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Wednesday, December 16

Finance Ministry Auctions a Record $1.85 billion in Government Bonds…Eyeing IMF, Rada Passes Conservative 2021 and Restores Anti-Corruption Agency Powers…Drought Pushes Down National Grain Harvest by 13%...Small Business Block Central Kyiv, Protesting Corona Lockdown
James Brooke
by James Brooke
UBN Morning News is reported and written by James Brooke, a former New York Times foreign correspondent and Bloomberg Moscow Bureau Chief

Fueled by foreign investors looking for high yields, the Finance Ministry sold a record $1.85 billion worth of government bonds at auction yesterday. Yields on hryvnia bonds ranged from 10% for 3-month bonds to 12.18% for 5-year bonds, the Ministry reported on Facebook. In addition to offering hryvnia bonds with seven different tenures, the Ministry offered 1-year bonds in dollars and euros. Investors bought $266 million worth of dollar bonds with 3.85% yields and €56.7 million worth of euro bonds with 2.5% yields.

The total amount raised was more than three times the amount raised at last week’s auction. With two more weekly auctions scheduled this month, the Ministry is expected to cover the budget shortfall before the end of the year.

The Rada passed Ukraine’s 2021 budget yesterday. A fiscally conservative document with a deficit of 5.5% of gross domestic product, slightly less than this year. Finance Minister Serhiy Marchenko said the budget is a key step for Ukraine to get back on track with the IMF program agreed last June. He told reporters after the vote by parliament: “The budget is a marker showing that we can fulfill our obligations.”

The budget numbers:

  • 6% GDP growth in 2021 to $158 billion, a reversal of this year’s forecast contraction of 4.8%
  • 2021 tax revenues: $38.3 billion; 2021 expenditures: $47.25 billion.
  • 3% inflation, compared to 4.9% this year
  • Average monthly salary is to increase by 12% in 2021, from the current level of $427
  • Forecast average exchange rate for 2021: 29.1 hryvnia / dollar – from 27.8 today
  • Exports will grow by 3%, recovering halfway from this year’s 8% decline.
  • Imports will rebound by 10.6%, after this year’s forecast 16% decrease.
  • Public debt to GDP ratio: 64.6%.
  • Privatization should bring in $430 million
  • Budget spending in infrastructure: roads – $3.2 billion; Ukrzaliznytsia railroad: $160 million; airports — $85 million

In another move to get back on track with the IMF, the Rada overwhelmingly approved yesterday two bills to restore powers to a key agency of Ukraine’s new Western-designed anti-corruption machinery. Two months, ago the Constitutional Court stuck powers of the National Anti-Corruption Agency, a unit that was investigating at least three judges of the Constitutional Court. Oleksandr Novikov, head of the agency, said after the Rada votes: “The National Anti-Corruption Agency resumes all it operations in all major directions now.”

In Washington, Kurt Volker, former special envoy to Ukraine, warned that the incoming Biden administration will not give a free pass to the Zelenskiy administration due to Ukraine’s strategic value in blocking Russia. “Ukraine has to take responsibility for its own development – only Ukrainians can solve their own internal issues,” he said when asked at the Ukrainian Investment Roadshow if President-elect Biden will use ‘tough love’ to get Ukraine on the reform track. “Why should the IMF or EU would step in to help Ukraine, when Ukraine doesn’t deliver on its own commitments on reform, and the state bureaucracy is so dense that even capital ready to invest gets tangled up?”

Drought pushed down this year’s national grain harvest by 13% yoy, to 65.4 million tons, Igor Petrashko, minister of Economic Development and Trade, announced yesterday. The fall ended two years of record harvests – first 70 million tons in 2018, then 75 million tons in 2019. This year, Ukraine’s top volume crop, corn fell 17% yoy, to 29.8 million tons. Wheat, the second largest crop, fell by 10%, to 25.1 million tons.

Despite the drops, Minister Petrashko said the 2020 harvest is “three times more than the needs of the domestic market, and also allows us to maintain a leading position in the export of agricultural products.” With overnight frosts freezing the ground in some parts of Ukraine, winter sowing has been completed on 8 million hectares.

Thousands of small business owners and workers yesterday protested the impending coronavirus lockdown and end of tax privileges, blocking central Kyiv’s Maidan Square and Kreschatyk Street into the night. Reuters reported that one police officer was knocked unconscious and 40 others received chemical eye burns from gas. “Stop the Lockdown” was the slogan that brought small business people from across the nation to protest the January 8-24 lockdown. The protest is coordinated by ‘Save FOP’ a national movement of autonomous workers who want to forestall a Finance Ministry plan to require digital cash registers and tax receipts.

One quarter of Kyiv restaurants have closed permanently due to coronavirus restrictions this year, estimates a new study, “Consequences of the COVID-19 epidemic and quarantine measures for the leading sectors of the Ukrainian economy.”  “In cities where there is less population, the situation is many times worse,” Marlin Tynny, owner of the Praha and Montecchi Capuleti restaurants, tells researchers. “Millions of people were left without a livelihood.” The 190-page study was prepared by the Center for Applied Research in cooperation with Ekonomichna Pravda and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation.

Kyiv City has the highest coronavirus infection rate of Ukraine, reports the Health Ministry. In the first half of December, Kyiv’s infection rate was 746 per 100,000 people. Close behind were: Cherkasy, Chernihiv, Sumy, Zaporizhia and Kyiv Region.

Almost one third of the Rada’s 424 members have had coronavirus since August, reports Dmytro Razumkov, chairman of Ukraine’s one chamber parliament. Currently, 21 MPs and 55 Rada employees are undergoing treatment, he said.

Editor’s Note: CFOs of Ukraine’s blue chip corporations forecast a U-shaped recovery for Ukraine next year. It will not be a Roaring 20s bounce, but a gradual recovery from a lost year. Every executive said foreign investors always ask if Ukraine will get back on track with the IMF. These are my takeaways from a panel I moderated yesterday afternoon with executives of Kernel, Metinvest, Naftogaz, Ukrzaliznytsia, and Vodaphone for Strategy Council’s annual Ukrainian Investment Roadshow. Straight talk from executives who have successfully navigated the rapids of 2020. With Best Regards, Jim Brooke

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Tuesday, December 8

Ukraine’s Economic Recovery to Start in Spring…Infrastructure Investment Saves Construction…More Mortgages, Small Business Loans…Black Week Saved Black Friday…Real Wages Grow…Turkey-Ukraine Talk of Building Rockets
James Brooke
by James Brooke
UBN Morning News is reported and written by James Brooke, a former New York Times foreign correspondent and Bloomberg Moscow Bureau Chief

The prolonged coronavirus pandemic will stretch Ukraine’s economic recession through the winter, Economy Minister Ihor Petrashko predicted yesterday. But after a 3% GDP yoy drop in the first quarter, growth will resume in April, he told the Ukrainian Investment Roadshow. Growth will continue strongly, allowing Ukraine to end 2021 with 4.6% GDP growth, he said. Such a U-shaped economic recovery would cancel out the 5% GDP drop forecast for 2020.

Big government spending on infrastructure is singlehandedly pulling the construction sector into positive territory this year, according to analysis by Alfa-Bank Ukraine. Through October, construction is up by 1.9% yoy. A 10.6% rise in infrastructure investment was enough to offset a 18.7% drop in housing construction. Alfa reports: “Spending on roads more than doubled compared to the previous year.”

Overall, the government’s Big Construction’s share of GDP grew from 2.8% in the first quarter, to 10% in the fourth quarter, Mikhail Kukhar, chief economist of Ukraine Economic Outlook, said last week at a road industry forum. He said: “The decline in our country’s GDP would have been 11% in the fourth quarter, if not for the Big Construction project.” The Q4 decline is expected to be about 3.7%.

By the end of this month, the goals of the Big Construction project should be 95% complete, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy presidential chief of staff, tells Interfax-Ukraine. The completion scorecard is: 200 schools and kindergartens: 93% complete; 4,000 km of state roads: 92% complete: and 100 sports facilities – 87% complete. For schools, the construction means new buildings for 8,338 students and renovated buildings for 55,000 students.

Europe’s biggest floating crane is being towed from Istanbul to Zaporizhia to complete the long-delayed bridge over the Dnipro, reports Ukravtodor. When erect, the crane rises 148 meters — nearly the height of Kyiv’s Parus office tower. The bridge complex is 9 km long. Onur, the Turkish company which is carrying out the $400 million contract to complete the bridge says part of the route will open to vehicles at the end of this month.

Since March $518 million in loans have been extended to small businesses, a factor in mitigating the impact of the coronavirus recession, the Finance Ministry reported yesterday.  Under the ‘5-7-9% Loans’ program, 6,300 loans have been extended to businesses with less than $3.5 million in annual revenue. Of the total, 68% of the loan money has gone to refinance existing debt, the Finance Ministry reported yesterday. There are 23 private and state banks participating in the program.

Home mortgage loans, long a rarity in Ukraine, are up 23% yoy, totalling almost $100 million through October. The average size is for $26,000, and 87% are for second homes, reports the National Bank of Ukraine. The secondary home market is more popular because rates are lower — 14.3% — than for first homes — 17.2%.

By replacing ‘Black Friday’ sales with ‘Black Week’ sales, merchants managed to save what could have been a bleak start to the holiday season, Ukrainian bankers tell Interfax-Ukraine. Charges with Akkord bank cards were up 38% this year, compared to a 47% increased last year. At Kreditvest Bank, Chairman Vasily Nevmerzhitsky said the week over week sales were up only 20-30%. He said: “If we compare sales on Black Friday in 2019 and in Black Week in 2020, the total drop in sales was about 40%.”

By contrast, the MOYO chain of electronics stores says it doubled its sales on Black Friday. Sales were boosted partly by a 16% increase in stores, to 36, and by keeping one store in Kyiv open around the clock. MOYO CEO Valentin Ivakin said: “The number orders and their amount twice exceeded the record of 2019.”

JYSK, which has a chain of 71 furniture stores in Ukraine, recorded a 10% increase in sales in November compared to last year. Evgeniy Ivanitsa, country director of the Danish-based firm, said this increase was reached by stretching the sales over eight days and attracting 1.5 million visits to their online store.

Real wages jumped 11% yoy in October, reports the State Statistics Service. Reflecting the impact of the coronavirus epidemic, the fastest growing wages were in healthcare — up 54%. The worst performing were in hotels and restaurants, where pay was stagnant.

The national monthly average wage is $430. The highest wages are in: Kyiv City — $618; Ukraine-controlled Donetsk — $479; and Kyiv Region — $456. Of the 24 regions, wages grew the fastest in: Chernivtsi and Kherson — 21%;  Rivne and Mykolaiv — 20%; Zakarpatti, Ivano-Frankivsk and Kirovohrad -019%; Ternopil —18%;  Zhytomyr -17%, and Luhansk – 16%.

Concorde Capital’s Evgeniya Akhtyrko attributes “the fast growth of real wages to the minimum wage being hiked to UAH 5,000 a month starting Sept.1, relatively low consumer inflation, and the increased demand for labor amid economic stabilization.

Next year’s planned 30% hike in the minimum wage will be postponed five months, until Dec. 1, Finance Minister Serhiy Marchenko confirms. The increase, to $228 a month, is being delayed to keep down inflation and to reduce the government budget deficit. Many government payments are indexed to the minimum wage.

For the statistics-addicted, the State Statistics Service has launched a mobile application “Statistics in a smartphone.” Oleg Nemchinov, Minister of the Cabinet of Ministers, says the new service offers graphs and numbers for: GDP, population, labor market, prices, industry, agriculture, construction, transport, and trade.

Ukraine is discussing with Turkey the joint creation of launch vehicles for commercial launches of satellites into space, Ukraine’s Strategic Industries Minister Oleg Urusky tells Radio Svoboda. Ukraine’s Yuzhnoye Design Bureau works with Northrop Grumman to  produce expendable rockets for placing satellites in low-Earth orbits. Ukraine and Turkey would need to use a third country cosmodrome, Urusky said. Until 2015, Ukraine had a project with Brazil to launch Ukraine’s Cyclone-4 carrier rockets from Brazil’s Alcântara Launch Center, near the Equator.

Editor’s Note:  A consensus that Ukraine is heading toward a U-shaped recovery next year emerged from the ‘Ukraine Macroeconomic” panel that I moderated yesterday for the Ukrainian Investment Roadshow. Assuming that the coronavirus will come under control during the first half of 2021, renewed growth was the view shared by: Economy Minister Petrashko, Dmytro Sologub, deputy governor of the central bank, Sergiy Nikolaychuk, head of macroeconomics for ICU, and Anders Aslund, economists for the Atlantic Council. Tune in tomorrow for Banking and Wednesday for UK Trade & Investment. With best regards, Jim Brooke

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Monday, December 7

Rada Passes Compromise Anti-Corruption Bill…Ukraine Bonds Perform Well on World Markets…Russia Restarts Nord Stream 2…China Expands Trade and Tech…Ukraine Modernizes Planes, Trains and Trucks
James Brooke
by James Brooke
UBN Morning News is reported and written by James Brooke, a former New York Times foreign correspondent and Bloomberg Moscow Bureau Chief

In a bid to unlock billions of dollars in low interest IMF loans, the Rada restored accountability for false asset declarations, albeit a watered down version. Approved Friday, the new bill raised the limit for ‘forgetting’ an asset 9-fold, essentially from a car to a house. Officials who are not caught in two years, get off free. Fines range from $1,500 to $3,000. The possibility of imprisonment is lifted.

Anti-corruption groups have protested. President Zelenskiy wrote on Facebook: “It is a pity that the responsibility is still not as tough as we would like.” But he made clear he would sign the compromise bill. There was no comment from the IMF.

Ukrainian bonds are among the best performing in emerging markets in the post-US-election rallyreports Tellimer Research. “Sovereign bonds lead the way, tightening 100-150bps in November and outperforming EM indices, despite uncertainty over IMF funding and the devastating effect of coronavirus on the Ukrainian economy,” writes analyst Kiti Pantskhava. Among the corporates, Kernel and Metinvest are the best performers.

Russia restarted construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline on Saturday, Ukraine’s Hromadske television channel reports, citing a document from the Germany’s Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency. Work on the Russia-Germany trans-Baltic line stopped almost one year ago due to US sanctions. To get around sanctions, the pipelines company is using Russian ships in an effort to finish the 1,222 km pipeline, which is 90% complete.

Germany’s government sees US sanctions against Nord Stream 2 as illegal and does not predict any change under a Biden administration, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas tells Der Spiegel. “”We have no illusions. There are almost no differences between Republicans and Democrats on this issue,” he said. He attributed US opposition to the pipeline to US interest in selling liquefied natural gas to the EU. A direct Russia-Germany pipeline would render the existing pipeline across Ukraine redundant, depriving Ukraine of $2-3 billion in annual transit fees.

With Britain apparently heading toward a ‘hard Brexit’ three weeks from now, Ukraine is asking the UK to negotiate a bilateral trade deal to lower tariffs.  On Friday, Prime Minister Shmygal asked UK Ambassador Melinda Simmons to start trade talks this month, even before the new bilateral trade treaty is ratified by the Rada. Signed in October by President Zelenskiy, the new trade treaty essentially continues on a bilateral level the trade rules that already exist for the UK as part of the EU.

Representatives of over 100 Ukrainian companies took part remotely in a China-Ukraine investment fair, hosted in Beijing, reports china.org.cnnews site With almost 300 Chinese and Ukrainian business and government officials participating, the annual conference took on new importance this year with the emergence of China as Ukraine’s top trading partner. At the conference, the China-Ukraine Bilateral Entrepreneurs Council announced the establishment of a liaison office in Harbin, capital of northeast China’s Heilongjiang province. Harbin mayor Sun Zhe said his city has worked well with Ukraine in such fields as aerospace, new materials and modern agriculture.

Huawei Ukraine is helping the Digital Transformation Ministry open a center “for students and future entrepreneurs” at Kyiv’s Taras Shevchenko National University. “This initiative opens up new opportunities for the development of talent in the digital world,” said Ding Ning, Huawei’s deputy director of supply and service. Last July, Ding signed an agreement with Kyiv Polytechnic Institute to open an “Academy of Information and Web Technologies.” KPI wrote on its Facebook page: “The University will become a platform for promoting Huawei technologies and ideas on the Ukrainian market. Huawei company cooperates with more than 900 universities overseas on opening ICT academies authorised by Huawei.”

For the first time since Independence, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry is about to order new planes from Antonov, Strategic Industries Minister Oleh Urusky tells Radio Svoboda. “A contract will be signed between the Ministry of Defense and the Antonov State Enterprise for three An-178 aircraft, which will be the first time in Ukraine since independence,” he says. “We have never ordered new planes.” An-178 is a Ukrainian medium-haul transport jet with a range of 3,680 km, cargo load of 18 tons,  and capacity to carry 90 soldiers. Turkey and Antonov are negotiating joint production of the An-178. During the summer of 2014, at the height of the Ukraine-Russia air war over the Donbas, three Ukrainian Air Force transport planes were shot down — an Antonov An-26, an Antonov An-30 and an Ilyushin Il-76.

Calling  the condition of the state railroad’s freight wagons “catastrophic”, the Cabinet of Ministers has adopted a “program of radical renewal” — replacing all 63,000 in the state fleet over this decade, reports the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Agriculture. With some wagons dating back to the 1960s, more than 90% of the wagons are past their service life. Noting that 24,000 used wagons have been imported in recent years from Russia, the Ministry warns that Ukraine risks “becoming a place for railway scrap written off by neighboring countries where operating restrictions apply.”

A total renewal of the wagon fleet will generate “billions of Hryvnia of government orders for Ukrainian manufacturers, hundreds of thousands of jobs, additional GDP growth of 2% per year,” the ministry predicts. Separately, private logistics operators in Ukraine own another 50,000 wagons. Private companies complain that when Ukrzaliznytsia locomotives bring their wagons into UZ workshops, they are often cannibalised for parts, usually brake pads. Last week, UZ signed the first contract with a private company — Lviv-based Ukrainian Locomotive Company — to haul cargo on UZ tracks.

Cracking down on overloaded trucks, the National Police checked 75,000 trucks last month, almost four times the number of checks performed in November of last year. So far this year, police have 665,000 trucks, almost double last year. With about 2% of trucks fined for violating weight restrictions, fines this year have totalled $4.5 million. By this time next year, there are to be 150 ‘Weight-in-Motion’ devices installed on Ukraine’s highways.

Air cargo through Kyiv-Boryspil is down by only 10% through November, compared to the first 11 months of last year. Air cargo dropped to 33,400 tons, Anton Borisyuk, the airport’s strategic development director said Thursday. By contrast, through October, passenger traffic was down by two thirds, hitting 4.5 million. Transfer passengers were down by 85%, passengers on regularly scheduled flights were down by 78%, and charter passengers were down by 40%.

Editor’s Note:  “It’s time to start treating Ukraine’s corrupt judiciary as a criminal syndicate,” reads a straight talking essay that pops the balloon of any happy talk that the Zelenskiy government is cleaning up the courts. “Bribery is routine,” Mykhailo Zhernakov writes in an Atlantic Council Ukraine Alert. “The Ukrainian authorities should not pretend that the country’s judicial system is in any sense capable of cleansing itself. Instead, we should treat it as a criminal syndicate controlled by the enemy.” Hardly an outsider, Zhernakov is a former judge. Today, he chairs the DEJURE Foundation, a group dedicated to giving Ukraine EU-standard courts. Until that happens, Ukrainians will continue to park their money in Cyprus and foreign investors will continue to watch from the sidelines. With best regards, Jim Brooke