* March retail sales down less sharply than forecast
* Wages up 1.5 pct, impact on inflation modest
* Central bank may cut rates this month
* Some investors see good news bias in recent Russian data
(Adds analysts' comments, detail)
By Andrey Ostroukh
MOSCOW, April 18 Russian retail sales fell less
than expected in March while wages rose modestly, data showed on
Monday, supporting official indications that the country's
economic crisis is abating.
The main gauge of consumer demand, retail sales declined 0.4
percent year on year terms after dropping 2.8 percent in
February, Federal Statistics Service Rosstat said. Analysts
polled by Reuters had forecast a fall of 1.2 percent.
Real wages were up 1.5 percent, Rosstat also said, easing
concerns voiced by the central bank that rapid wage growth might
cause inflationary pressures to build. Analysts had predicted a
rise of 2 percent.
"The economy's condition improved in March compared with the
two preceding months," said Evgeny Koshelev, an economist at
Rosbank, a Russian subsidiary of Societe Generale.
A run of bullish figures from Rosstat have alarmed some
investors, who say data on the Russian economy appears to have
become less accurate and more biased towards good news during a
long recession fuelled by weak oil market and Ukraine-related
In month-on-month terms, retail sales surged 7.9 percent in
"Today's figures confirmed that the disappointing batch of
data in February were a blip, not the start of a fresh
downturn," research firm Capital Economics said in a note to
Annual inflation slowed to 4.3 percent in March and
economists say it is on track to hit the central bank's target
of 4 percent by June.
That easing of price pressures together with a gradual
return to economic growth encouraged the central bank to cut its
main interest rate by 25 basis points in March.
Some market players expect the bank to cut the rate,
currently at 9.75 percent, further at its next meeting on April
"Consumer spending should return to positive growth in the
coming months, and GDP growth is also likely to be supported by
net trade and a recovery in investment," Capital Economics said.
The firm said it was sticking to its forecast of 1.5 percent
growth in 2017. That is close to an assessment made by the
International Monetary Fund but below the economy
ministry's 2 percent target.
(Additional reporting by Zlata Garasyuta; editing by John