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Russia's weak investment set to spur rate debate
January 25, 2013 / 3:12 PM / 5 years ago

Russia's weak investment set to spur rate debate

* Fixed investments down 0.7 pct in December

* Dec retail sales up 5.0 pct, real wages up 0.3 pct

MOSCOW, Jan 25 (Reuters) - Russia’s falling investment demand and declining real wage growth may fuel further the debate over the need to ease monetary policy.

Fixed investment of Russian firms fell by 0.7 percent in December, the Federal Statistics Service said in its monthly report on Friday, its weakest showing since February 2011.

Firms held back investments last year on the back of political uncertainty during the election period and the debt crisis in Europe.

Fixed investments rose 6.7 percent over 2012 in year-on-year terms compared with a 7.8 percent forecast by the Economy Ministry and 8.3 percent growth in 2011.

Bankers and some government officials have started calling for more monetary stimulus to support growth, amid signs the economy is losing momentum. Industrial growth slowed in December, data showed this week.

The Economy Ministry has blamed the central bank’s monetary policy tightening last September for the slowdown, while banks are urging the central bank to provide long-term liquidity so they can meet demand for credit.

The central bank has kept markets guessing about its next rate move. The Bank of Russia left monetary rates unchanged in January, but sounded a relatively hawkish note on inflation.

First Deputy Chairman Alexei Ulyukayev said this week he saw no grounds for further monetary stimulus but left open the direction of the central bank’s next interest-rate decision.

Upbeat retail data and a tight labour market indicated strong consumer demand in December, however, a sharp decline in real wages growth signalled weaker activity in the coming months.

Retail sales came in stronger than expected in December, rising by 5 percent before the New Year holidays. But real wages rose by 0.3 percent on the year, compared to analysts’ expectations for a 5.3 percent increase.

“Domestic demand is losing steam, but high inflation will likely continue acting as a hurdle for any calls on lower policy rates in the coming months,” Dmitry Polevoy, an economist at ING Eurasia Bank said in an emailed note.

Analysts, polled by Reuters in December, predicted the central bank would hold interest rates in the first quarter of 2013, seeking confirmation that inflation is slowing before it eases interest rates to revive a slowing economy. (Writing by Maya Dyakina; Additional reporting by Maria Kiselyova; editing by Ron Askew; Editing by Megan Davies and Douglas Busvine and Ron Askew)

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