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Monday, November 23

US-Trained Economists Return to Zelenskiy Government...Canada’s Poster Boy for Ukraine Investment Accuses Kolomoisky of Trying to Steal His Solar Plant...Corona Infections Double in a Month...Kyiv Now is in ‘Uncontrolled Outbreak’
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

With clouds hanging over Ukraine’s deal with the IMF, President Zelenskiy is bringing back into his government two US-trained economists he let go last March – his former Finance Minister and his former Economy Minister.

Oksana Markarova, the former Finance Minister, has been nominated to serve as Ukraine’s next Ambassador to the United States. Trained in public finance at Indiana University, Markarova worked in the Finance Ministry for five years until she was let go in the mass cabinet shakeup of March 4. As Finance Minister for two years, she saw interest rates on foreign currency bonds fall to record lows for Ukraine — 2.22% in euros and 3.4% in dollars. Last January, Ukraine borrowed €1.25 billion for 10 years with a 4.73% interest rate, once again a record low rate.

A fluent English speaker, Markarova has participated in numerous negotiations with the IMF, World Bank and other foreign financial institutions. Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba reacted to press speculation that she was chosen to go to Washington to deal with the IMF, writing on Facebook: “The idea that Markarova is sent only to extort money from the IMF is a delusion.”

Tymofiy Mylovanov, the former Economy Minister, has been appointed as a “non-staff” adviser to Andriy Yermak, Zelensky’s chief of staff. After resigning from the Cabinet in March, Mylovanov has served as president of the Kyiv School of Economics and a Professor at the University of Pittsburgh.

Mylovanov, a University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, is known for advocating forceful, generally free market policies. Two weeks ago on the Svoboda Slova program he advocated a hard lockdown to slow down coronavirus epidemic, saying: “We should close businesses and provide them with financing. But we don’t have enough funding now. So in essence, we need to print money.” Yermak, who is recovering from coronavirus, is seen as behind the purge of pro-Western reformers since March.

In another personnel change, the Cabinet fired on Friday Olha Buslavets, the acting Energy Minister, replacing her with Yuriy Boyko, her deputy at the Ministry. Buslavets had served as acting minister for the last seven months as the government did not have the votes to win parliamentary approval. Some media outlets and some Rada members accused her of acting in favor of Rinat Akhmetov, owner of several coal mines and electricity generation companies. Boyko, a longterm state employee previously was deputy director of Energorynok, the state-owned company that intermediated between energy producers and energy distributing companies, or oblenergos.

In a black eye for Ukraine’s investment image, a pioneer Canadian renewables investor is accusing Igor Kolomoisky and his business partners of trying steal a 10.5 MW solar plant. Built by Calgary’s TIU Canada, the plant was inaugurated in January 2018  and hailed as the first investment under the new Canada Ukraine Free Trade Agreement. Built largely to feed Kolomoisky’s Nikopol Ferroalloy Plant, the solar plant’s substation is on the Ferroalloy plant grounds. The Ferroalloy plant controls road access to the solar plant.

In the summer of 2019, Kolomoisky stopped paying the green tariff for solar and wind electricity nationwide. On March 1st, the Ferroalloy plant cut off TIU Canada from the substation. Later, in face to face talks with TIU Canada, Kolomoisky offered to buy the plant he had closed.  CEO Michael Yurkovich says in a press release sent Thursday’s to Canada’s financial press: “This is a clear case of oligarchs pressuring a foreign investor and trying to steal assets.” Noting that the cutoff has cost his company €1.5 million since March, he said: “We are mustering our resources and will fight this case in Ukraine, Canada, or any jurisdiction needed to win.”

The TIU Canada plant in Nikopol is one of several completed solar plants around Ukraine that are not functioning because of problems connecting with power grids, Artem Semenyshyn, Executive Director of the Solar Energy Association of Ukraine, told Interfax Ukraine Friday. He said: “It is very bad when we lose the already built “green” generation facilities, which are now idle and do not increase the share of clean electricity.” If the government does not work to hook up these completed plants, the portion of solar power in the nation’s energy mix could start to fall, he warned.

TIU Canada’s Vita Solar is one of several dozen small renewable companies that are suing for nearly $18 million from the Guaranteed Buyer, the state company that is obliged to buy power from renewable developers. By the end of next year, the Guaranteed Buyer is to pay almost $1 billion in overdue electricity bills. Two weeks ago the Rada passed at first reading a bill to extend state guarantees to ‘green bonds’ that the government would launch to cover the debt.

President-elect Biden will be well-positioned to help President Zelenskiy fight against corruption in Ukraine, The Washington Post wrote last week in an editorial titled: “Ukraine’s anti-corruption push is stalled. Biden can help get it going again.” “Mr. Biden…has been one of Ukraine’s best American friends, visiting the country five times while Vice President and strongly supporting its battles against Russian aggression and domestic corruption,” writes the Post. “A Biden Justice Department could also renew efforts to pursue criminal corruption cases against key Ukrainian oligarchs, including Dmytro Firtash and Ihor Kolomoisky, who have been instrumental in blocking reforms and in promoting Russian interests in Ukraine.”

Ukraine averaged 14,500 new coronavirus infections on Friday and Saturday – double the level of one month earlier. Starting Saturday, police have the right to fine people not wearing masks in public places – mass transit, underground passageways, stores, and public buildings. The fines range from $6 to $9. On sidewalks, masks are encouraged, but not obligatory.

Under the current regime of weekend quarantines, 17,000 to 33,000 people could die of coronavirus in Ukraine over the next five weeks, according to a forecast by the Kyiv School of Economics. As of yesterday morning, 10,951 deaths in Ukraine are attributed to coronavirus this year.

Nationwide Ukraine, an average of 27% of PCR tests for Covid are showing positive results. “Uncontrolled outbreak” is how Pavlo Kovtonyuk, head of the School’s Center for Health Economics, described the situation in Kyiv City and nine regions: Zaporizhia, Sumy, Kyiv, Volyn, Rivne, Ivano-Frankivsk, Zhytomyr, Khmelnytsky, and Chernivtsi. In, Kyiv Mayor Klitschko reported a record 1,213 new cases on Saturday morning.

Editor’s Note: In farming countries, like Brazil and Argentina, they say economies grow at night –because crops grow while politicians sleep. If you want to connect with the real producers in Ukraine, turn in this afternoon to the Ukrainian Agribusiness Webinar: “Adapting market strategies to uncertainty.” Presented by the Strategy Council and moderated by Larysa Bondarieva of Credit Agricole, the webinar will feature such agro experts as: Alex Lissitsa, CEO, IMC; Kateryna Rybachenko, CEO, Agro Region; Olena Vorona, CFO, Agrotrade; Volodymyr Bondarenko, CFO, CYGNET Agrocompany; Taras Vysotskyi, Deputy Minister of Economic Development, Trade & Agriculture; and Vladyslava Magaletska, head of the State Service for Food Safety & Consumer Protection. Register here for the 4 pm Kyiv time start. With Best Regards, Jim Brooke

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Thursday, November 12

Weekend Quarantine Starts Tomorrow Night at Midnight...Protests Come from Restaurateurs and Shop Owners...Biden Victory Lowers Ukraine Risk in the Eurobond Market
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

Starting at midnight tomorrow night, Ukraine embarks on the first of three ‘weekend lockdowns’ – partial shutdowns where restaurants, shopping centers and fitness centers will be closed through Sunday nights. The goal is to break chain of transmission of coronavirus without a fulltime ‘hard’ lockdown and to do it before the Christmas shopping season starts in December. During these nationwide lockdowns, food stores, pharmacies, gas stations and banks will remain open. Mass transit will carry only seated passengers.

With 10 of Ukraine’s 24 regions reporting 70% or higher occupancy rates in their Covid wards, Prime Minister Shmyhal warned yesterday at a televised government meeting: “Given the current situation, by Dec. 10-15, if nothing is done, there will be no places in hospitals even in the corridors.” Earlier, he warned that Ukraine’s infection rate could double from the current level of 10,000 new cases a day  to 20,000 by the end of December.

Although the Health Ministry is increasing Ukraine’s Covid hospital beds by 50%, to 80,000, the Prime Minister warned last week: “We have arrived at the point of no return and are close to catastrophe.” He told the Rada:The situation is critical not only in Ukraine, but in the whole world. England, France, Austria, Germany, Spain are returning severe quarantine restrictions.”

Denmark has donated 50 ventilators to Ukraine, the Foreign Ministry reported Tuesday. DTEK and the Rinat Akhmetov Foundation have donated 62 ventilators since the start of the pandemic.

Health Minister Maksym Stepanov said yesterday: “We would like to do a complete lockdown for three weeks, but our economy won’t survive.” To ease economic pain, Prime Minister Shmyhal promised to give government aid to workers impacted by the partial shutdown. But the weekend quarantine plan drew a big protest in front of his office yesterday.

“Our main message is: ‘Let people work,’” Olena Obukhovska, spokesman for the Arricano shopping mall group, told Interfax-Ukraine. Drawing 300 people, the protest was supported by the Ukrainian Restaurant Association, the Association of Retailers of Ukraine, and the Ukrainian Council of Shopping Centers. Signs read: “Weekend Quarantine Means Millions of People Without Work,” “My Work is my Life,” and “Without Business, There is No Economy.”

Andriy Piontkovksy, founder of the Cherry Berry chain of candies and natural drinks shops, wrote on Facebook that half of his turnover takes place in shopping centers on weekends. He asked: “How can we reduce the rent and back-office wages by 50% in proportion to the 50% shortfall?”

Alexander Savilov, co-owner of the Salateira restaurant chain, wrote on Facebook that many entrepreneurs say a short, hard lockdown would be more effective. He said: “Many are in favor of a complete lockdown. Some owners of large service businesses say that such a measure can allow for high-quality negotiations with banks.”

Lviv, a city with a big tourism economy, is preparing a lawsuit against the weekend lockdown decision, Mayor Andriy Sadovyi wrote last night on Facebook. “Lockdown for the weekend is absurd,” said Sadovyi, who faces a second round of voting in a mayoral runoff on Nov. 22. Despite the weekend lockdowns, mayoral votes are expected to be held on Nov. 15 and 22.

The most recent political notables testing positive for coronavirus are: Dmytro Razumkov, speaker of the Rada, and Oleksiy Reznikov, deputy Prime Minister and minister for Reintegration of Temporarily Occupied Territories. From Germany, a political ally of Kharkiv Mayor Henndiy Kernes posted a photo of the 61-year-old Covid sufferer in a Berlin hospital bed — breathing tubes up his nose and a dazed look on his face. In Kyiv, Olena Zelenska, wife of the President, reported Tuesday: “On the President’s health: everything is fine. He feels well. He has isolated, but continues to work.”

On President-elect Joe Biden, Serhiy Sydorenko writes in an analysis in Evropeiska Pravda:  “Implementation of reforms in Ukraine is going to be the main indicator on which the US would premise building relations with Ukraine. This was stated in Biden’s statements, it was a major requirement by American diplomacy, and, finally, this was what Biden himself made a priority in the last years in office as VP…Biden’s presidency is very good news for the reform-minded political players in Ukraine, especially those focusing on anti-corruption. And Washington will respond firmly to attempts of undermining anti-corruption infrastructure in Ukraine.”

With Joe Biden’s political emergence, perceived Ukraine risk has dropped and yields are down on Ukraine’s benchmark Eurobonds. Since Oct. 12, yields on the bond maturing in 2025 have dropped 90 basis points, to 6.04%. Yields on the 2032 bond have dropped 65 basis points, to 7.06%

Ukreximbank, the nation’s third largest bank, is repurchasing its Eurobonds maturing in 2022 and 2025 for a total of $300 million. The state-owned bank reports that the redemption price of bonds maturing in 2025 was 104.5% of face value and of bonds maturing in 2022 was10 3.75%. Goldman Sachs International was the dealer-manager of the debt reduction exercise. Eugene Metzger, the new board chairman of Ukreximbank said: “The market situation contributed to the successful completion of the book of applications for redemption.”

Timothy Ash writes from London: “With Ukrainian Eurobonds ignoring the local constitutional crisis and taking their lead from global beta, I would be amazed if the Ministry of Finance does not tap the Eurobond market very soon…It must be mega tempting to come to market – and especially as it’s hard to see any more IMF money this year.”

On the hryvnia bond market, the Finance Ministry raised rates and quadrupled government bond sales Tuesday, compared to the week prior. The Finance Ministry reports that it raised the equivalent of $280 million, largely on the strength of 3-month hryvnia bonds which went for 9%, up from 7.5% last month. The auction sold $10 million worth of 1-year bonds at 10.42%, virtually the same rate as two weeks ago. The Ministry rejected as too high all bids for its 2-year bonds. For dollar denominated bonds, the ministry sold a total of $82.3 million to 35 bidders with a weighted average yield of 3.62%.

Central bank governor Kyrylo Shevchenko is in Washington this week, trying to revive the stalled IMF deal. Against that background, Concorde Capital’s Evgeniya Akhtyrko writes: “A significant increase of interest rates for 3-month bonds helped to raise more auction receipts. However, the limited number of bidders for these bonds implies that most of the hryvnia receipts at the auction are still being generated by state-owned banks.”

Editor’s Note: Ukraine’s government hopes to avoid the economic pain of a full bore ‘hard’ lockdown of the type we endured last Spring. Hopefully, we will not get the worst of all outcomes: economic pain in November, and then, a surge of coronavirus in December, during the shopping and socializing season. Either way, tradition will intervene forcefully and provide the two-week lockdown everyone loves. From late December to mid-January  Ukraine celebrates two New Years and, now, three Christmases. With Best Regards, Jim Brooke