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Crisis Makes Russians Thriftier


Ongoing economic and financial crisis has had a more profound effect on the Russians than merely forcing them to spend less and to economize more. It has changed the objectives of saving.

While previously people would put their money away for redecorating their houses or for holidaymaking, today they do it more and more often for medical treatment.

A regular report on Russia's social and economic development published by the government statistical service Rosstat suggests that the Russians' cash revenues went up 10.4% on the year from January through September, while the spending for commodities and services grew 6% -- or decreased if one considers the 12.5% inflation rate.

On the face of it, the Russians' savings made a 66.7% hike and the motivations for frugality made a pivotal turn.

In January through September, the Russians would spend 54.6% of their earnings for commodities /vs. 57.3% in the same period a year ago/, while the setting aside for savings went up to 13% from the 7.2% in January-September 2008.

Whle 40% people who had savings at all would previously reserve cash for amelioration of their housing, for purchasing cars, as well as for holidaymaking and celebrations, today 30% people - almost three times up versus fall 2008 - put money away for treatment. The percentage of people saving for real estate and education went up 50%.

Along with it, 60% less population puts money away for repairs and festivities and 30% people have mothballed a habit of saving for a rainy day.

As if acting upon the power of tradition, the Russians did not take to the banks all the cash they had saved. Private bank depositions grew a mere 12.9% in the period under review. The Russians continue viewing Sberbank - the Savings Bank - as the most reliable banking institution, and its share in the total volume of private bank deposits has reached 50.4%.

Account holders vest their trust in the ruble as the most reliable currency. Ruble-denominated depositions totaled 4.66 trillion rubles /USD 1=RUB 29.0/, while depositions denominated in foreign currencies were equivalent of 2.14 trillion rubles.

Public Opinion Foundation released the data saying that 30% Russian said they had savings in October 2009, while the figure for October 2008 was 25%. In big cities, one person in two reported having a reserve of money. This stands in a marked contrast with small towns and villages where only one person in four had savings.

Monies set aside for contingencies are not purpose-oriented monies. Vedomosti daily quotes Igor Polyakov, an expert at the Macroeconomic Analysis Center, as saying the crisis has enhanced the rationality of saving. Spending for medical services always becomes a priority in times of deteriorating welfare. "Individual health is a resource underlying the stability of family economics," Polyakov says. "A loss of job and complications in finding a new one prop up the willingness to raise one's competitiveness through education," he goes on.

"Consciousness is getting sober," Vedomosti quotes economist Lyudmila Beliayeva. People begin to give more thought to fundamental things. "Healthcare doesn't offer anything good free of charge and the education system reform makes education ever more expensive," she says.

If one believes that Rosstat's reports are true, the crisis has not only left people's living standards unaffected. It has even allowed the population to feel some improvements. A part of experts pass skeptical notes about the latter fact, and although they do not rush to refute the official data, they are not very much willing to trust the reported figures without reservations, writes Nezavissimaya Gazeta.

Rosstat says the Russian's aggregate cash revenue totaled 20.102 trillion rubles from January through September, thus marking a 20.4% increase from the same period a year ago. But if one takes the real cash incomes, the figures showed a certain decrease. For instance, the real disposable cash revenues computed exclusive of mandatory payments and adjusted by the consumer price index slipped 1.1% over the nine months under review.

Still, experts find some of the figures in the report somewhat bewildering. Sergei Fundobny, the chief of analysis department at Kapital Arbat investment company finds it strange enough that the real incomes went down as little as 1.1%. He is convinced that the real decrease is much bigger and more tangible.

Igor Nikolayev, director of the department for strategic analysis at the FBK company, links the 1% decrease specified in the Rosstat report to the fact that people's real incomes continued growing in the first months of the crisis, surprising though this might look. "Then we acted out of inertia and continued burning the fat we'd stored earlier."

Nikolayev points to the record low showings of retail trade turnover. "If we want a true picture of what's happening to the revenues, let's look at tentative parameters, namely, whether people are buying goods or not. September showed the lowest figure for retail turnover - minus 9.9%. Even in August the slide totaled 9.8%."

He says this proves that the situation with popular incomes is far from so bright that you may believe it is after you read the Rosstat report.

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