Central Bank of Russia concerned about foreign currency debts of companies

The regulator fears excessive borrowing.
The Russian economy is coming to life, and the appetite of foreign investors to risk is growing - this led to an influx of their money into Eurobonds of Russian companies and banks, the CBR Financial Stability Department said in its analytical note (its position may not coincide with the official position of the regulator). From January to July 21, the companies placed eurobonds at $ 12.81 billion, banks - at $ 1.97 billion. The share of non-residents in the OFZ market grew by 3.8 percentage points to 30.7% by June 1.

 The short-term effect can be positive, the ruble strengthens, which further increases the attractiveness of foreign currency loans, the Central Bank writes: "But the financial system and the economy are becoming less stable." A downward spiral may emerge, experts warn it: the growth of payments on debt will weaken the ruble and the debt burden will increase. In 2008-2009 Companies have accumulated excessive external debts, the Central Bank recalls, and the state had to refinance them by placing the money of the reserve fund in VEB.

While there is no risk to financial stability, an increase in the inflow of foreign capital threatens "bubbles" in individual markets, the accumulation of excessive debt and currency risks. The state should be insured, experts of the department advise. Already, the Central Bank is discouraging currency lending: the net currency position of banks is limited, and the risk factors for currency borrowers with insufficient currency earnings are increased.

The department in the note suggests toughen these measures: further increase the risk factor, more differentiate the required reserve ratio (now in rubles - 5%, in currency - 6-7%).

But CB experts advise not to limit themselves to banks and look for ways to reduce currency risks and risks of the non-financial sector. The regulator has already increased from 28 to 53 the number of companies that since 2014 report to it on the schedule of debt repayment to non-residents. But you need to make sure that the company has enough currency and foreign exchange earnings to pay its debts, and limit its foreign loans in case of excessive growth, the note said. For this purpose, it is proposed to take into account two indicators: the minimum ratio of the most liquid currency assets and payments on short-term foreign currency debts and the maximum ratio of foreign currency debt to foreign exchange earnings. At the same time, it expects its department to offer at a fixed price of oil - $ 40 per barrel of Urals, to limit fluctuations in the company's debt following the price of oil. To introduce such measures, we already need coordination with the government. How the mechanism can work, the representative of the Central Bank does not explain: these are measures for discussion.

The level of dollarization in the banking sector continues to decline, notes Moody's analyst Pyotr Paklin, and it is not at all clear that it will grow as the economy recovers - the Central Bank is already counteracting it. But the measures proposed by the Central Bank to reduce the systemic risk look quite logical, he believes.

The real sector with the Central Bank does not agree. Any new instrument and restrictions can create additional difficulties for exporters, who mainly receive revenues in foreign currency and therefore also borrow in foreign currency, the representative of Norilsk Nickel notes, besides, Russian and foreign banks offer a large number of hedging instruments for currency risk. The companies learned lessons from the devaluation of 2014 and responsibly approach their foreign debt in foreign currency, the employee of another major exporter notices, they do not need any state regulation. Nobody wants to keep free money in rubles, because the fate of the ruble is unknown, the currency is more reliable, he continues, and with foreign exchange earnings, foreign currency debt does not create risks.

The corporate sector is radically different from the banking sector in that corporations do not take money from the population, so the regulation of this sector should be different, the economist of VTB Capital for the CIS and Russia, Alexander Isakov, argues with the Central Bank. The use and provision of liquidity by the Central Bank in 2014 was a normal reaction in a crisis, when companies had to undergo a shock of payments on external debt, he said. Now the situation is completely different - the reaction of the currency market and the OFZ market, the ruble's exchange rate on sanctions showed that investors are betting on the continuation of responsible fiscal and monetary policy and are serious enough, Isakov continues, therefore, additional regulatory measures of the Central Bank may not be entirely relevant. The main economist of Alfa Bank, Natalia Orlova, on the contrary, considers correct the measures proposed by the Central Bank. We are talking about state-owned companies whose foreign currency loans are really a serious problem for the economy, she believes: every year their share of foreign debts grew, and now it has reached almost 60%. But such companies in case of shocks are likely to shift debts to the state, as many of them do not understand that the country has moved from a fixed to a floating exchange rate, Orlova said. In addition, the Central Bank gives a clear signal that the market should not relate to the currency refinancing instrument of the Central Bank as a permanent support mechanism, she concludes.