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Kudrin Lifts Forecast for Economy, Prices

The Finance Ministry has revised up its forecasts for economic growth and inflation this year amid the high price of oil, the country's major export commodity.

The economy may grow an annual 5.9 percent this year and 5.8 percent in 2006, compared with earlier forecasts of 5.8 percent and 5.6 percent, respectively, ministry spokesman Andrei Saiko said, citing remarks by Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin in a speech to the Audit Chamber on Friday.

Russia's economy grew in the first half by 5.6 percent as crude oil prices rose to a record high, Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref said last week. Increased manufacturing, led by machinery output, helped lift growth from 5 percent in the first quarter.

"The revision of the economic growth forecast is a natural reaction to good economic data" in the second quarter, said Stas Ponomarenko, an economist at Raiffeisenbank Austria in Moscow. "The tempo of economic growth accelerated" at the end of the second quarter.

The inflation rate probably will rise to between 10 percent and 11 percent this year, compared with between 8.5 percent and 10 percent as initially planned, Saiko said, citing the minister.

Rising foreign direct investment also helped fuel growth, Ponomarenko said. Russia attracted $9.3 billion in foreign direct investment in the first half of the year, compared with $11 billion in all of last year, according to the Central Bank.

The government's inflation forecast "looks excessively optimistic," because consumer prices will probably increase as much as an annual 14 percent in December, compared with 13.7 percent in June, Ponomarenko said.

The price for Urals crude, Russia's major export blend of oil, climbed 50 percent in the past year, reaching a record of $56.32 per barrel on July 7. It was trading at $53.75 per barrel on Friday afternoon.

Russia expects the average price for Urals will be at $40 per barrel in 2006, compared with $35 per barrel as previously expected, Interfax reported Friday, citing Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin.

In 2005, the price of Urals crude will probably average $48 per barrel, compared with $43 per barrel as had been previously expected, Kudrin said, the news agency reported.

(The Moscow Times 25.vii.05)

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