Spirits were high at the Sixth Annual Investment Roadshow, held on Nov. 17 in London’s Canary Wharf. But while was praise lavished on the Ukrainian banking sector and the resilience of Ukrainian businesses in the face of on-going Russian attacks, private investment into Ukraine must clearly still be fought for.
The Roadshow was a showcase of Ukraine’s economic and business achievements under heavy duress. Sigma Software group, which managed a restructure during the war, opening twelve offices in the European Union (EU) was one of the success stories. Another success story was Intellias, whose CEO Vitaly Sedler spoke about swiftly relocating the workforce to western and central Ukraine from as early as 9 a.m. on Feb. 24, and achieving 70 percent growth in the past year.
Head of Ukraine’s National Bank, Kateryna Rozhkova, was quick to offer reassurance that macroeconomic prospects for Ukraine are stable. Despite anticipating a high budget deficit, she expressed confidence that “next year’s budget does not need any additional monetary financing”.
Rozhkova spoke of a high current level of inflation with a further increase expected next year but was confident in the Bank’s monetary controls to keep Ukraine’s war-time economy on a stable footing. She reported: “Inflation is 26.6% but remains under control. We expect it to reach around 30% by the end of this year. Our tight monetary policy will give us the possibility to manage this.”
The Roadshow provided an opportunity for Ukrainian businesses to seek out foreign investors, as much as it served as a platform to question Ukrainian officials. The issue of insurance appears to be a sticking point for many investors into Ukraine.
Speaking on foreign currency exchange and insurance for businesses, Rozhkova said: “At the beginning of the war, we introduced a lot of restrictions on the FX [foreign exchange] market, but we are adjusting policy and restrictions all the time. We are working at opening the possibility for reinsurance in hard currencies. We have started talking about rebuilding insurance-reinsurance programs during the war and understand that macro stability is the most important factor”.
Representing a large investor in Ukraine, Matteo Patrone is managing director of the Eastern Europe and Caucasus at the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). He drew attention to the bank’s work and encouraged private sector investment.
Patrone said: “We provided Naftogaz with 300 million euros for the winter. We anticipate a large donation in the field next week”.
He also announced another fund for Ukrenergo to be finalized next week, describing it as “partly a grant, partly a loan”, although no sums were specified.
Speaking of EBRD’s focus, Patrone added: “What we are building is more and more investment financing, like the Ukrenergo reconstruction, and this will be the focus next year in more and more sectors”. He affirmed the bank’s commitment, referring to delivering “1.5 billion euros by the end this year; and next year the same if not more.”
Private sector investment key to future recovery
Reflecting on the importance of the economy for Ukraine during the war, Patrone said “We have to think of [the next] 12-18 months, not 10 years… the leadership of the country is pushing us to win the war on the economic front in the next 10-12 months”.
In Patrone’s opinion, private sector investment has to be the driving factor of Ukrainian reconstruction. He said: “It is impossible to overstate the role of the private sector in reconstructing the economy. You are not going to get [the funds] without the private sector.”
His sentiments regarding the importance of private sector investment in Ukraine’s reconstruction was shared by Lisa Kaestner of the International Financial Corporation, a World Bank Group member.
Kaestner estimated reconstruction costs would amount to $350 billion, stating “there is no way the public sector can fill that gap.”
With poverty being very much on the agenda of the World Bank, Kaestner estimated GDP contraction to be 35 percent, inflation 30 percent, and export reduction 60% percent. She added that “the World Bank works on reducing poverty and these numbers can lead to a large issue of poverty in Ukraine.”
Despite the fall in GDP and high inflation rates relative to peace time rates, Kaestner praised the resilience of the private sector in Ukraine. “In June, 30 percent of businesses shut down, but recent surveys say 11 percent, so some companies have moved and adjusted.” However, she did report that 75 percent of businesses are operating below capacity, referring to them as “resilient but in need of support.”
The World Bank does not usually invest in conflict zones due to higher risks, but taking into account a real risk of poverty, together with public and private sector performance since February 2022, Kaestner said:
“Taking a look at the resilience of the private sector and the resilience of the government, we would like very much to put our own finances in Ukraine, leveraging private investment and mirroring what the EBRD is doing. We are looking to leverage around 50 percent of our investment… We are being fully transparent – we are actively fundraising”, She added that the World Bank is focusing particularly on the agricultural and financial sectors in terms of reconstruction efforts.
On the topic of Ukraine’s resilience and planned funds for reconstruction, former Governor of the National Bank of Ukraine, Valeria Hontareva, said “I am not worried about Ukrainian macro [economics]. Our supporters, donors and partners are feeding Ukraine this year and have committed to the next. We need to focus on reconstruction.”
Moving to the nature of investment needs, Hontareva asserted: “We are committed to a free economy, not state capitalism.”
Hontareva praised Ukraine’s banking sector and its performance during the war, a motion that was also picked up by ERBD’s Head of Financial Institutions Francis Malige, who said “Banks are not meant to work in war time…only nobody told them”.
Voicing a word of warning, Hontareva said:
“For colleagues from Ukraine, we need to be reasonable. [Consider] the magnitude of the figures – 750 billion, 300 billion – it is impossible to think of that in the context of the world economy, World Bank capital or EBRN capital. What is important is the need to confiscate Russian frozen central bank reserves. We need to use these reserves for recovery. We need to change sovereign immunity for the aggressor country”.
Stepan Stepanenko is a Research Fellow with the Henry Jackson Society, London