Comparative Economic Studies

, Volume 45, Issue 2, pp 192–203

Determinants of Russian enterprise performance: conclusions from the symposium

  • Saul Estrin
  • Alan Bevan
Original Article


The relationship between enterprise performance and the various exogenous variables – ownership, competition, financial constraints – have been considered separately in the papers of this Special Issue. In this concluding paper, we analyse them together and investigate their interaction. We find that none of the variables except financial constraints play any role in determining the variation in economic performance of Russian enterprises in this period. Interaction effects are also unimportant; the dispersion is explained primarily by demand side and regional factors. However, competition and private ownership jointly influence the rate of restructuring. Taken together, the findings suggest the need for policy action to integrate the Russian market, to open it to international competition and to develop domestic capital markets.


transition Russia firm performance 

JEL Classifications

G38 L10 

In this Special Issue, we have reported the findings of a recent large-scale survey of Russian industrial enterprises.1 The project looked at the factors determining and constraining enterprise performance in the period around the 1998 financial crisis. When the project was planned, in early 1998, there were the first signs of growth in the Russian industrial economy since the start of transition, and it was hoped that a survey could help to identify the characteristics of firms, their markets and their business environment that would enable enterprises effectively to exploit the improved conditions. In practice, the project was blown off course by the 1998 crisis, and we decided to wait until early 2000 to collect data. Our data therefore refer to the 3 years up to January 2000, with retrospective questions taking us back to the point of privatisation up to 7 years earlier.

Despite the shock to trading conditions caused by the 1998 crisis, the survey identifies encouraging as well as discouraging signals from the Russian enterprise sector. According to Kuznetsov in Bevan et al (2001), 75% of the firms in our sample were able to generate positive profits in all our sample years, while some 50% managed to maintain output, in nominal terms, over the period. However only 30% had invested at a level in excess of the rate of depreciation. In terms of restructuring, our measures are qualitative but still provide evidence of considerable managerial effort, with the bulk of enterprises engaged in ‘deep’ as well as ‘defensive’ restructuring. However, as had been the case for most of the 1990s, on average real output and productivity declined between 1997 and 2000.

There is a wide variation in performance between the sampled enterprises in terms of productivity, financial performance and restructuring; Russia clearly had successful as well as unsuccessful firms in the industrial sector in this period. However, the empirical results in this Special Issue do not support many of the theoretical explanations from transition economics for this dispersion, which would focus on ownership, competition and soft budget constraints (see eg Roland, 2000; Djankov and Murrell, 2002). In particular, we find that ownership and performance were not yet well correlated in Russia, and there is no evidence of outsider-owned firms outperforming insider-owned ones. These results are consistent with those of other studies of the former Soviet Union (see eg Estrin and Wright, 1999), which usually interpret such findings as being caused by capital market imperfections and governance deficiencies (see Nellis, 2000). The evidence from our sample is consistent with this view, in indicating only limited correlation between ownership and perceived control over enterprise decision-making. While insiders are perceived to have control over most insider-owned firms, insiders are also believed by our respondents to control nearly half of outsider-owned firms, and more than a third of state-owned firms (see Bevan et al, 2002). This is perhaps a consequence of the high levels of dispersion of outsider ownership in Russia (see Earle and Estrin, 1997).

Our findings on competition are slightly more encouraging, in that they identify a positive association between restructuring activity and the competitiveness of the market environment. Domestic competition spurs more deep restructuring, and to some extent more defensive restructuring as well. Foreign competition is still an insignificant factor in improving enterprise performance in Russia, although it plays more of a role in stimulating investment. However, the positive effects of competition in the regressions explaining qualitative indicators of performance like restructuring are not significant in augmented production or profit functions. Thus, we conclude that economic measures of enterprise performance like profitability or productivity are not correlated with either ownership or market structure in Russia in this period.

On the financial side, our study indicates that company size is a relevant factor in obtaining short but not long-term credit, while equity financing is equally rare for all firm types in Russia. There is little direct evidence of soft budget constraints, in the sense of government subsidy, although financial disciplines are lax. Overall, most Russian firms (almost 70%) face quite serious financial constraints because of a combination of limited access to credit, poorly developed capital markets and weak cash flow. Financial constraints appear to be highly correlated with corporate performance and behaviour, and investment is inversely related to the degree of financial constraint. However, the causality is complex, and given the limited possibility of recourse to external financing from any source, it may also run from restructuring to financial status.

The relationship between enterprise performance and the various exogenous variables specifying the factor and product market environment, as well as the ownership structure, is likely to be inter-related. For example, whether state-owned firms perform worse than private ones will depend on both the measure of performance used (profitability or total factor productivity, for example) and the market structure. State-owned firms operating in highly competitive markets may appear to perform relatively better than privately owned firms because bankruptcy constraints bind for the latter but not the former. Similarly, financial constraints may be more relevant for private than state-owned firms, especially those operating in competitive markets. The papers in this Special Issue have treated these issues in depth but for the most part independently. In this concluding paper, we analyse them together and explore their inter-relationships.

We therefore conclude our study by bringing together the various determinants of enterprise performance in a single unified framework. Our approach is to estimate an equation of the form:
Pi=Pi(Oi, Ci, Fi, Xi) (1)
where Pi is an indicator of enterprise performance, for example productivity, profitability or restructuring; Oi represents the form of majority ownership; Ci the competitiveness of markets; Fi financial constraints and Xi is a vector of control variables.

The specification of equation (1) largely follows the methodology employed in the other papers in this Special Issue. For performance, we use a wide variety of quantitative measures – mark-up (sales over total cost), return on equity (profit over equity capital), return on fixed assets, sales per worker and the rate of investment (investment over fixed assets). Accounting problems and data reliability suggest that we should avoid concentrating on any single performance indicators. We also use two of the qualitative measures of restructuring: the rate of restructuring ‘in any year’, and ‘in every year’ (see Estrin and Angelucci, 2003).

To control for alternative ownership structures, we divide the data set into three categories of majority ownership – insider, outsider and state-owned firms. Majority ownership is defined as the owner holding more than a 40% stake, and holding the largest individual stake. In the regressions, we omit the insider ownership dummy, and so we expect Pi to be improved by outsider ownership and probably reduced by state ownership (see Earle and Estrin, 1997). The specification of the competition variable parallels the methodology in Estrin and Angelucci (2003) with three categories of domestic competition: high, medium and low (ie monopoly), and a variable indicating the presence of significant import competition. The low competition group is the excluded category in the regressions, so we expect performance in terms of productivity and restructuring to be reduced by monopoly power and import competition. We hypothesise that profitability and measures of financial performance will be improved, however, by monopoly power because of higher product prices, but made worse by import competition. Our measures of financial constraints follow the definitions in Bevan and Fennema (2003), with the lowest level of financial constraint being the omitted category. We would expect the performance of firms to deteriorate as financial constraints become more binding.2

We use a number of control variables (X) in equation (1), most importantly dummy variables for three-digit sector and for regions (see the Appendix). These variables control for demand and institutional differences by sector and region, which could affect revenue and profitability. Since economic performance is also likely to be influenced by the size of the firm, we include the three size categories, omitting the smallest firms (see Bevan and Fennema, 2003). We expect many measures of performance, including mark-up, productivity and perhaps restructuring, to increase with firm size. The regressions were run in cross-section form using 1999 data.3

We hypothesised above that different elements of the business environment and the ownership structure may interact in their influence on the firm. Several examples have already been noted: product market competition may fail to elicit improved productivity in state-owned firms, or financial constraints might only bind under private ownership. We address these issues by estimating versions of equation (1) with interactive effects between state ownership and competition, and between state ownership and financial constraints. We do not hypothesise any interactions effects between competition or financial constraints on the one side, and insider versus outsider ownership on the other.

The results are reported in Table 1, which shows the basic performance equations (without interactive effects) using the five economic measures of performance. We do not report the interactive regressions in Table 1 because these terms are never significant in any equation, and F-tests supported their exclusions from the reported regressions. The level of fit in these equations is, for the most part, poor, ranging from around 7% to 11%. The only exception is the sales per worker equation, in which the R2 reaches about 0.46. However, all the equations are significant at the 99% level.
Table 1

Regressions of economic and financial performance



Return on equity (ROE)

Return on fixed assets (RFA)

Medium firms








Large firms








Outsider owned








State owned








Medium domestic monopoly








Domestic monopoly








Import competition








Partial financial constraint








Financially constrained
















Regional controls




Industry controls




No. obs




Adj. R2









Sales per worker

Investment/fixed assets (IFA)

Medium firms







Large firms







Outsider owned







State owned







Medium domestic competition







Domestic monopoly







Import competition







Partial financial constraint







Financially constrained














Regional controls




Industry controls




No. obs




Adj. R2








***Significant at 1% level, **Significant at 5% level, *Significant at 10% level.

Table 1 suggests that few economic variables explain the variance in level of enterprise performance in 1999. Sales per worker are greater in large firms, suggesting the influence of either scale economies or monopoly power in price determination (although the effect is only weakly significant, at the 90% level). Highly financially constrained firms also have significantly lower sales per worker, though, as noted above, the causality is not entirely clear. It is possible that financial constraints are preventing firms from developing their technology, product or sales in such a way as to increase productivity. On the other hand, in an environment where external funding sources are scarce and expensive, low productivity may derive from poor sales, which may also be the cause of tight financial constraints. Either way, the results suggest that firms can enter a downward spiral of poor performance and financial distress, which constrains the ability of managers to turn things around.

There are no other significant economic variables in the sales per worker regression. The bulk of the rather good fit derives from industry and regional dummies, which Estrin and Bhaumik (2002) argue can be interpreted as demand and institutional factors. In particular, we find no evidence that measures of competition or ownership structure have any effect on sales per worker.

This pattern is repeated in most of the other regressions in Table 1, in particular for financial performance (ROE or RFA) and mark-up. As in the regression for sales per worker, we find some weak size effects in the mark-up equation, which supports the market power interpretation that larger firms are charging a higher price. Financial constraints are found to have a significant negative effect on both ROE and RFA; indeed, both partial financial constraints and (strong) financial constraints are separately significant, with the coefficient on the latter being significantly greater than that on the former. This is consistent with the idea of a recursive structure, from poor financial performance to financial constraints to worse performance. Regional controls are significant, as proxies for local demand and business environment conditions (eg transport and heating costs, legal infrastructure, enforcement, etc), and industrial dummies are relevant in explaining the RFA, probably because of the sectoral variance in capital–labour ratios. Once again, we fail to isolate any significant effect on financial performance or mark-up from ownership or market structure.

Finally, we look directly at one measure of restructuring; the rate of investment as a proportion of fixed assets (IFA). The results are very similar to those of the previous equations. Most strikingly, we find IFA to be significantly lower in firms with financial constraints, especially these facing (strong) financial constraints. Given the restricted ability to raise the finance externally, the causality in this case seems likely to run unambiguously from the financial constraints to investment. We also isolate a weak but significant positive effect of import competition on investment rates; firms facing more competition perhaps find that, whatever the financial constraints, they do need to invest more. However, domestic market competition and ownership remain insignificant in this equation.

We next turn to our qualitative indicators of enterprise performance. The results on restructuring in Table 2 have slightly more economic interpretation and parallel the findings in the Estrin and Angelucci (2003) paper. Commencing with the basic specification, without interactive terms, we find that only the regional and industry dummies are significant in explaining restructuring in any year, although we also identify size effects in the regression for restructuring in every year. However, the columns of Table 2 which include, interactive terms (columns 2 and 4) reveal that ownership and competition do influence restructuring, but only when considered together. Thus, we find that state ownership reduces the level of restructuring, when combined with domestic monopoly power. Moreover, financial constraints actually increase the pace of restructuring in state-owned firms, although not in private ones. This suggests that the state as owners may want to restructure enterprises which have serious financial constraints, in a way that private owners are either unwilling or unable to do. Perhaps this is with a mind to privatisation in the future. However, even for the restructuring variables, we are unable to identify any significant impact on performance from outsider as distinct from insider ownership, or from import competition.
Table 2

Regressions of restructuring activity


Restructuring (in any year)

Restructuring (in every year)


No interaction

With interaction

No interaction

With interaction

Medium firms










Large firms










Outsider owned










State owned










Medium domestic competition










Domestic monopoly










Import competition










Partial financial constraint










Financially constrained




















Regional controls





Industry controls





Interaction of


State ownership & medium domestic competition







State ownership & domestic monopoly







State ownership & import competition







State ownership & partial financial constraint







State ownership & financially constrained







No. obs















***Significant at 1% level, **Significant at 5% level, *Significant at 10% level.

Taken together, these regressions largely confirm, in a unified framework, the results suggested from the more detailed studies in the other papers in the Special Issue. While there is considerable dispersion in the performance of firms, measured by financial indicators, productivity or restructuring (including investment), these are not yet well explained by the factors stressed in the transition literature – ownership structure, domestic market competition or import competition. The underdevelopment of the capital market, however, does mean that firms are heavily constrained by their financial situation in their efforts to improve their performance. The major factors determining all aspects of performance in Russian firms in this period are found to be demand and local institutional conditions, proxied by the regional and industry dummy variables. The strong significance of the former, in particular, highlights that the Russian economy does not yet function as a unified market.

Overall, our research therefore suggests three major policy conclusions. Firstly, this study – in accordance with other studies – demonstrates that Russian enterprises tended even in 2000 to concentrate their activity on the local and regional markets. While our data suggest that Russian firms do face some domestic competition, the fact that this is not reflected in financial performance, and the indications that monopoly power does enhance mark-ups, strongly intimate that competitive market pressures are insufficient to motivate improved performance. This is probably related to the regional fragmentation of the Russia market. We do find evidence of some degree of domestic competitive pressure, implying that the effect of barriers limiting the ability of enterprises to enter other regional markets is less acute than might have been expected. However, many enterprises –particularly those in the food industry – maintain that they face difficulties in entering regional markets. This may reflect two issues: regional administrative barriers to entry and infrastructural deficiencies following a long period of under-investment in transport infrastructure, thereby impeding cross-regional competition. In the former case, the Putin administration has made significant strides in recent years to rebalance the federal-regional relationship, and the consequent reduction of the regional power base may have helped reduce such administrative barriers. In terms of infrastructure, the scale and potential for regional fragmentation of the Russian market suggests that the government should make efforts to alleviate transportation bottlenecks, both through physical investment in infrastructure and regulatory reform, in order to reduce transaction costs and encourage domestic competitive pressure.

Secondly, our results suggest that competition from imported goods is likely to play an important role in the future development of competitive pressures and thereby improved financial performance in Russian industry. Naturally, given the period under study, competitive pressures were to some extent limited by the substantial devaluation of the rouble following the August 1998 financial crisis. Consequently, the subsequent real appreciation of the rouble will increase competitive pressures from imported goods, particularly in the consumer goods sectors. Enhancing international competitive pressures also requires the reduction of import barriers and barriers to entry for foreign firms particularly in view of strong tendencies of integration and cross-ownership in Russian industry. Prospective Russian entry to the WTO therefore has a potentially strong role to play in integrating Russia into the world economy, and in providing a reform impetus akin to that of the EU accession candidates. Indeed, it could prove advantageous if the Russian authorities were to consider adopting certain elements of the Acquis Communautaire including in areas such as licensing and product labelling. This could serve both as an anchor for future reform and improve the competitiveness of Russian goods in the enlarged EU market.

Finally, our study highlights the importance of the development of Russian financial markets and the associated importance of corporate governance arrangements. Our results uncover strong evidence that self-financing of investments is not yet a feasible choice for the majority of Russian enterprises due to relatively small profit margins. At the same time, firms are unable to obtain sufficient access to bank finance owing to the underdevelopment of the banking sector. Hence, while some firms, predominantly those in the natural resource sector and hence excluded from our sample, have been able to rely on retained earnings to finance their investment activities, insufficient financial intermediation has precluded other firms from potentially profitable investment. As harnessing long-term sustainable growth in Russia increasingly requires investment both for restructuring purposes and for capital accumulation to enhance the productive base of the economy, the need for a robust system of financial intermediation becomes more pronounced. Hence, the results of our analysis suggest that the government and the Central Bank should continue with their efforts to increase regulation and competition in the sector, enhance the capital base and increase confidence in the financial system, which would likely be aided by the proposed deposit insurance scheme currently under consideration.

While equity and corporate bonds could become an alternative source of finance in the future, the widespread development of securities markets in Russia will require further reforms to ensure more transparent and efficient corporate governance. The empirical evidence from this paper shows that the average board composition of our sampled enterprises neither reflected the ownership structure nor did it correspond to standards from other countries. Instead employees, especially management and sometimes regional authorities are over-represented while other groups of stock and stake holders are under-represented. This contradiction between the ownership and control base of companies in our sample probably explains why we do not find evidence of outsider owned firms performing significantly better than insider-owned ones. While ownership arrangements have increasingly shifted in favour of outsider ownership, improved governance structures will be needed for this to be translated into improved company performance. Many Russian firms are increasingly recognising the importance of corporate governance both for securing access to securities markets and for improving the terms of such access. Moreover, the government's endorsement of the new Corporate Governance Code in March 2002, which is based on OECD principles, is a significant step forward in this regard. Nonetheless, adoption of the Corporate Governance Code remains voluntary at present. Therefore, further improvements and broader adherence to sound corporate governance standards are required before Russian firms are able to harness such additional sources of finance.


  1. 1.

    The views in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official positions of their respective institutions.

  2. 2.

    We noted above that the casualty is not entirely straightforward since in the Russian environment, where access to capital markets is so limited, poor previous performance may be the cause of currently binding financial constraints. Given the short time period of the panel, we are unable to address this issue in our work.

  3. 3.

    Although there are data for 3 years, the pattern of missing values reduces the number of observations if we use the economic data back to 1997. Moreover, some variables, for example competition, are only measured for 1999. There are also serious problems of relative and absolute price changes, which we are unable to address because of the absence of appropriate disaggregated producer price indices. Hence, we have chosen to report the cross-section results for 1999. Regressions in rate of change form for the years 1997–1998 and 1998–1999 yield the same pattern of results.


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Copyright information

© Association for Comparative Economic Studies (ACES) 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Saul Estrin
    • 1
  • Alan Bevan
    • 2
  1. 1.Centre for New and Emerging Markets, London Business School, Regent's ParkLondonUK
  2. 2.Office of the Chief Economist, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, One Exchange SquareLondonUK

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