Given the results of the Mueller investigation, which concluded that Russia had interfered in the 2016 U.S. election, one could forgive Americans for being wary of the country as the 2020 vote approaches.
Russia is still operating under U.S. (and international) sanctions for its meddling in the U.S. election, as well as its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and its role in a military conflict in the east of the country. But there have been signals that the global appetite to continue these sanctions is waning.
Andrey Kostin, president and chairman of Russia’s second largest lender, VTB Bank, told CNBC Wednesday that Russia would like to see a clearer policy regarding Russia from the U.S.
“We should expect some more specific policy on the part of the U.S. Because I think after the results of the Mueller report the anti-Russian stance somehow weakened but it might revive during the election campaign, we don’t know,” Kostin said, speaking to CNBC’s Dan Murphy at the Russia Calling forum in Moscow.
“It’s very unfortunate because we want a good relationship with the United States, our president is always ready to talk to Mr (Donald) Trump and other officials from the administration, but I’m afraid that unless there will be more precise policy on the part of the American administration, and for this he should probably agree with the Senate and Congress,” the relationship might not improve, he said.
Russia was accused of meddling in the 2016 election race and the allegations, which Russia denied, prompted a near two-year long investigation led by Robert Mueller. The probe said that the Russian government interfered in “sweeping and systematic fashion” and had been designed to favor Trump and harm Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Mueller said the inquiry did not establish that the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference campaign.
Relations between Trump and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, have apparently been cordial against a backdrop of wider hostility toward Russia among U.S. lawmakers on both sides of the political spectrum, and pressure on Trump to not roll back sanctions.
Asked what the outlook was for U.S.-Russia relations, Kostin said it was better to wait until the result of the 2020 U.S. election.
“My expectation is that we should talk about this maybe only after the elections in the U.S. (in 2020) because now America is going into the new political cycle … And there will be a lot, a lot of fights which we already saw in the last three years since Trump came to power, or did he come to power?,” Kostin joked, adding that Trump appeared to have a good chance of staying in power.
The Russian economy
International sanctions affected certain Russian sectors, including the financial industry, entities and individuals. The sanctions lists have increased each year; global risk management firm The Risk Advisory Group noted in September that the list now consists of more than 500 companies and 300 individuals.
Majority state-owned VTB Bank was placed on a U.S. (and other Western nations’) Ukraine-related sanctions list in 2014.
Kostin was added to a U.S. list of sanctioned individuals in April 2018 as he was deemed to be close to Putin and designated as a government official given the bank’s state-owned status. He told CNBC in May 2018 that the decision to put him on the list was “unfair.”
Nonetheless, Russia embarked on a program of import substitution and has weathered a storm of dramatically low oil prices, which coincided with the imposition of sanctions, leading to a financial crisis in Russia with the ruble tumbling and inflation rocketing.
Russia’s central bank has tamed high inflation in the last few years with a policy of high interest rates (the interest rate was 17% in December 2014) but has since then been gradually lowering the rate as inflation has decreased. In October, the central bank again cut its main interest rate by a surprising 50 basis points to 6.5% and signaled that it could cut the rate again in the coming months because of slowing inflation (which now stands at 3.8%, below its 4% target).
Still, sanctions and geopolitics don’t appear to be putting off all investors with Russian equities among some of the world’s top performers this year amid relatively low valuations and a strengthening currency.
Net returns on the MSCI Russia index are up more than 40% year-to-date as compared to the overall MSCI Emerging Market Index, which is up 10.35% in the same period, data from the MSCI at the end of October showed.
Andrey Kostin, chief executive officer of VTB Group, sits on the plenary panel at the annual VTB Capital ‘Russia Calling’ Forum in Moscow, Russia, on Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018.
Andrey Rudakov | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Stability, but risks
VTB’s Kostin said the key word to describe the Russian economy today was “stability” but conceded there was room for improvement.
“What we lack today is fast economic growth, the forecast is 1.3% only in comparison with last year when it was 2.3%,” he said.
“Of course, Russia is an open economy and what’s happening in the world and the slower economic growth in China, in the world, in Europe, is affecting the Russian economy. But we also have our domestic problems, (such as) the lack of investments and lower domestic demand.”
As the world’s second largest natural gas producer, and third largest oil producer in the world, Russia has been able to lean on its energy exports as sanctions have curtailed other parts of its economy. Oil prices have also risen since late 2016 in no small part due to Russia’s pact with OPEC to curb oil output in order to balance supply and demand.
wireless headphones, earbuds, photo manager
What to buy for the frequent-flying road warrior who sees it all in their travels? Here are creative gadgets that can make upcoming 2020 travel that much more comfortable.
Wireless earphones: Nuheara’s IQbuds Boost
Nuheara IQbuds Boost
Courtesy of Nuheara.
Eliminate the endless noise pollution of airports, planes, trains and city life with these wireless earphones. The Nuheara IQbuds Boost drown out sound without the added bulk of larger noise-canceling headphone models. They also sync via Bluetooth to enabled devices to enjoy up to eight hours of music, audiobooks or even white noise, with improved sound quality that can be customized to different environments. Those with reduced hearing will especially find the sound capabilities to be exceptional.
Summary: A travel-friendly pair of noise-reducing earbuds with solid audio quality
Portable charger: myCharge Hub Turbo
myCharge Hub Turbo portable charger.
Courtesy of myCharge
No one likes stressing over a low-power signal on their smartphone or tablet, but that’s less of a worry when packing the myCharge Hub Turbo 10,050 mAh portable charger. This is the brand’s first charger that features built-in lightning and USB-C cables for the fastest recharge. You can charge two devices directly and a third using the USB port on the side. If Murphy’s Law teaches us anything, it’s that when you need power the most, you’re least likely to have it — which is why this all-in-one portable charger can easily save the day.
Summary: A must-have power charger to quickly recharge mobile devices
Trackable charger: Nomad PowerPack
Courtesy of Nomad
If you’re looking for a portable power device — but you’re known to misplace things easily — then Nomad’s trackable PowerPack fits the bill. It can be synced via Bluetooth to Tile, an app-based tracking device that can locate everything from your wallet to your phone. This easy-to-grip power bank means it won’t slide out of your pocket or briefcase when traveling, and it delivers a whopping 9,000 mAh of power through three power ports: two USB-C ports and one USB-A port.
Summary: A compact battery pack for those with a history of losing their tech devices
Laptop charger: Mobile Edge Core Power
Mobile Edge Core Power laptop charger.
Courtesy of Mobile Edge
What is a traveler to do when the laptop battery is at the bottom of the power barrel, and there is nary an outlet in sight? Most power devices are not strong enough to juice a laptop, but the Mobile Edge Core Power laptop charger does the trick. With an AC outlet (plus numerous USB ports), it comes with an incredible 27,000 mAh capacity and can charge a laptop in about four hours.
Summary: A reliable battery for laptop users who are away from power outlets for hours at a time
Keyless lock: Friday Smart Lock
Friday Smart Lock.
Courtesy of Friday Home
The Friday Smart Lock delivers security and accessibility to your home at the touch of a mobile button. This retrofit lock allows for keyless entry via Siri or the smartphone app. Use it to allow friends to have access to your home or to let neighbors bring packages or mail inside. It’s also great for those who need help with plants or pets while away. The battery-charged device comes in multiple colors to match any style; it also keeps an electronic log of every time it is used. And, it’s easy to attach; help comes in the form of a video app, but the universal base plate makes it a cinch to install.
Summary: A convenient keyless entry system to grant access to your home via your phone
External hard drive: My Passport from Western Digital
My Passport by Western Digital.
Courtesy of Western Digital
When it comes to storing password-protected and encrypted data on a hard drive, the 5TB My Passport Portable external hard drive from Western Digital offers a lightweight solution that can easily slide into a briefcase or purse pocket. Add to that its USB 2.0 compatibility and rugged design, and you have a winner when it comes to protecting data while on the go. This is especially useful for travelers who manage sensitive information or those who frequently power up in crowded airports or office buildings. This is the brand’s slimmest 5TG storage device yet.
Summary: A portable, palm-sized device to back up and secure your data wherever you go
Price: $150 (PC version) or $160 (Mac version)
Photo manager: ibi Smart Photo Manager from SanDisk
ibi Smart Phone Manager by SanDisk.
Courtesy of Western Digital
Frequent travelers love to capture their experiences via photo, but there are limits to online and cloud storage space. Sandisk’s new ibi Smart Photo Manager tackles that problem, while also collecting all your photos and videos into one convenient place. The app stores your photos while you’re on the road (instead of you having to download them to a computer, for example), and once you’re home, ibi backs up whichever devices, social media platforms and cloud accounts you’ve synced with it. It’s got enough capacity to store more than 250,000 photos or 100 hours of video. The app also allows people to quickly edit photos on their phones and add friend and family groups for easy sharing.
Summary: A sizable device that provides peace of mind and organization to snap-happy travelers
Price: $130 (1 TB version)
RBI did the ‘wrong thing’ by not cutting rates, Mark Mobius says
Mark Mobius, Executive Chairman of Templeton Emerging Markets Group.
Anjali Sundara | CNBC
India’s central bank was wrong to keep its benchmark interest rates unchanged on Thursday, according to veteran emerging markets investor Mark Mobius.
The Reserve Bank of India surprised markets by keeping its repo rate — the rate at which it lends to other banks — unchanged at 5.15%. Prior to the decision, economists predicted a sixth rate cut from the central bank amid a notable slowdown in the Indian economy.
“I think they did the wrong thing,” Mobius, who is founding partner at Mobius Capital Partners, told CNBC’s “Street Signs” on Friday about the RBI. “I think they were reacting to the short-term situation with inflation, which is mainly caused by food prices, and, specifically, onion prices.”
In October, India’s annual retail inflation rose to 4.62% on the back of higher food prices, Reuters reported. That was a tick above the RBI’s medium-term target of 4%.
“They should have lowered rates,” Mobius said, adding it could improve business confidence in the country and may help to solve some of the debt problems in India’s financial services sector. He explained that the country is “going through a big adjustment right now because of the reforms that have taken place, particularly on the taxation side,” referring to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s landmark Goods and Services Tax reforms.
The government has struggled to collect sufficient revenue since its new tax schemes went into effect in mid-2017. Recent reports said the GST structure is set to be reviewed.
“This is an adjustment that people have to be accustomed to and it takes time. But next year, I believe that this will do well — they would have made this adjustment and realize the reforms are having an impact,” Mobius said, adding he remains bullish on India. Many micro, small and medium-sized businesses have struggled as a result of the new value-added taxes.
The central bank had already cut the repo rate by 135 basis points this year to stem the economic slowdown. Last week, India reported its economy grew at the slowest pace since 2013.
That made Thursday’s move “more than surprising,” according to Jehangir Aziz, chief emerging markets economist at J.P. Morgan. “I thought it was very puzzling.” Aziz explained on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” that since monetary policy is forward-looking, the RBI’s decision was confusing in terms of the “framework within which they are operating.”
For its part, the RBI said in its policy statement it felt appropriate to pause at this stage in light of the current growth-inflation dynamics.
Aziz said apart from inflation concerns, another reason that could explain the central bank’s decision Thursday is a worry over India’s growing fiscal deficit.
“I think the other reason could be, which they did not state, is that they are concerned about what happens to the fiscal deficit outturn,” he said, adding, “there’s a possibility that in February, when the (new) budget comes out, the outturn could be much worse than what people are thinking.”
The budgeted fiscal deficit target at the moment is 3.3% of GDP and if it widens too much, then investor confidence could be affected. India surprised with a $20 billion fiscal stimulus package in September, which mostly focused on a corporate tax cut that analysts agree makes the country more competitive. More fiscal measures are expected next year.
Aziz, however, pointed out that the corporate tax cut would not help to shift demand in the near term. Instead, if India had reduced its GST rates, there would have been an immediate impact on consumer demand, he said.
“There was a way in which they could have better utilized the space,” Aziz said. “Unfortunately, they did not. So, we really have to wait and see whether truly in the medium term, this corporate tax cut actually helps India or not.”
Police chief calls for peace ahead of march
Pro-democracy protesters participate in a “5 Demands” mass rally on December 1, 2019 in Hong Kong, China.
Anthony Kwan | Getty Images News | Getty Images
Hong Kong’s police chief has urged citizens to demonstrate peacefully ahead of what is expected to be a large-scale pro-democracy march on Sunday, an event planned amid a lull in violence in the Chinese-ruled city.
Police on Thursday gave a rare green light to the demonstration, organized by the Civil Human Rights Front, the group that called the million-strong marches in the summer. Sunday’s march is a key gauge of the pro-democracy movement’s support following its sweeping victory in local elections.
Speaking to reporters before departing for a “courtesy visit” to Beijing, newly-installed police commissioner Chris Tang urged Hong Kongers to set a global example.
“We hope our citizens can show the whole world (that) Hong Kong people are capable of holding a large scale rally in an orderly and peaceful manner,” he said. “We urge the organizer to assist the police on maintaining the order.”
Tang was traveling to meet with senior officials from the ministry of public security in Beijing and is expected to return to Hong Kong on Sunday.
The unrest in Hong Kong is the biggest popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.
The former British colony has been wracked by six months of pro-democracy protests sparked by a now withdrawn China extradition bill and which have broadened into calls for greater democratic freedoms.
Escalating violence last month saw a dramatic university siege that pitted protesters against the police.
Despite the increasingly violent tactics adopted by some protesters, pro-democracy candidates achieved record gains in the Nov. 24 local elections, winning almost 90 percent of the seats after the highest ever voter turnout since local polls began in 1999.
Hong Kong has enjoyed a period of relative calm since, a state the new police chief said he hoped could be maintained.
“In the last two weeks the city was relatively peaceful,” he noted, “When the citizens have a chance to take a breather, we hope the violent people will really stop engaging in illegal activities.”
Later on Friday, protesters plan a smaller rally against police use of tear gas, which they say is excessive and harming innocent bystanders. The police has said its use of force has been restrained.
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