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

Epicenter K, Ukraine’s largest retailer, plans to invest $2 billion over the next two years in all areas of the group, Petr Mikhailishynm the group’s general director, tells Interfax-Ukraine. Investments include: $100 million for solar panels atop hyper markets, $100 million for grain elevators, $96 million for ceramics factories, and $46 million for concrete production with German equipment. “Since we have about 1.5 million square meters of roofs, which are empty from the point of view of energy efficiency, we want to start arranging solar panels there,” Mikhailishynm said, adding he hopes to win low interest ‘green loans’ from the EBRD or World Bank.

Fozzy Group’s Silpo supermarket chain, is purchasing another Ukrainian store chain, Furshet, according to the Anti-Monopoly Committee. Silpo will buy 21 Furshet stores, raising the chain’s nationwide number to nearly 300. Silpo is still far behind its top rival, ATB-Market, which has over 1,000 stores. As Ukraine steadily moves away from traditional food markets, ATB opened 127 new stores last year.

Denmark’s JYSK Ukraine will open six new furniture and household goods stores by June, raising the total number to 78. In addition, the chain is reformatting all  existing stores and promoting online sales, Ievgenii Ivanytsia,  executive manager of JYSK Ukraine tells Interfax-Ukraine.

    Retail sales growth slowed to 3.5% yoy in January, down from 13.4% yoy growth in December, reports the State Statistics Service. January’s 2.5 week lockdown dented sales in a traditionally slow month.

    Dragon Capital writes: “We expect retail turnover to remain on an upward trend throughout the rest of this year, as slow vaccination will limit the recovery in international travel, supporting domestic consumption…the growth in retail turnover will likely surge to high double-digits in 2Q21, boosting full-year growth to 15% yoy…up from 8.4% in 2020.”

    With foreign investors increasingly believing in Ukraine’s foreign exchange rate stability, the Finance Ministry sharply cut yields in short term debt up for auction yesterday, the Ministry reports.  Yields were cut by 60 basis points on 3-month papers, to 8.47%; by 13 basis points on 1-year papers, to 10.67%; and by 11 basis points on 1.5-year papers, to 11.04%. Unchanged were yields on 2-year papers, at 11.8%, and 3-year papers, at 12.05%. Also unchanged was the yield on 2-year US dollar bonds – 3.9%. Total auction proceed were the equivalent of $411 million, the Ministry posts on Facebook.

    Foreign investors were the fastest growing class of buyers in February, increasing their holdings by $233 million, Bohdan Danylyshyn, chairman of the National Bank Council, writes on Facebook. Last year, foreign investors’ share of the issues tumbled: from 15% in February to 8% in late November. Since then, it has rebounded to 12.2%.

    “Ukraine local bonds are back,” headlines a story in BNEIntellinews. “Despite the political brouhaha that never ends in Ukraine, the macroeconomic situation has improved enormously in the last two years,” Ben Aris writes from Berlin. “Inflation has fallen to post-Soviet lows, forex reserves have risen to give 4.4 months of import cover (a comfortable level), the banking sector is healthy, and Ukraine ran a large trade surplus in 2020…Focusing just on the economic arguments, the outlook for Ukraine’s local bond market looks very attractive. It compares very well with its frontier and emerging market peers.”

    Analysts are divided on whether Ukraine’s central bank will raise its prime rate tomorrow or hold it steady, a Reuters poll showed Tuesday. Half of 16 Ukrainian analysts predict the National Bank of Ukraine will keep the interest rate at its historic post-1991 independence low of 6%, to help businesses. Industrial output, which started recovering in December, shrank 4% yoy in January. The other eight analysts believe the central bank will raise the rate: six expect 6.5% and two expect 6.25%. Inflation jumped to 6.1% in January, above expectations and above the interest rate.

    The EU will provide money to build more and better crossing points between the Ukraine- and Russia-controlled halves of the Donbas, European Council President Charles Michel yesterday at a joint press conference with President Zelenskiy at the Shchastia border crossing point in Luhansk. “This year we are starting a new program to support economic development and public services in these regions,” Michel said referring to Ukraine-controlled Donetsk and Luhansk. “This will include funding for the Entry-Exit Crossing Points.”

    Russia cut crossings of the line of control by 96% last year, according to figures supplied by Oleksiy Reznikov, deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Reintegration of Temporarily Occupied Territories of Ukraine. In 2019, there were 1.4 million crossing a month. Last year, after the Covid pandemic hit in March, crossings averaged 55,000 a month. Last week, the Ukrainian delegation to the Trilateral contact group issued this message: “The opportunity for our citizens to leave the temporarily occupied territories and receive administrative services, pensions and social benefits has been blocked since Nov. 10.”

    Ukraine is working to create a ‘virtual mobile number’ which will give residents of Russia-controlled territories the opportunity to call Ukraine-controlled Ukraine, Deputy Prime Minister Reznikov told a development forum in Kyiv. Over the last year, Russia has distributed an estimated 400,000 passports to residents of Russia-controlled Donbas.

    The Pentagon is sending $125 million in military aid to Ukraine — training, equipment and advisory efforts “to help Ukraine’s forces preserve the country’s territorial integrity, secure its borders and improve interoperability with NATO.” The aid includes two Mark VI patrol boats, raising the number to eight. The boats are designed to patrol rivers and coastal waters.

    Zelenskiy’s fast-paced attacks on pro-Russian interests “are likely to score points with the new US administration,” Roman Olearchyk, the Financial Times’ veteran correspondent in Kyiv writes in a story headlined: “Zelensky takes on Ukraine’s oligarchs in bid to court Biden.” Maria Zolkina, analyst at the Kyiv-based Democratic Initiatives Foundation, tells the FT fo Zelenskiy: “Everything he is doing now is an attempt to return to his original image, upon which he can build his re-election campaign.”

    International brand hotels in Ukraine are to increase by 50%, to 25, by 2023, Ivan Lun, international relations director at the Ukrainian Hotel and Resort Association, tells Interfax-Ukraine. Planned openings for this year are: Radisson Hotel City Center Odesa – 90 rooms; Best Western Plus Lviv Market Square – 70; and Ibis & Adagio Kyiv – 265. Planned for opening by 2023 are: Ibis Lviv – 100; Radisson Hotel Pechersk Park Kyiv – 167; Sheraton Kyiv Troitska Square – 208; Novotel Lviv – 125; and Hampton by Hampton Lviv airport – 138.

    Editor’s Note: It sounds like a Don Quijote nightmare: 21 windmills taller than Kyiv’s Gulliver Business Center looming over the empty steppes of Mykolaiv. Tylihul Estuary may seem an odd place to erect the tallest structures in Ukraine since Independence. But a strong and steady wind blows up from the Black Sea. And the higher you go, the more power you get. DTEK tells me the steel towers will rise 206 meters from the ground to the tip of the blade. That puts these rural windmills in the same league as the Tour Montparnasse in Paris, the Westend Tower in Frankfurt, and 25 Canada Square in London’s Canary Wharf. Not bad for an estuary previously known only to windsurfers and  kitesurfers. With Best Regards Jim Brooke

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