints that cannot be resolved with easy money."
Beadle makes money by convincing folks to invest in Russia's markets. When somebody like that is ringing the warning bell, you know things are pretty dire indeed. And below we offer two more devastating nails in Russia's economic coffin. But the Russian people go blithely on, telling a naked Mr. Putin he's wearing a cloak of mink, fit for a king, just as in Soviet times.
MT Columnist Boris Kagarlitsky put it bluntly: "We are being told that Russian capitalism is self-sufficient, invincible and unique, not unlike Josef Stalin's view of his socialist society. It is not entirely clear why our government and business leaders so zealously tried to open Russia's markets and to pull us into the global economy if we now intend to lead some kind of solitary existence, isolated economically from whatever happens to the rest of the world. The main question is: What will we do when the global economic system collapses?"
Kagarlitsky is right on target, but he's wrong about the main question, and his own text betrays this. The question isn't what will Russia do, but why isn't Russia asking that question. Why isn't anyone challenging the Putin government given all this disturbing reality? Could it be that they are afraid to do so, just as many were afraid to confront Stalin, leaving the nation on an essentially rudderless course to destruction?