Russian Metropolitan Areas: Crisis Resilience in 2020

The economic turmoil of 2020 is hammering real estate and construction, but its degree is not the same across Russia. We saw this happening during the 2008 and 2014 crises, and we are watching it right now. Tracking the situation on the real estate markets of large Russian cities, we see that the dynamics of market indicators in crisis periods have always been different in various cities under the same external conditions, and different regional real estate markets react to macroeconomic shocks in different ways.

Written by Ilya Volodko and Andrey Vakulenko – MACON Realty Group, EECFA Russia

Moscow city – Source of picture

The 2020 crisis and regionality in Russia

While the past crises were mostly of macroeconomic nature, the crisis in 2020, in addition to the macro component such as falling oil prices and the ruble’s volatility, has a strong local component: different regimes and periods of lockdown measures due to the pandemic and the variety and unequal effectiveness of regional measures to support businesses and the population. Because of this, the current crisis affects local real estate markets even more asymmetrically.

One of the main influences on the degree of penetration of the crisis into the largest cities of Russia will be exerted by the structure of their economies because the degree of damage caused by lockdown and other measures to combat the pandemic on different sectors is mixed. To analyse these differences, we have used data from the Institute for Urban Economics Foundation on the structure of the economy of Russian cities and the volume of the Gross Urban Product (GUP).

To understand how strongly a metropolitan economy reacts to the crisis, MACON consultants have assigned a stability coefficient to each metropolitan economic sector (classification according to the Brookings Institution methodology), depending on its vulnerability, recovery rate and predicted consequences. Coefficient 1 means the greatest stability/no influence, 0 means the least stability/complete or partial temporary liquidation of the industry:

  • Local/non-market services. Stability coefficient 1. The most stable sector, including state and municipal services, education, health care, social support, culture and art, recreation, etc. Its volume is set to remain or increase due to additional indexation or one-time/permanent support measures.
  • Manufacturing. Stability coefficient 0.8. Despite a possible decline in output and employment, the sector is sufficiently stable as severe lockdown measures do not apply. Since these are large businesses, they receive the greatest support both directly (financially) and through government orders, tax incentives, subsidized interest rates and easier access to debt financing.
  • Utilities. Stability coefficient 0.8. They remain fundamentally resilient to the crisis. They are negatively affected by shrinkage in business activity, which is offset by the rise in consumption by individuals, many of whom still work remotely. Yet, the difference in tariffs for individuals and businesses is hurting earnings.
  • Commodities. Stability coefficient 0.7. It includes mining, agriculture, forestry, hunting and fishing. The impact is more significant, the dynamics of commodity prices has a negative trend. But given the large volume of employment, the traditional volatility in these markets, and the non-stop nature of many extractive industries, the sector is most likely to continue working and maintain basic employment in mid-term.
  • Construction. Stability coefficient 0.5. A major negative impact due to the industry’s high dependence on any macroeconomic fluctuations, as well as with the multiplier effect, due to which even a slight decrease in construction volumes causes great changes in related industries. But the nature of the industry guarantees a considerable degree of state support and hence stability.
  • Transportation. Stability coefficient 0.5. The sector contracted due to both direct factors during the lockdown (almost complete elimination of air traffic, reduction of railway transportation, prohibition of movement within cities, between municipalities and regions), and indirect factors during the lockdown (reduction of wholesale and retail trade turnover). Yet, the need to ensure commodity logistics preserves industry volumes at an acceptable level.
  • Business/Finance. Stability coefficient 0.4. One of the most vulnerable sectors of the metropolitan economy, including financial services, insurance, real estate and new technologies (science and technology). It is characterized by a great drop in business activity and a decrease in physical access to such services.
  • Trade and tourism. Stability coefficient 0.1. The segment of retail and wholesale trade, catering, hotel and conference services is the most affected in the current crisis due to the impossibility of carrying out such activities during the lockdown. It is aggravated by the low ability of the sector to recover fast, the simplicity of liquidation procedures, the lack of access to credit and inadequate state support.

Based on data on the structure of metropolitan economies, as well as the above estimates and stability coefficients, it is possible to compile a ranking of the largest Russian metropolitan areas in terms of the degree of resistance to the crisis, where the first place/highest value means a higher degree of stability.

The findings

The metropolitan areas of Perm, Chelyabinsk and Saratov demonstrate the greatest stability. In these cities, on average, more than 60% of the economy is accounted for by the 3 basic sectors: local/non-market services, manufacturing, utilities. These are either fully controlled by the state/municipality or have a major systemic/city-forming character allowing them to receive benefits that contribute to the preservation of employment and production.

The metropolitan areas of Moscow, St. Petersburg, Krasnodar and Yekaterinburg turned out to be the least resistant to the crisis. The share of the 3 basic sectors (local/non-market services, manufacturing, utilities), in contrast to the leaders, is much lower here: on average 45% versus 63%. However, the share of Business/Finance and Trade and tourism sectors, which are the most vulnerable in the current situation, is much higher (42% versus 23%). But while Moscow and St. Petersburg, due to broader financial opportunities, can offset these factors with active financial, tax and other support of the population and businesses, non-capital cities do not have such a resource.

We have found that the poorer the city, the more stable it is in the current crisis. The paradox is that Russian metropolitan areas that actively developed before the current crisis with a great deal of financial, business services, improved construction market and IT-technologies are in a much more difficult situation today than those with an economic structure from the pre-digital era and with industrial enterprises and non-market services.

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Construction and resilience

The different resilience to the crisis in various cities has a direct consequence on the segments of the construction market. Apart from the obviously severely affected office and retail, the most indicative is housing where demand reacts rather quickly to macroeconomic shocks and changes in the external environment. The number of housing transactions in Q2 2020 compared to Q1 2020 decreased in most Russian cities and regions owing to the dropping income of the population, the restrictions on movement, and the temporary impossibility of state registration of transactions. However, the most pronounced decline in demand was precisely in the cities with the least crisis-resistant economies which experienced a bigger increase in unemployment and a much bigger reduction in general business activity and a decrease in household income.

Russia C-19 situation in construction (status on 16 April 2020)

Written by Andrey Vakulenko – MACON Realty Group, EECFA Russia

Physical restrictions

  • The first case of COVID-19 was registered in Russia on March 2. Since then, the situation has developed quite rapidly and on April 16, the country has 27.9 thousand cases. There is no official quarantine or emergency throughout the country to date. The government declared a «non-working days regime» from March 30 to April 30. During this period only vital organizations and areas of activity continue to operate (continuous production; medical organizations; organizations providing the population with food and essential goods; banks and financial organizations and some others). Other companies must temporarily suspend business (while maintaining wages to employees), or, if they have an opportunity, they can switch to remote work.
  • Also, on March 30, a self-isolation regime was announced on a national scale. This regime implies that citizens should not go outside without urgent need and should limit contact with other people. At the same time, the regime of self-isolation is not a quarantine, but an easier form of restrictions, whose violation entails only administrative responsibility, and not criminal, like violation of quarantine.
  • However, in different regions the situation with incidence is developing in different ways and in order to contain the spread of the virus in some regions full quarantine or additional restrictive measures have been introduced with a complete ban on moving around the city and region without special permits. Such an enhanced regime with more stringent restrictions on movement is temporarily in effect in 26 out of 85 regions of the Russian Federation. In Krasnodar region too.

Construction works

  • The construction sector is ranked by the government as a continuous production, therefore, currently there is no complete or partial ban on construction work, however, the situation will depend on the incidence rate and the dynamics of the spread of the virus. Of all the Russian regions, temporary restrictions on construction work have been introduced only in Moscow and the Moscow region (locations with the most COVID cases). Here the construction of all objects, except medical and transport ones, has temporarily been suspended. In other regions of Russia, a construction stop was discussed, but not undertaken.

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Anticovid measures in construction

  • Although construction has not stopped anywhere, except for the capital’s region, the industry is already ranked among those that will be most affected by the crisis. The final package of measures to support the construction industry is still under discussion, but it is already clear that these measures will extend mainly to the biggest segment of the construction industry in Russia – residential construction. The anti-crisis program, currently being developed by the Ministry of Construction, includes subsidizing interest rates on mortgage loans to support demand, as well as credit and tax moratorium for developers and reducing the cost of project financing (lower lending rates).
  • Another possible direction of support may be the purchase of unsold apartments from developers by state-owned companies. Purchased apartments can be used for social rentals or sold later on the open market.
  • In addition, until January 1, 2021 housing developers will not be fined or otherwise punished for the improper fulfillment of obligations under contracts in shared construction participation (for the delays in the completion of residential buildings).
  • In non-residential and civil engineering segments, as support measures, it is planned to increase a number of government contracts and lift advances on those contracts from 30% to 50%.

Factors limiting the construction sector’s performance

  • The current situation in the Russian construction industry is determined by the macroeconomic background which depends not only on the negative effects of the coronavirus, but also on the consequences of the “price war” with Saudi Arabia in the oil market and the OPEC + deal, which was disrupted in early March, followed by a collapse in prices for oil and the rapid devaluation of the national currency. Many experts talk about the “perfect storm” in which the Russian economy is now. All this will directly affect the income level of citizens, which will also inevitably affect the construction industry, especially housing construction.
  • At the same time, the effectiveness of supporting demand with the planned subsidization of mortgage rates is most likely to only slow down its decline, but not prevent it. Banks will not significantly increase mortgage rates, but the share of approved applications for borrowers from the most affected sectors of the Russian economy may decrease: tourism, hospitality, air travel, advertising, catering, non-food retail, etc. Tighter requirements for borrowers and a drop in real income will inevitably lead to a reduction in the number of transactions in the market.
  • The ruble exchange rate is highly dependent on the dynamics of oil prices, which, despite OPEC + new agreements, are expected to be at low levels at least until the autumn or until the end of the year. Accordingly, the ruble exchange rate against world currencies should remain at the current low level, contributing to the rapid rise in price of imported building materials, the price of many of which is tied to the dollar.
  • Limited workforce is also a direct consequence of the pandemic and will also adversely affect the construction industry. Traditionally, a large number of guest workers from neighboring countries are employed in the Russian construction industry. Closing borders with these countries is expected to result in a shortage of cheap labor.

Construction statistics or constructing statistics?

Development of Russian construction statistics

Written by Andrey Vakulenko – MACON Realty Group, EECFA Russia

Assessing the development of construction industry on national scale is practically impossible without high quality statistical data that allow us to draw conclusions on industry trends and create any forecast model. The quality of Russian official statistics and its reliability have increasingly been becoming the subject of public discussion and the work quality of statistical service has been questioned by independent experts and economists. To overcome the problems, at end 2018, a comprehensive plan was developed for the reform and modernization of the Russian Federal State Statistics Service (Rosstat).

Design by EECFA Central, source of original picture: nlomov-pnzreg-ru

In 2018 the Russian economy seemed to have registered the highest growth over the past 6 years. According to Rosstat, GDP grew from 1.6% in 2017 to 2.3% in 2018; the highest value since 2012 (+3.7%). Such pronounced growth came as a surprise since all official and unofficial forecasts were much less optimistic: an average of 1.5%-1.8%. To a large extent, the successes of the Russian economy in 2018 derived from artificial manipulations, i.e. Rosstat’s review of the growth rate of the construction sector in 2017-2018. The indicator of the volume of construction works completed over 12 months has drastically changed: 2018 was to amount to RUB 8.4 trillion, 5.3% higher, or RUB 422 billion higher (at current prices) than in 2017. It was astonishing as previously Rosstat estimated construction works for 11 months of 2018 to post a modest growth of 0.5%. The 2018 growth in construction was a record for the last 10 years: it was only in 2008 when the sector grew at a higher rate (by 12.8% per year). On the contrary, between 2014 and 2017, construction industry saw a steady decline, which, according to official statistical calculations, gave way to a rather sharp increase in 2018. The final contribution of the construction sector to Russian GDP in 2018 was 0.3pp, although in 2017 it was previously negative (-0.1 pp). Such drastic changes caused a wide discussion for the following reasons:

  • Weak argumentation for revising statistics. The Ministry of Economic Development and Rosstat recalculated construction data in late 2018 and early 2019 on grounds of clarifying previously submitted information by respondents at the end of the year. (This is due to the peculiarities of statistical accounting in construction in Russia: the peak of completions is at the very end of the year and then statistics are updated for a long time. Final data for the reporting year are published in spring and some figures may be adjusted retrospectively for a longer period). However, in this case, Rosstat adjusted the data by RUB 565bln, referring to only one project (Yamal LNG), which adds only RUB 241bln. The artificial increase in the indicator couldn’t be explained by only one project in one region, but Rosstat did not voice other official explanations.
  • Growth of indirect construction indicators. Volume of completed construction works posted a massive rise against the backdrop of a decline in many industries related to construction, for example, in the production and transportation of building materials. In 2018, rail transportation of building materials for the year decreased by 6.8%, cement transportation also fell by 6.5%, cement production shrank by 2%, brick production dropped by 4.8%, and the construction of metal structures saw a 1.5% slump. Thus, according to Rosstat, production and transportation of building materials dipped, while more construction works were carried out. An important indicator here is also growth in the volume of housing completion, the most capacious segment of the Russian construction industry, which at end 2018 showed a steady decline by more than 4% (and by 6% in the multi-unit segment).
  • Administrative reasons. In 2017, Rosstat, previously a fully independent agency under the Government, became subordinate to the Ministry of Economic Development. This created an internal conflict of interest since Rosstat data directly or indirectly indicate the effectiveness of the Ministry and the reliability of its forecasts.

EECFA’s Russia Construction Forecast Report with detailed analysis and forecast for the construction market of Russia can be ordered on http://eecfa.com/

Over the last year, official statistics was at the center of public discussion in the scientific community due to regular adjustments and revisions. And construction is not the only area of statistics affected by data manipulation, there are examples for other important macroeconomic indicators being revised:

  • At end December 2018, Rosstat significantly improved data on Russia’s GDP growth rate in 2015-2017. The new estimate showed that in 2016 the economy expanded by 0.3% despite the previous drop of 0.2%. GDP growth in 2017 also turned out to be adjusted, although less: +1.6% instead of +1.5%. Decline in 2015 was also less than originally indicated: -2.3% instead of -2.8% (the first estimate by Rosstat was -3.7%). The recalculation was associated with obtaining newly revised data.
  • In October 2018, public attention focused on published data on the real income of the population for January-June 2018, which, as per Rosstat, in the whole country rose by 2.4%. However, 6 out of 8 federal districts registered negative growth (from -1.6% to -0.4%), and the income growth of the population in the remaining 2 districts was +0.5% and +2.0%. The apparent contradiction in statistics was not explained in any way, and from early 2019, Rosstat switched to a new methodology for calculating population income and recalculated all data on this indicator from 2013. As a result, it turned out that in 2013-2018 real income decline was 8.3%, instead of 10.9% (previous estimate), and in 2018, the initial drop of 0.2% was replaced by a rise of 0.2%. Thus, growth rate of the real income indicator has been revised upward.
  • Rosstat’s recent upward revision of industrial production data for 2016–2018 also raised many questions. Instead of stagnation in the industry in recent years, new statistics began to show moderate growth. For example, at end 2017, Rosstat estimated growth in industry at +1.0%, but after the revision at the level of +2.1%. Similarly, data for 2016 were revised upward. It was an interesting coincidence that Rosstat was fully in line with the forecast of the Ministry of Economic Development published even before the final results of 2017 became known.

In 2019, Rosstat conducted a radical revision of macroeconomic statistics since 2014. The losses of the economy from the “sanction war” and the slump in world oil prices were exaggerated and the economic recession was slight and short-lived. According to newly recalculated data, there was neither a long economic downturn, nor a big recession in industry and construction, and 2015 was the only crisis year.

Large-scale revisions by Rosstat, the wide range of indicators that they affect, their upbeat nature (indicators are only revised upward) and the often insufficient or unconvincing argument behind raise doubts in all who use these data. Refinement of statistics and revision itself is a normal practice taking place in any country, any revision though should have a clear and understandable explanation, and if such adjustments frequently occur, the question of the quality of applied methodology for collecting and analyzing statistical data arises.

Periodic revisions of statistical data in construction and other sectors of the economy are not the only difficulties. There are weaknesses not only in the statistical office itself, but also in the whole system of collecting and publishing statistical information in Russia such as:

Continue reading Construction statistics or constructing statistics?

Russia’s mortgage boom

Written by Andrey Vakulenko – MACON Realty Group, EECFA Russia

The Russian residential market will long be the driving force behind the whole construction sector due to the continued high demand of most of the country’s population for improving their housing conditions. Mortgage loans, the most common means for purchasing homes in Russia in recent years, have finally strengthened, which compensates for the crisis years of 2015-2016 in Russia. As there has been a major drop in the population’s income, and it persists, mortgage lending is the only way to increase home purchases. The mortgage market easily overcame the crisis of 2015-2016 in Russia and already in 2017 exceeded the peak indicators of the pre-crisis year of 2014. During the first half of 2018, the trend towards growth further strengthened: the volume of issued mortgage loans rose by 68%, and its share in the total number of housing transactions reached a record 54% in the primary market. All this shows the current high demand for mortgage loans.

To explain the explosive growth in mortgage lending, the fundamental factors shaping the housing market need to be considered:

  1. Level of individuals’ living space provision (sqm/person);
  2. Demand for housing (how much more housing needs to be built, so that the level of living space provision can reach an acceptable value – about 30 sqm per person);
  3. Affordability of housing for purchase (the ratio of the income of buyers and the price of real estate).

As per the Federal State Statistics Service of the Russian Federation, to date, the total housing stock in Russia is about 3.4 billion sqm, only slightly more than 23 sq km in terms of the country’s permanent population (146.9 million as of January 1, 2018) per person. This level can be considered low compared to most developed foreign countries (39 sqm/person in France and Germany; 70 sqm/person in the USA, 76 sqm/person in Canada). Minimally comfortable living conditions are achieved with a security level of at least 30 sqm/person as per the social standards of the United Nations, and it is the target of public housing programs in Russia. To ensure that the population’s living space has reached this target, while maintaining the country’s population at the current level, another 1.0 billion sqm of living space should be built. Thus, the low level of housing provision is the guarantor of the preservation of demand for new housing projects for a long term.

The second factor ensuring long-term demand for housing is the quality of the existing housing stock, which has more than 33% (or about 1.2 billion sqm) of housing built before 1970. Even with the record volumes of housing construction registered in Russia in recent years (in 2014-2017 about 80 million sqm annually) and even if it stays at the current level, it will still take at least 28 years to reach the minimum acceptable security and to fully replace the old housing stock. In general, housing demand in Russia will not be Continue reading Russia’s mortgage boom

Housing market in Russia: Demand potential shaping future market dynamics

While in the EECFA Forecast Report Russia we estimate/forecast residential output, this article is looking at another angle of predicting housing market developments: demand potential in the Russian housing market (the number of households able to buy housing) as the main indicator of further market dynamics. Positive macroeconomic indicators in Russia currently are suggesting growth in real incomes and an increase in the population’s solvency, which in the near-term future is set to raise the number of households able to buy housing. This growth in demand potential will have a positive impact on residential output, yet, this is not something that will happen overnight: the Russian housing market is predicted to continue to slump for the time being. Nevertheless, the predicted growth in demand potential will play a major role in halting this drop, leading to an expansion in the housing market in 2019.

Written by Andrey Vakulenko – MACON Realty Group, EECFA Russia

‘North Valley’ Residential Complex in St. Petersburg – Source: http://www.severdol.ru

Having the largest share in total construction both in value and volume terms, the housing market is the engine of the whole Russian construction market. Any change – decline or growth – in the housing subsector may have a decisive effect on the Russian construction industry as a whole; as it was the case, in particular, during the crisis of the Russian economy in 2015-2016. In this period, the housing sector enjoyed an unprecedented level of state support (more details in the current/previous EECFA reports), which prevented the entire construction industry from collapsing.

The state of the housing market primarily depends on the ability of the population to purchase housing. Other market factors, such as the volume of supply in the market, the level of competition or the cost of housing are secondary. It is the ability of citizens to buy housing that ultimately determines the total volume of effective demand, which in turn regulates development activity and price trends in the local housing market. At the same time, the indicators of the population’s need for housing are also secondary in terms of the dynamics of the market situation; they are of an abstract nature and cannot be used to predict the situation in the market. The need for housing is a conditional market potential, which, without the ability to buy housing is never realized. The ability of the population to purchase housing is the real market potential, which – in most cases – is realized in transactions. The level of housing provision (need) affects only the nature of demand: investment purchase, purchase of a first home, improvement of housing conditions, among others. Continue reading Housing market in Russia: Demand potential shaping future market dynamics