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Non-payments in the Russian Economy and in Regions

Introduction 2


Model 1: Premeditated Causes of Indebtedness 4

Model 2: Short Term Cash Gaps 6

Model 3: Subsidies to Ineffective Enterprises 8

Macroeconomic Interaction Model. Cumulative Growth of Non-Payments 9

Factors behind the Persistence of Non-Payments 10

Interaction between Models 11

Diagnosing the Problem: Analysis of Factors 13

Amounts of Crediting 14

Indicators of Monetary Policy 15

Indicators of Profitability 18

Changes in Price Structure 20

Budgetary Payment Arrears 21

Ownership Structure 22

Periods of Instability 22

Offset Transactions 23


Dynamic Regional Model of Non-Payments 24

Indicators of Availability of Credits 24

Indicators of Profitability 28

Administration of the State Budget 30

Generalized Regional Model 32

Stability of Coefficients 34

Evaluation and Analysis of Offset Transactions 36

Evaluation of the Share of Offset Transactions 36

Payment Arrears and Offsets 40

Market Concentration Level 41

Loss-Making and Bank Crediting 43

Dynamic Regional Model of Offset Transactions 43

Tentative Conclusions 46

Bibliography 50

Annex 1. Dynamics of Overdue Indebtedness 53

Amounts of written off overdue indebtedness 56

Annex 2. Results of Evaluation of Models 58

Annex 3. Length of Production Cycle, Capital Productivity and Per Capita Product 66

Annex 4. Offset Practices in the Russian Federation 67


Many East European and former Soviet Union economies in the process of transition to the market economy encountered the problem of enterprise insolvency and a massive growth of inter-enterprise payment arrears. However, while a number of countries could settle the problem of payment arrears, diminish amounts and check the growth of outstanding debts, in Russia this problem persists.

At the same time, it may be asserted that a trend toward some decrease in the amounts of the total outstanding debts began to show. The turning point was 1998. Non-payment in real terms increased prior to and stabilized (diminished) after 1998 (see Fig. 1 to 3, Annex 1). The level of indebtedness attributed to the gross product grew till 1998 (Fig. 1, Annex 1) and declined over next years. The nominal level of indebtedness grew longer than the level of debts in real terms (see Fig. 2 and 3 respectively, Annex 1), however the last year saw it to stabilize.

As concerns the real level of indebtedness (and in terms of GDP), the decrease may be explained by the depreciation of accumulated debts related to high rates of inflation in the post-crisis period. In this case the stabilization of its nominal level is a more illustrative indicator. This stabilization means that either the growth of new payment arrears stopped, or became equal to amounts of repayment and write-offs of previously accumulated debts. It shall be noted that indebtedness may diminish either due to direct repayments, or write-offs. However, the amounts of write-offs are rather insignificant (see Table 17, Annex 1).

Factors behind changes in the indebtedness dynamics and the persistence of rather high levels of payment arrears require a more detailed research of both the theoretical and empirical aspects of the process of indebtedness generation.

Researchers name the following factors responsible for the generation and growth of payment arrears: the shortage of credit facilities often attributed to tighter monetary policies and contraction of liquidity (see, for instance, Calvo and Coricelli, 1994; Gavrilenkov, 1996; Delyagin, 1997; Ushijima, 1998), lack of current assets and low monetization of GDP (see, for instance, Shmelev, 1997; S. Ushijima, 1998), inefficiency of enterprises (see, for instance, Rostowski, 1993; Volkonski, Kantorovich, 1995, Klepach, 1997; Entov, Radygin, Mau, et al., 1998; Alekseev, 1998; Ivanova and Wyplosz, 1999, Pinto, Drebentsov, Morozov, 2000), budgetary failures (see, for instance, Entov, Radygin, Mau, et al., 1998; Ushijima, 1998; Alekseev, 1998, Pinto, Drebentsov, Morozov, 2000), tax evasion, direct embezzlement, and corruption (Karpov, 1997); the importance of bankruptcy institutes for the payment arrears problem was also emphasized (see, for instance, Rostowski1, 1993).

The variety and even some controversy of the approaches to the explanation and understanding of the problem was caused, among other factors, by the fact that payment arrears problem is characteristic not only for developing and transition economic systems. Improper execution of obligations is an attribute of any market economy with specific settlement mechanisms (contract enforcement), where non-payments are not seen as a systemic problem. In this relation the economic literature often advances the thesis that the payment arrears problem in Russia is exaggerated. For instance, in the course of the study of levels of accumulated indebtedness (measured as the share in GDP) across different countries Alfandari and Schaffer (1996), Schaffer (1998) demonstrated that the aggregate level of inter-enterprise payment arrears (overdue commodity credit) in Russia was at or below respective averages observed in Western, Central and East European economies. Upon having analyzed the real data2 the authors concluded that the greater share of non-payments registered in the Russian economy may be attributed to late payments, not bad payments. The authors ascribe bad payments to enterprises operating at the loss, while late payments are linked to temporary difficulties encountered by enterprises. The distinguishing feature of late payments is that eventually they will be made.

The question of debt characteristics make sense only in the situation of stationary functioning developed market economy. However, even in this case there may occur spasmodic and cumulative growth of non-payments (for instance, in periods of sharp bank crises). Transition economies may experience protracted build-up of overdue indebtedness causing even efficient companies to become non-payers. Therefore, the distinction between bad and late payments requires further determination.

This paper attempts to review main characteristics of payment arrears in a transition economy. The first section contains a system of theoretical models, each model describing the process of payment arrears originating due to specific features of development of the transition economy. The section presents a>


The phenomenon of non-payments has been actively discussed by various scholars. Three basic models embracing all major factors behind payment arrears may be singled out of the proposed approaches to the analysis of this problem. Behavioral factors related to the opportunistic behavior under asymmetric information, or reasons behind premeditated non-compliance with obligations, which may be also characterized as rational behavior of economic agents in situations where payment arrears become profitable, may be included in the first group. The second group includes factors related to the functioning of the banking sector. The third group includes concealed forms of subsidies of ineffective industries. Each group presents a qualitatively different characteristic of the problem. Below each group is analyzed in more thoroughly.

Model 1: Premeditated Causes of Indebtedness

The interaction between economic agents (including enterprises, organizations, their employees, the state (including its tax agencies) in the process of economic activities takes place under asymmetric information, what results from the fact that each contracting party has insufficient information about the financial standing of the other contractor. Asymmetry puts one of the contracting parties in a more advantageous position in comparison with the other, what results in a number of other problems: adverse selection, moral hazard, and the principal agent problem. Therefore, non-compliance with obligations may become the strategy of economic agents.

In case non-payments become profitable, there is a high probability that the majority of economic agents will resort to this strategy. It is also clear that in general this situation is profitable only to the party which does not pay while availing itself of the benefits it presents. This type of non-payments may be characterized as non-voluntary crediting, since the creditor does not give consent to it (the moral hazard problem) and include, for instance, wage arrears, especially in case the enterprise has sufficient financial resources but does not pay wages.

However, there may arise situations, where non-compliance may be profitable for both counteragents. These situations include tax evasion, embezzlement, and corruption. In case the management places its personal interests over the interests of the enterprise, non-payments may become an instrument ensuring the personal gain of its managers (the principal agent problem); therefore, as a result of a collusion the enterprise in the person of its management may refrain from demanding its counteragents to timely pay for received goods, while continuing deliveries. At the same time, the management as a way of excuse may inform its owners (the state, shareholders) that the payment arrears result from the lack of scruple on the part of the other contracting party.

In the situation where market institutes are underdeveloped these problems may acquire mass character. At the same time, the universal practices of payment arrears prevent the creditors from demanding defaulters to pay, in particular due to implicit commitments3. For instance, defaulters may excuse the non-compliance with the obligations to the creditors (other enterprises, organizations, banks, and the state in the person of its tax agencies) by their own debtor indebtedness. As a result, the economic agents disposing of sufficient financial resources have the opportunity to default on the fulfillment of their obligations (or at least to delay the fulfillment) by concealing information on their real financial standing.

These problems arise, first of all, due to the lack of monitoring and control over the behavior of counteragents and the management (ineffectiveness of owners), weak economic and legal mechanisms (for instance, underdeveloped trade unions allow employers to infringe on the rights of employees via wage arrears), the lack of tough system of enforcement of contractual obligations.

An economic agent failing to meet its contractual obligations might trigger the process of mass refusal to fulfill their obligations on the part of both those able to pay, and the economic agents rendered insolvent by non-payments of their counteragents.

As soon as a precedent for unpunished non-fulfillment of obligations to creditors is set, it gives a signal to all other economic agents to reconsider their business relations. Financial intermediaries, i.e. credit financial organizations are most responsive to such signals, since slackening contractual obligations put them in the most critical position. Growth in universal payment arrears directly increases the risk of adverse selection and results in a massive rationing of credits.

The fact that partners continue deliveries to defaulters is outside the problem of adverse selection. The precedent of adverse selection may hardly occur twice between the same counteragents. The moral hazard problem also fails to explain the continuing deliveries on the part of creditors in case the latter are not interested to maintain business relations with defaulters. It is clear that in the perfect competitive environment there is a little probability that the victim once suffering due to non-fulfillment of contractual obligations on the part of its counteragent would agree to further cooperate with such a partner. However, in a number of cases the rejection of a customer may often result in the de facto bankruptcy under conditions of the post-Soviet highly monopolized and often monopsonic economy characterized by fixed and absolutely inflexible economic relations. At the same time, there may exist other factors related to the impossibility to suspend deliveries (regulated operations of natural monopolies, state-owned objects, inter-state deliveries), which result in the persistence of the adverse selection problem.

Accumulation of indebtedness may become a tool to exert pressure on the government in order to obtain additional benefits, such as reduction of tax payments, implementation of offset schemes, granting of soft credits.

The behavioral aspect of the generation of payment arrears was studied in Perotti (1998), Nikitin (2000). Perotti observes that non-restructured enterprises are forced not to terminate shipments to defaulters, what results in new debts. Since indebtedness is not repaid, its amount across all enterprises increases until reaching a certain critical level, when the state has to interfere by declaring certain amnesties and permitting offsets. Therefore, even enterprises with sufficient liquidity got an incentive to accumulate indebtedness in order to obtain soft credits. Enterprises pursue the mutual guarantee policy forcing the state to extend credits. It is only natural that the state interference fails to bring about a radical change in the situation and the vicious circle persists.

It is possible that the factor behind the persistence of such behavior of firms in the model offered by the author is the difficulties encountered in the process of separation of viable firms from non-viable ones, what results in the moral hazard problem. From the author’s point of view, in this case monetary policies may emerge as the regulating factor behind non-payments. If restructuring costs are high, tight monetary policies may force enterprises to refrain from restructuring and resort to payment arrears, since such behavior increases the number of insolvent firms and, as a result, makes more probable a universal offset.

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