Information Notice of Bank of Russia:
Inflation declines ahead of the forecast. Over the first twenty days in March, annual consumer price growth dropped to an estimated 4.3%, from 5% in January 2017. February saw a continued slowdown in price growth across all key groups of goods and services, and a reduction in seasonally adjusted monthly inflation. Inflation slowdown was broadly facilitated by the ruble appreciation amid higher than expected oil prices, persistent interest in investment in Russian assets among external investors, and a drop in the sovereign risk premium. Bumper harvests of 2015-2016 resulted in high stocks of agricultural products, leading to a material slowdown in food inflation and falling vegetable and fruit prices.
Disinflationary drag from domestic demand persists. Households broadly tend to demonstrate savings behaviour patterns. There are signs of revival in consumption and wages are growing both in nominal and real terms. Noticeable inflation deceleration will be conducive to a further reduction in inflation expectations among households and businesses. The Bank forecasts that the annual consumer price growth will reduce to 4% by the end of 2017 and will remain within this target range in 2018-2019.
In order to maintain the propensity to save and anchor sustainable inflation slowdown driven by demand-side restrictions, monetary conditions should remain moderately tight. A gradual decline in nominal interest rates and the easing of non-price bank lending conditions will remain. Given banks’ conservative policy stance, these trends will mostly influence high-quality borrowers. The Finance Ministry’s purchases of foreign currency in the FX market did not have any substantial impact on the ruble exchange rate dynamics as the driving factors of its appreciation remained dominant. Short-term inflation risks related to these operations did not materialise.
The pace of economic recovery is higher than expected. Estimates show that quarterly GDP has been going up since 2016 Q2 and the trend is set to continue. Fixed capital investment is expected to advance in Q1. Unemployment remains persistently low. Polling data reflects an improvement in business and household sentiment, conducive to favourable economic dynamics. According to the estimates, the observed annual rise in real wages fosters gradual growth in consumer activity without posing an additional proinflationary pressure amid increased supply of goods and services.
The Bank takes into consideration the oil market uncertainty and keeps pursuing a conservative approach to the forecast, which assumes an oil price reduction to $40 per barrel by the end of 2017 and its further staying near this level. GDP is expected to grow by 1-1.5% in 2017 and by 1-2% in 2018-2019 considering the current dynamics of recovery processes and higher economy resilience to fluctuations in external economic environment. It takes structural changes and time for positive trends to evolve and take root.
The risks that inflation will miss the 4% target by the end of 2017 have slightly abated. Nevertheless, there are still risks that inflation may fail to anchor at the target level in the medium run. These risks are implied by the inertia of inflation expectations, as well as a possible rapid decline in households’ propensity to save. Volatility in the global commodity and financial markets may weigh negatively on expectations with regard to exchange rate and inflation. The said risks may also materialise over the mid-term horizon. Moderately tight monetary policy will allow to limit their effects and maintain consumer price growth rates close to 4%.