''Sometimes the data raises serious questions''

Rosstat will change its methodology for calculating disposable incomes

Russia's Federal State Statistics Service (Rosstat) decided to stop publishing monthly incomes data after the state body was criticised for using an outdated methodology. The service will publish quarterly data instead and recalculate figures for the previous five years using a new methodology.

Rosstat will switch to publishing quarterly income data instead of monthly calculations starting from April, says Bloomberg. Historical numbers will be recalculated going back to 2013, said Rosstat's head Pavel Malkov at a briefing with journalists in Moscow. The service will use a new methodology, which includes data on online sales and sales from smaller retailers among other things.

''We must admit that when we calculate monthly data, a significant part of the information is missing, so it's modelling,'' Malkov said. ''Sometimes the data raises serious questions.'' According to the data previously published by Rosstat, disposable incomes have declined since 2014 amid a rise in retail sales. Many analysts have questioned the reliability of the data. ''Dismal real income data has painted a picture of lingering economic pain for consumers. There's still some truth to that, but the revamped numbers should show households fared better as Russia's economy recovered. That's been the message in the wage and spending figures,'' considers Scott Johnson, a Bloomberg economist for Russia.

Minister of Economic Development Maksim Oreshkin said last week that Rosstat should consider changing its methodology for incomes data. Photo: kremlin.ru

Earlier this month, Moscow-based VTB Capital issued a research note criticising the outdated methodology and recommending that economists disregard the income data entirely. According to the note, Rosstat's methodology for calculating disposable incomes was developed in 1996 and undergone only one cosmetic update more than a decade ago. VTB Capital recommends economists to build their own picture of real incomes based on ''lower level'' data on pensions, wages and benefits.

Minister of Economic Development Maksim Oreshkin said last week that Rosstat should consider changing its methodology for incomes data. The ministry took control of the service nearly two years ago, while Pavel Malkov, a former economy ministry official, was appointed to head Rosstat last year to address issues including the collection of primary data. The statistics body is regularly criticised for the quality of its estimates. At the beginning of the year, the service released unexpectedly high growth numbers for 2018. The sudden increase was explained by an upward revision in construction data.

On Wednesday, Rosstat reported that retail sales in February expanded 2%. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg expected a 1,5% increase. Wage growth adjusted for inflation decelerated.

By Anna Litvina