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Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

Household income hit

While the country's politicians struggle to contain a booming federal budget, the household finances of ordinary Russians are on a knife edge.

Real wages fell in March for the first time in 16 months, down 3.4 per cent from the same month a year ago.

Employers may have cut declared salaries in order to pay less social tax, which the government increased. The Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia estimates that half of all salary payments are grey.

But disposable income has also taken a hit from rising utility, housing and medical costs along with inflation which has begun to accelerate again, reaching 9.6 per cent in April.

On top of that, Russia's manufacturing and service sectors are diverging. The service sector strengthened in April, according to HSBC's Purchasing Managers' Index, the strongest reading since December which was a seven-month high.

HSBC said high oil prices are boosting spending on hotels, restaurants and financial services. "Moreover, the gain has been strong enough for an acceleration in overall economic growth, despite a weaker expansion in manufacturing," the bank said.

The PMI report for manufacturing earlier in the week saw a sharp decline in April as new export orders slipped in several emerging markets, leading to cuts in jobs and investment.

So a waiter might earn more in tips but a carmaker could be on part-time working because of overcapacity in the steel sector and disruption to the Japanese auto industry.

Many consumers still struggle to obtain loans, even though Russia's top lender Sberbank has a target of expanding its retail credit portfolio by 20 per cent this year.

Most loans go to repeat customers and volumes remain below pre-crisis levels even as interest rates rise.

This week's stress tests found that a third of Russian banks would see significant damage to their capital base and loan book in the event of a repeat of 2008's downturn.

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