Putin Says Aid Must Reach Real Economy

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Monday called on the government to make sure companies receive financial aid that is being earmarked for them, addressing concerns that the money may not reach its intended recipients quickly enough, or at all.

"I'm calling your attention to the fact that, despite making decisions and allocating appropriate resources, these funds don't always reach the final consumers," Putin told a government meeting.

The government has pledged to allocate some $200 billion in loans and tax cuts, among other measures, to help companies and banks deal with the crisis.

Tiptoeing around the word "crisis," which state television has largely avoided in reference to Russian financial institutions, Putin said the country's enterprises had started to feel the liquidity squeeze and pledged aid for the country's real economy.

"My contacts with representatives of the real economy sector — with builders, with those working in machine building, in agriculture — say that these enterprises are beginning to experience a certain financial hunger," Putin said in comments released by his office.

Speaking separately at a meeting of the supervisory board of Vneshekonombank, or VEB, which he heads, Putin said firms that work in the real economy would have access to aid to refinance their foreign debt to keep Russian assets from being sold abroad cheaply.

Eligible companies would have to operate in Russia and be either part of a strategic industry or of importance to a region they operate in, he said.

"We should refinance only projects taken out to fund investment projects or buy assets inside Russia," Putin said in a statement released by his office.

The government has announced plans to issue $50 billion to help refinance foreign corporate debt through VEB, also known as the Development Bank. On Monday, VEB chief Vladimir Dmitriyev told reporters that applications for loans had already topped that amount. It received 35 bids from corporate lenders and around 20 from banks, Interfax quoted Dmitriyev as saying.

Companies can apply for loans of between $100 million and $2.5 billion, and requests will be considered within 18 days, Dmitriyev said.

Analysts praised the measures but said more remained to be done as a host of companies in noncommodity sectors and smaller firms were at higher risk.

Russian companies need to refinance more than $360 billion in local and foreign debt through next June, UniCredit said in a recent research report.

"Only a limited list of corporations and banks have access to state financing, and the crisis of confidence persists, making raising new money or refinancing old debt an impossibility for many Russian companies, even at current high rates," UniCredit said.

VEB would mainly support state-owned companies in sectors such as oil and gas, metals and fertilizers, adding that companies in sectors such as retail and real estate, as well as smaller companies, were at risk, UniCredit said.

"The greatest risks in the next 12 months [are] for X5, Magnit, VimpelCom, Sistema, Urals Energy, Integra, PIK Group, Sollers" and regional telecoms firms, UniCredit said.