Back to the future as G20 comes to Russia

Mon Feb 11, 2013 5:12am EST
 

By Douglas Busvine

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Group of 20 policymakers have an ideal chance in Moscow this week to ponder whether monetary policy largesse will blunt their will to carry out the economic reforms needed to put global growth on a sustainable footing.

On their drive from the airport to the city center, down highways clogged with luxury cars, it may dawn on finance ministers and central bankers that Russia, this year's G20 host, got there first.

Some will check in to the five-star Ritz-Carlton hotel near the Manezh, the former 19th-century cavalry stable by the Kremlin walls where they meet this weekend. But convenience comes at a price: almost $17,000 per night for a luxury suite.

The world's largest oil producer has, through much of the Vladimir Putin era, been minting money as its central bank bought up hundreds of billions of export petrodollars, and the government spent its way out of the 2009 slump.

But the side-effects -- political complacency, declining competitiveness and a misallocation of capital towards conspicuous consumption and prestige projects -- increasingly outweigh the benefits to Russia's $2.1 trillion economy.

Some economists say Russia's story could foretell the outcome of ultra-loose monetary policy in the United States, Britain, Japan and symbolized by European Central Bank President Mario Draghi's vow last July to do "whatever it takes" to see the euro through its debt crisis.

"Russia has oil; Europe has Draghi," Tim Ash, the London-based head of emerging markets research at Standard Bank, said on a recent trip to Moscow. "Europe is catching up to all the problems that Russia has done nothing about for the past decade."

Others say that may be stretching the point but there are certainly signs that the zeal for major economic and regulatory reforms in Europe has faded somewhat since Draghi took the sting out of the debt crisis.   Continued...

 
A general view of the Ritz-Carlton hotel in central Moscow February 11, 2013. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin