Sberbank: Russians slightly more upbeat about economy but thriftier

By Andrei Skvarsky.

Surveys by Sberbank, Russia’s biggest lender, suggest that the average Russian was slightly more optimistic about the country’s overall economic situation but thriftier in the first quarter of 2015 than in the last three months of 2014.

Inflation was Russians’ main concern and fear of unemployment their second biggest worry, according to the Sberbank CIB Ivanov Consumer Confidence Tracker, an index compiled by Sberbank CIB, the lender’s investment arm, and updated on the basis of quarterly polls.

“Ivanov” was chosen as the label for the tracker as the commonest Russian family name.

As the ruble stopped plunging, Ivanovs were less fearful of the currency’s further depreciation, and this was the main reason why 4% fewer respondents in March’s poll than in December’s survey were pessimistic about the general state of the economy, Sberbank CIB argued in a statement.

Only 27% of those questioned in March expected the ruble to keep weakening, while in December 51% had such expectations.

Those interviewed in March kept only 21% of their savings in foreign currency, and 65% of them had no plans to buy any foreign exchange. Ruble deposits had become more attractive because of higher interest rates and offers of more generous insurance compensation, Sberbank CIB said.

The big-ticket purchase rate went down from December to March but that was because of stabilisation after “exuberant” shopping for durables in the fourth quarter of 2014 in the fear that the ruble would go on plummeting, the bank said.

Meanwhile, the share of price-sensitive respondents rose to 75% in March from 73% in December and 68% a year ago.

Though the share of respondents stocking up on food declined to 12% in March from 22% in December, and the proportion stocking up on electronics slid to 12% from 15%, a record 66% were trying to save on staples, versus 60% in December and a 2014 average of 54%.

The proportion of respondents who said their non-discretionary consumption patterns had degraded rose to 36% in March from 28% in December.

As discretionary spending goes, more respondents planned to cut back on dining out, electronics, household appliances and holidays.

While the unemployment rate among respondents had gone down from December to March, the labour market remained tight as 51% of respondents in March compared with 43% in December said their employer was cutting staff, and 37% in March versus 35% in December and 30% in September were afraid of being sacked.

Fear of unemployment was the main concern for 46% of respondents, inflation being the main worry for 67%.

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