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Tuesday, January 12

Steel Grew in 2020…GDP Growth Pushed Off To Spring…Chinese Vaccines for 2.5% of Ukraine’s Population by June 1…Ukraine Will Spend $20 billion to Service Debt This Year…Ukroboronprom Puts Up For Lease 5 Parus…US Treasury Sanctions 7 Ukrainians…Nearly Half a Million ‘New’ Cars Flood Urkaine
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

Despite the global recession, Ukraine’s steel companies increased rolled steel production by almost 1% yoy, to 18.3 million tons. Steel smelting decreased by 1.4% to 20.5 million tons. But pig iron production increased by 1.5% to 20.4 million tons, according to Ukrmetalurgprom, the industry association. Metals are one of Ukraine’s top four exports, a group that includes food, IT, and migrant labor.

Consumer prices grew 5% last year, inside the government’s inflation target range and slightly higher than in 2019, the State Statistics Service reported yesterday. Previous annual inflation rates were: 2019 – 4.1%; 2018 – 9.8%; 2017 – 13.7%; 2016 – 12.4%; 2015 – 43.3%. Oleksiy Blinov, Alfa-Bank Ukraine’s head of research, predicts on Facebook that Ukraine’s annual inflation rate will rise to 6% this month and 7% in February.

Ukraine’s economic recovery will be slower than expected, coming in the spring, the Economy Ministry predicted yesterday. Reversing an earlier prediction of economic growth in the first quarter of 2021, the Ministry now forecasts GDP shrinkage by as much as 3% yoy in the January-March period. The Ministry blamed “declining strength of most foreign trade (especially services) [and] constant fluctuations and changes in working conditions in 2020, continued restrictions associated in the fight to control the coronavirus pandemic.” According to the Ministry, Ukraine’s GDP contracted by 4.8% last year.

The first 700,000 coronavirus vaccines could arrive in Ukraine by the end of February, Valeriy Pechayev, CEO of the importing company, Lekhim, told reporters yesterday. Contracted to import 1.9 million doses from China’s Sinovac Biotech, Pechayev predicted that the second batch, 1.2 million will arrive in May. Given that the vaccine has to be administered twice, this contract would cover vaccinating 2.5% of Ukraine’s population. “We have invested €10 million in organizing the production of the vaccine at our plant in Kharkiv,” he said. “In 2022, we plan to start the production of the finished form of this vaccine.”

During the first weekend of the ‘enhanced quarantine’ the National Police issued fines to 1,658 violators – 1,314 shops, 264 restaurants, 40 shopping centers and 22 fitness centers. In addition, 3,658 people were fined for violating rules mandating masks in enclosed public spaces. This level of quarantine runs through Sunday night Jan. 24.

After a 3-week break for the holidays, the IMF’s Europe Office resumed video talks yesterday with Ukraine’s government to revive the Stand-By Arrangement signed last June. The program revision was to take place last July, but was put on hold after President Zelenskiy purged the central bank. Ukrainian officials say talks now are on track, and they hope to get a second $700 million tranche by March. Prime Minister Shmygal wrote yesterday on Facebook that the talks “will open opportunities for Ukraine to receive the next tranche.”

Ukraine will spend $20 billion this year to repay principal and pay interest on its public debt, according to Finance Ministry figures. About 72% will go to repay domestic debt and 28% to repay foreign debt. Peak payment months are: March — $2.5 billion; June — $2.7 billion; and September — $3.6 billion. About 25% will go for interest payments, and 75% for repaying principal, the Ministry posted two weeks ago on Facebook.

Ukroboronprom, the state arms production conglomerate, and ProZorro.Sale, the online auction platform, signed an agreement yesterday to put up for auction leases on 250 properties around the nation with a total floor space of 380,000 square meters, Mustafa Nayem, assets director of the conglomerate, wrote on Facebook. For comparison, this unused, non-manufacturing space is five times larger than the total office space of Kyiv’s Parus office building. Looking ahead, Nayem told reporters at press briefing: “Currently, it is almost 2 million square meters that can theoretically be leased.”

Details of the properties are posted on the Ukroboronprom site under Assets- Investment Property for Rent. These details, plus the mechanics of the auctions, also will be posted on the site of Prozorro.Sale. Yuriy Gusev, Ukroboronprom’s new CEO, said State Watch, an NGO, found that the holding company loses $130,000 a month due to under market rents set 15 years ago by three Kyiv companies – Artem, Mayak, and Radar.

Looking at Ukroboronprom’s 137 enterprises, Gusev writes: “Some will go for privatization, because they produce non-military products, and some will cease to exist.” Of the 137, only 28 –or 20% — make money, he writes on his Ekonomichna Pravda blog. In a major mismatch, Ukroboronprom meets only 36% of the armaments needs of Ukraine’s military and 70% of the conglomerate’s revenue comes from exports. One candidate company for closing – or a major turnaround — produces components for Soviet submarines. Ukraine’s only submarine, the Foxtrot class Zaporizhia, was seized by the Russian Navy in Sebastopol in 2014.

In the first six months of a government-mandated program of online leasing of state and city properties, more than 5,000 auctions have been held, Svitlana Panaiotidi, deputy economy minister, told reporters yesterday. So far, 400 government entities, included the State Property Fund, have joined the system. Although some auctions have failed, one easily understandable success stands out: an auction for 10 square meters of retail space at Boryspil Airport. Bidding for monthly rent started at $183. It ended at $2,917.

The US has added seven Ukrainians and four media sites to the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List for attempting to interfere in the 2020 presidential election, the US Treasury Department announced yesterday. The list includes Oleksandr Dubinsky, Rada member from President Zelenskiy’s Servant of the People party, who previously worked as a host on 1+1 TV, owned by Ihor Kolomoisky. Others include former chief prosecutor Konstantin Kulyk, former diplomat Andriy Telizhenko. They “were part of a Russia-linked foreign intelligence network associated with Andriy Derkach,” Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said yesterday. He said Derkach, a Rada member, “has been an active Russian agent for more than a decade.” People on the sanctioned list cannot do business with Americans or American businesses and their properties in the US are blocked.

Imported used cars accounted for 80% of the 438,900 first time car registrations in Ukraine last year, reports Ukrautoprom, the vehicle industry association. Last month, about 40,000 used cars were registered, the highest monthly number in almost two years and 31% more than in Dec. 2019. In 2020, 353,400 used cars were registered for the first time, down 13% from the 2019 level. In 2019, a tax amnesty for illegally imported cars provoked a one-time surge of registrations.

Traffic congestion increased in Kyiv last year by about 5%, reports the Center for Transportation Strategies, citing the City’s Traffic Center. Traffic on Kreshchatyk increased by 5-10%. Traffic Brovarskyi Avenue, a major east-west artery connecting east bank residential high rises with the city center increased by 17 to 24%. Slowing driving speeds are attributed to: more cars, reluctance to use buses and the Metro during the coronavirus pandemic, and poor traffic management by the City.

Editor’s Note: Kyiv’s iron fisted mayor is surprisingly limp wristed when confronting traffic jams. Every day at rush hour, drivers inch into intersections as lights turn yellow. They do not block traffic lanes because they are inherently evil. They do it because they know they will get away with it. The other day in Manhattan, my 30-year-old son James sailed through a red light on a bicycle. A New York City policeman immediately collared him and issued a $100 fine. Much bigger fines await drivers who “block the box” – get caught in an intersection after a traffic light changes. It is odd that Mayor Klitschko, who lived in Germany during his boxing days, is so laissez faire about Kyiv’s worsening rush hour traffic chaos. With Best Regards, Jim Brooke

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Tuesday, December 29

Foreign Debt Payments to Stay High in 2021…Chinese Freight Trains Now Come to Kyiv Weekly…UZ Wants to Lease Out Ukraine’s Busiest Rail Stations: Kyiv, Kharkiv and Dnipro…Fight Over Lithium…Bukovel Packed
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

Ukraine faces a second year of high foreign debt payments in 2021– $16.1 billion. This is almost double the payments expected for 2022 – $8.6 billion – and $8.9 billion in 2023, the Finance Ministry reported on Facebook. In 2020, through November, Ukraine has paid $16.9 billion for public debt principal and interest. For 2021, Ukraine will have to pay $10.9 billion domestic debt principal and interest. The country will have to pay $5.2 billion in foreign debt principal and interest

AVELLUM law firm is emerging as Ukraine’s leading advisor on Eurobond issuances, advising on $1.2 billion worth of bonds in the second half of 2020. They were: Kernel’s $300 million offering of 2027 notes at 6.75%; the Finance Ministry’s issuance of $600 million Eurobond at 6.20%, the lowest in Ukraine’s history; and Ukreximbank’s cash tender offer of $316 million.

Since freight service started in June 2020, 22 Chinese container trains have arrived at Kyiv-Liski Left Bank station, reports Ukrzaliznytsia. The trains take about two weeks to travel 9,000 km from China to here. UZ is working with Ukrainian exporters to fill trains returning to China. One month ago, UZ and DHL Global Forwarding signed an agreement to develop rail freight between China and Europe, the railroad reports.

Ukrzaliznytsia is forcing the first private freight operator on UZ tracks to charge haulage tariffs seven times those of the state railroad, reported RBK Ukraina. Earlier this month, UZ signed the first contract for private locomotives on public tracks with Lviv’s Ukrainian Locomotive Building Company. “Given the tariffs set for private traders, the pilot project could fail,” writes RBK. With private freight trains running in Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania, admission of private freight trains on UZ tracks is a Ukrainian obligation under the EU Association Agreement.

To take tractor-trailer trucks off the roads, Ukrzaliznytsia plans to offer shippers the option of sending semi-trailers to the EU on flatbed wagons, Volodymyr Zhmak, the railroad’s CEO, tells Mintrans news site. A semi-trailer is a trailer without a front axle and without the tractor. By hauling semi-trailers across borders, Zhmak said the railroad would cut the wear and tear on roads, reduce lines at border posts, and ease the problem of Poland restricting permits for Ukrainian truckers.

Five or six “large domestic and foreign investors are ready to participate” in leasing some of Ukraine’s busiest rail stations, Alexander Pertsovsky, head of UZ’s ‘Passenger Company,’ tells Mintrans. After holding conference calls with investors, UZ is preparing concession agreements, with the advice of the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation. There are seven stations that are to be leased in concession: the main passenger stations of Kyiv, Kharkiv and Dnipro, and Chop, Khmelnytsky, Mykolaiv and Vinnytsia. UZ predicts it will make $2 million a year from concession payments. At smaller stations, rental spaces for ATMs, snack bars and shops are to be leased through ProZorro.Sales, he said.

Thefts of parts from private company wagons in UZ workshops has become so bad that Lemtrans has started painting its removable parts a signature lemon yellow, reported Rail.Insider. Lemtrans, the owner of the largest private fleet of freight wagons in Ukraine, also uses GPS technology to track cars. Through August, thieves hit their wagons more than 400 times. Quadro Center, another major shipper, said thieves have stolen parts from one quarter of the company’s fleet since 2019. Last month alone, UZ reported 1,156 cases of thefts of parts from freight wagons.

VR Capital, the London-based emerging markets hedge fund, is pursuing litigation against Ukrzaliznytsia over a $300 million package of defaulted loans that VR acquired two years ago at auction from Russian lender Prominvestbank, reports Reorg Research, a London financial intelligence provider. The loans had an initial principal of $153 million, but since they matured in 2015 and 2016, the accumulated fees, penalties and interest have risen to an almost equal amount. Reporter Jack Laurenson wrote that UZ has entered into talks with VR and recognizes that VR now holds the debt.

In the first quarter of 2021, DTEK Energy will launch Ukraine’s first industrial-scale energy storage system project, DTEK CEO Maksym Timchenko announced last week. US company Honeywell is building with DTEK a 1 MW energy storage system based on lithium-ion batteries, near DTEK’s Zaporizhia Power Plant. Energy storage is seen as a key to balancing the peaks and low of solar power.

With demand high for lithium for batteries, Gosgeonadr, the state Geology Service, is trying to conduct a public, online auction of two deposits – a 40-hectare site in Donetsk region and a 300-hectare site in Kirovohrad region. “However, there are attempts through the courts to disrupt open electronic bidding,” Roman Opimakh, head of Gosgeonadr, writes on Facebook. “This is in order not to pay a fair price set by open competitive bidding.” Noting that the Donetsk site may have 13.5 million tons of lithium ore, he writes: “There is a significant demand for the ‘metals of the future’ in the world market – and this includes lithium.”

The Prosecutor General’s Office yesterday charged Oleksandr Tupytsky, chairman of the Constitutional Court, with bribing a witness to make him give false testimony. The charge comes one week after Radio Svoboda posted audiotapes in which Tupytsky tried to dissuade a Donetsk businessman from testifying against another controversial judge, Viktor Tatkov.

The Cabinet of Ministers approved yesterday seven production-sharing agreements with private and state companies for the production of oil and gas. Only one foreign company is involved – Houston-based Aspect Energy, a business in partnership with Sigma Bleyzer. A Canadian company, Vermilion Energy, dropped out in November, citing low oil and gas prices. Companies have until January 7 2021 to sign their agreements.

Ukraine’s biggest ski resort Bukovel is fully booked through the New Year’s holidays, Reuters reports from the Carpathians. With EU skis closed or inaccessible to Ukrainian tourists, Bukovel is jammed. The resort, which covers five mountains, usually draws 2 million visitors in the winter. Unlike some other European countries, Ukraine has not imposed any restrictions on travel within the country.

Editor’s Note: It’s Bukovel in a nutshell. If readers wonder why retail sales are up, foreign reserves are up, foreign trade is almost balanced, and the hryvnia is strong, the answer can be seen on the crowded ski slopes of Bukovel. Cooped up because of corona, Ukrainians have a hard time traveling outside the country this winter. So, money that would be spent in the Alps or the Dolomites is rolling through the Carpathians. One legacy of Covid may be more international standard hotels, roads and airports for Ukrainians who want to vacation at home. With Best Regards, Jim Brooke