Skyrocketing inflation is forcing more and more Russians to take out expensive short-term loans to last until the end of the month when they get their paycheck.
Russians took out more consumer loans just to cover daily expenses in May this year than during the coronavirus crisis. Short-term loans for “emergency purposes” to cover a monthly shortfall accounted for 10% of all personal loans taken out in May, compared to 6% in the same month a year earlier, reports the Central Bank of Russia (CBR). . The number of applications for these loans also increased by 1 pp from April to May and by 2.5% year on year, Kommersant reports.
In addition, the average loan size has also increased. Experts believe it’s because banks have clamped down on the number of loans they issue and are imposing stricter rating criteria in a bid to contain the growth of non-performing loans (NPLs) as Russia heads towards recession, because of the extreme sanctions imposed. by the West after Russia invaded Ukraine in February.
“In May 2022, 2.38 million payday loans of up to RUB 30,000 ($563) for up to 30 days were issued for a total of RUB 21.59 billion. This is the highest volume since December last year, and is 16% higher than the previous year. According to the Central Bank, in January-March throughout Russia microloans were issued [worth] 175 billion rubles,” the National Bureau of Credit History said.
Soaring inflation is at the root of the problem, which is eating away at incomes faster than companies can raise wages. Inflation is at multi-year highs even after falling from 17.8% in April to 17.1% in May.
And the pressure is unlikely to let up any time soon, even after the CBR’s emergency interest rate hike to 20% just after Russian forces crossed the Ukrainian border, which appears to have effectively contained inflation. As price growth pressures ease, CBR cut rates to pre-war level of 9.5%, but inflation remains in double digits, disproportionately hurting the poorest .
The CBR currently forecasts average inflation this year in the range of 14%-17% and 5%-7% next year, while the prime interest rate is expected to fall back towards 4% in 2024, says the CBR , but that doesn’t mean helping low-income families in the meantime, because high inflation reduces real incomes.
Less than a quarter (23%) of Russian borrowers are confident they will be able to repay loans they have already taken out, according to a newly released survey by Kept (formerly KPMG) conducted in April-May, while three-quarters of Russians anticipate problems in meeting debt payment obligations. The survey covered not only individual bank customers, but also small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). This uncertainty is caused by the fear of losing jobs. Unemployment has not risen from the current figure near post-Soviet lows of just over 4%, despite an expected economic contraction of 8% to 15% this year, but regional authorities are already signaling early signs growing tension in labor markets. At the height of the coronavirus (COVID-19), pandemic unemployment exceeded 8% and is expected to rise to those levels in the coming year. In anticipation, the vast majority (93%) of Kept respondents plan to cut costs in anticipation of tougher times ahead.
Borrower anxiety has yet to show up in banking statistics, although the CBR stopped reporting some key variables like NPLs and industry earnings in April.
As of April 1, loans overdue by 90 days or more (the definition of NPL) exceeded 1 trillion rubles, but as a percentage this is only 4.1% of banks’ portfolio and less than last September ( 4.3%), reports Kommersant. Sberbank told the publication that the share of loans overdue by a day or more is only 1.5% and that “no problems” are visible with regard to corporate clients.
However, banks and the government are already taking action: banks can restructure problem loans and the CBR said in its last May banking update that the government has used money from the National Welfare Fund (NWF) to recapitalize important companies. The problems were mitigated by credit vacancies and restructurings, without which bad debts in April-May could have increased by 15%, Kommersant cites experts who estimate that one in seven borrowers have lost the ability to repay their debt. Independent expert Andrei Barkhota said Kommersant that bad debts could increase by 25 to 30% by the end of the year.
The state is already planning to step in to cushion the blow with a 4 trillion ruble ($67.8 billion) welfare package to cushion the economic blow of war in Ukraine. The Ministry of Finance announced a 10% increase in pensions in early June, the Bank of Finland’s Institute for Emerging Economies (BOFIT) said in its June 10 weekly update. As Russians still retire relatively young, families with a pensioner, who usually also have a part-time job, tend to be among the safest. Most Russians see a pension not as a retirement plan, but as a supplement that pays for a better standard of living in the second half of their life.
“The previous 8.6% increase in pensions was scheduled for the start of this year. The increases are intended to compensate retirees for rising consumer prices. As for the increase now made, it represents compensation for the sharp rise in prices that followed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” reports BOFIT.
The government’s spending plan aims to boost wages and social benefits for millions in a bid to mitigate the economic fallout from the country’s invasion of Ukraine. A bill signed by Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin on June 21 will also increase Russia’s minimum wage and living wage, by around 10%, according daily business Vedomosti. Under the new measures, families with children under three will also increase. There will also be more financial support for low-income families with children up to age 17. The proposal was presented by President Vladimir Putin last week at a televised meeting of the Russian Council of State, where he stressed that the main task of the Kremlin would be to ensure that the minimum wage remains above of the “minimum subsistence”.