Russia’s Barter System for Debt

Yulia Latynina addresses the recent news of a “review” being initiated by Igor Sechin over Norilsk Nickel deals, meaning that the government is preparing to use the crisis to “leech off a company’s profits and to seize its assets.”  However this constant threat of state expropriation has a serious economic impact, which drives down the prices of assets while inflating the value of debt – creating a barter system which inhibits Russia’s ability to rebound from this recession.  Yulia makes a very interesting argument here, but her unnecessary jab about the anti-crisis measures found at the bottom of vodka bottle reveals a simple frustration with Russia’s current political apathy.

Oleg Deripaska is a perfect example. He has about $30 billion in debts, but he is not about to part willingly with a single asset. His whole strategy consists of dragging out negotiations in the hope that the dollar drops in value, making his dollar-dominated debts more affordable.

The overall volume of Russia’s assets has shrunk, even while its debt obligations remain unchanged. The only way of “solving” the disproportion of debts to assets is barter, and this means that even well-managed companies won’t be able to operate normally.

Imagine, for example, that you own a gold miningcompany that happens to be the only business left in Russia with nodebts. Obviously, if every other company has resorted to the bartersystem for paying its bills, you wouldn’t be foolish enough to continueusing cash.

What does that mean in terms of social unrest? Itwon’t be anything like the mass protests that our leaders fear so much.In Russia, the main form of social protest in response to worseningconditions is more often than not self-degradation. The averageunemployed factory worker will not start up his own business or take tothe streets. He will most likely grab a bottle of vodka and quietlydrink himself into oblivion for the next couple of years. This is hisbest anti-crisis program.

Russian authorities became accustomedto making bad decisions when money was in abundance, and the relativecost of their mistakes was negligible. Now the cost of making baddecisions has increased exponentially.