Russia’s gross international reserves (GIR) fell slightly as of the end of November to $379.2bn from this year’s peak of $383.4bn set in September, but the sovereign rainy day fund, the National Welfare Fund (NWF), fell more heavily from this year’s peak of $77.16 set in August to $68.55bn as of the start of December.
Despite all of Russia’s sanction travails it has managed to add $9.6bn to its GIR YTD and $3.4bn to the NWF.
The Central Bank of Russia (CBR) has been aiming to increase Russia’s reserves to $500bn, but since the threat of new “crushing” sanctions that may be imposed on Russia after the holidays, it has abandoned this policy for the meantime as it battens down the financial hatches in the face of possible instability if the US goes for the nuclear option of targeting Russian sovereign bonds.
The growth in reserves has been helped by a large current account surplus thanks to higher than expected average oil prices this year.
The current account surplus quadrupled to $87.9bn in January-October 2018 compared to the same period in 2017, the central bank said on November 13.
Russia is also running a 3% of GDP budget surplus, although this is expected to fall to 2.2% by the end of the year as December is a month of heavy government spending. Russia Inc is currently in profit as although oil prices are lower than in the boom years, after extensive reforms and cost cutting the breakeven price needed to balance the budget has fallen to $53 whereas the average price of oil for this year has been circa $70.
Finally, in another move to protect the country from possible sanctions Russia has been selling off its holdings of US Treasury bills and building up its gold reserves, having added $2.5bn to the reserves in the course of this year to bring gold reserves to an all time high of $82.9bn in November. Gold now accounts for 21.9% of all Russia’s reserves, up from 15% in January 2015.