Russia eyes end to liquidity caps on wealth fund 'anti-crisis' spending

Jan 26 (Reuters) - Russia's finance ministry on Thursday proposed scrapping liquidity restrictions for spending on "anti-crisis" investments from its National Wealth Fund (NWF), citing the need to support key sectors amid challenging geopolitical conditions.

Russia's fiscally conservative authorities have tended to be cautious in their use of NWF funds.

Thursday's move suggests they want to be more creative in the way they maintain Russia's economic health, as Moscow ramps up spending on what it calls its "special military operation" in Ukraine.

The ministry also said it would seek to reduce the threshold at which investments in other financial assets from the rainy day fund can be made to 7% of gross domestic product (GDP) from 10% currently, according to draft proposals.

"Introducing amendments to article 9611 of the budget code is aimed at making it possible to finance high-priority, self-sustaining infrastructure projects using the National Wealth Fund and to make anti-crisis investments regardless of the size of the (fund's) liquid assets," the ministry said in an explanatory note.

The ministry proposed that the total volume of such investments not exceed 4.25 trillion roubles ($61.24 billion).

"These changes will ensure reliable support for key sectors of the Russian economy in the current challenging geopolitical and macroeconomic conditions," the ministry said.

The NWF is Russia's sovereign wealth fund, built up through years of profits on the country's oil and gas exports.

As of Jan. 1, the fund stood at $148.4 billion, equivalent to 7.8% of GDP, having dropped by $38.1 billion in December, as the government took out cash to plug its budget deficit.

But only $87.2 billion, or 4.6% of GDP, was in liquid assets, and the ministry has warned that could fall to as low as 1.4% of GDP by 2024, which the Accounts Chamber has said would be the lowest ratio for 20 years.

As of Feb. 1 last year, three weeks before Russia sent troops into Ukraine, the total fund stood at $174.9 billion, or 10.2% of projected GDP.

($1 = 69.3955 roubles)

Reporting by Darya Korsunskaya and Alexander Marrow; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Sharon Singleton

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Thomson Reuters

Moscow-based reporter covering Russia's economy, markets and the country's financial, retail and technology sectors, with a particular focus on the Western corporate exodus from Russia and the domestic players eyeing opportunities as the dust settles. Before joining Reuters, Alexander worked on Sky Sports News' coverage of the 2016 Olympics in Brazil and the 2018 World Cup in Russia.