June 26, 2020
ANALYSIS: Authorities increase pressure on National Bank to soften monetary policy
Monthly overview of Belarus’ money-crediting & banking sector, Jan-May 2020
MINSK, Jun 26 – PrimePress. In May, Belarus’ monetary sector continued a smooth recovery from the March shock: inflation returned to the track outlined by the forecast, the Belarusian ruble rate stabilized, the situation in the FX market got back to normal; after a two-month decline, the growth of personal time deposits in Belarusian rubles started growing again, while the growth rate of broad money supply slowed down.
At the same time, in the absence of tangible financial resources the authorities keep making attempts quickly to restore the pace of economic growth in the near future, which increases the pressure on the monetary sector. In June, the authorities have raised the ceiling on directed lending for the third time since early year. And on June 19, during a meeting with the government to discuss support measures the banking system could provide for the real economy sector, President Lukashenko demanded a rapid reduction of the refinancing rate and urged banks to increase credit support to the real sector.
Table. Key performance indicators of the Belarusian monetary sector in 2020
standing as of June 1, 2020
|Official forecast, as anticipated on Jan 1, 2021|
|Belarusian ruble’s average exchange rate against US dollar, Br/$1||2.41||2.2784*|
|Refinancing rate, per cent per annum||8**||9.5*|
|Year-on-year inflation growth, % (key target of monetary policy)||4.9 (May 2020 on May 2019)||not more than 5% (Dec 2020 on Dec 2019)|
|Belarus’ international reserves growth by the IMF’s SDDS, billion US dollars||7.879||at least 7.3|
|Growth in broad money supply since early 2018, % (intermediary target of monetary policy)||15.4 (May 2020 on May 2019)||8–11 (Dec 2020 on Dec 2019)|
*as stated in the government’s medium-term finance programme of Belarus’ republican budget, which covers the 2020-2022 period (govt resolution #3 of Jan 3, 2020)
**reduced by 0.75 percentage points on May 20, 2020
President demands banks should ease their credit policy more vigorously
The decision taken by the National Bank in May in favour of transition from neutral to moderately soft monetary conditions did not suit the renewed team of economists of the presidential administration, as well as the president himself.
During the meeting on June 19, 2020 President Lukashenko demanded to secure sustainable credit support to the real sector. He pointed to the need to use all instruments to replenish the resource base of banks: deposit auctions of the Ministry of Finance, the weakening of reserve requirements to maintain liquidity, the profit of the banking system. Lukashenko also gave guidance for National Bank to reduce the refinancing rate by the end of June. “Also pay attention to the refinancing rate. All countries are actively reducing it in a bid to revive their economies. The consumer price index is within the social and economic development forecast, this is why we should work harder to make bank loans cheaper. I will be waiting for the government and the National Bank to take relevant decisions without delay. Do it till the end of June,” said Lukashenko.
The decisions followed on June 22, when the National Bank announced it will lower the refinancing rate by 0.25 percentage points on July 1, 2020 to 7.75% per annum; overnight loan and deposit rates – by 0.25 pp to 8.75% per annum and 6.75% per annum, respectively. The decision was made following the meeting on monetary policy held on June 22. The previous major meeting was held earlier: at a regular meeting on monetary policy on May 13, when the National Bank ruled to reduce the refinancing rate by 0.75 p.p. to 8% per annum from May 20, 2020.
The regulator explained the motives behind its decisions: “Inflation is slowing faster than expected. In May 2020, consumer prices grew by 4.9% in annual terms against 5.4% in April 2020. The annual core inflation slowed to 3.9% (4.5% in April 2020)”.
Tangibly easing monetary conditions, while inflation risks remain high and the economy needs reforms, may result not only in increased availability of credit resources at the time of crisis. This step also indicates that the authorities have lost hope for the emergence of non-inflationary sources of financing for the economy and decided to resort to the old tried and tested methods – pumping the economy with cheap credit resources, which threatens the preservation of price stability and financial stability in the long term.
At present, the level of interest rates is adequate to the situation in the economy. According to the National Bank, amid current uncertainty, the average interest rate on new time bank deposits in Belarusian rubles has increased to 9.47% per annum in May 2020 against 8.90% April 2020 and 8.65% in May 2019. In turn, the average rate on new Br loans (except for soft loans) in May this year amounted to 10.69% against 10.67% per annum in Apr 2020 and 11.16% per annum in May 2019.
The average rate on overnight loans in the interbank market, which most accurately reflects the cost of borrowing in the economy, stood at 9.27% in May 2020 to compare with 9.16% in Apr 2020 and 10.78% in May 2019.
Further reducing credit interest rates, as demanded by the president, will inevitably lead to cheaper deposits. In the face of growing inflationary expectations, this may become a catalyst for the outflow of personal Br savings from banks, which will end up with having their resource base exhausted. In other words, the administered cheapening of resources may provoke their deficit in the market.
May sees modest growth in personal Br-denominated time deposits
After the negative dynamics of March-April, the market of Br deposits demonstrated a slight increase in personal fixed-term deposits denominated in Belarusian rubles.
At the same time, personal savings in foreign currency continued to decline for five consecutive months. The situation in the deposit market is conditioned by the economic sentiment of Belarusians under the influence of the dynamics of interest rates, the perceived level of inflation, as well as the exchange rate of the Belarusian ruble.
The total balance of fixed-term personal deposits in Belarusian rubles amounted to Br5.038 billion as of June 1, 2020, up 0.3% month on month (or Br14.1m) in May (minus 1.8% or Br93.5m since early 2020). In turn, fixed-term personal deposits in foreign currency decreased by 1.2% (minus 7.2% or by $448.5m) in May, amounting to $5.768 billion as of June 1.
The waning interest in fixed-term foreign currency savings was offset by an increase in on-demand accounts. As of June 1, they stood at $1.503 billion, up 2.9% or $42.4 million in May, up 13.7% or $181.2 million since early 2020.
The main factors of such stratification can be called a small difference in rates between FX fixed-term deposits and card account balances, which make up the bulk of the population’s transferable deposits.
The main factor behind Belarusians’ interest in card accounts, which make up the bulk of transferable personal deposits, is low interest rates on fixed-term foreign currency deposits. Amid uncertainty, individuals prefers to have access to their savings in the 24/7 mode rather than to expect the expiration of an irrevocable deposit.
At the same time, the events of June this year, when the regulator unexpectedly introduced an interim administration at Belgazprombank, which had no external financial problems, as well as the subsequent disruption supply of foreign currency in ATMs and bank offices, may significantly affect the desire of Belarusians to keep their savings in banks, even in foreign currency. Given the insignificance of interest rates, it is much safer and less disturbing to keep dollars in a secret place at home.
Reserves get stabilized, with remaining risks of further decline
The relevant stability of the exchange rate of the Belarusian ruble, as well as the waning degree of uncertainty in the global markets has contributed to stabilization of Belarus’ gold and foreign exchange reserves, which currently exceed the level specified in the 2020 end-of-year forecast.
The regulator says Belarus’ gold and FX reserve assets amounted to $7.879 million as of June 1, 2020, down 0.05% (or $3.7 million) month on month.
The situation in the foreign exchange market in 2019 made it possible to accumulate a substantial reserve stock, however, in early 2020 this reserve started melting dangerously fast under the influence of external negative factors that affected the dynamics of the Belarusian ruble’s exchange rate. The National Bank was forced to actively interfere in the processes of exchange rate formation, which led to a total decline in reserves in Q1 2020 by 17.1% (or $1.607 billion).
In the following months, the situation somewhat stabilized. As a result, in January-May 2020 gold and foreign exchange reserves decreased by 16.1%, or by $1.514 billion.
In accordance with the 2020 Guidelines for Belarus’ monetary management policy, Belarus’ gold and foreign exchange reserves are supposed to reach at least $7.3 billion as of Jan 1, 2021. At the same time by the end of 2020 the government and the National Bank will have to repay about $2.5 billion to take of the country’s external and internal liabilities in foreign currency.
At present the reserves exceed the forecasted level and the National Bank confidently declares, with reference to the successful placement of Eurobonds by the Ministry of Finance in June, that it is real to fulfil or even overfulfil the forecast. At the same time, the continuing uncertainty in the economy, as well as the upcoming debt payments, give rise to certain concerns about the dynamics of the country’s foreign exchange reserves.
Besides, another cause for concern is the statements made by President Lukashenko at the meeting on June 19 about the necessity to increase lending to enterprises especially since the country has accumulated significant gold and foreign exchange reserves “for a rainy day”.
He said: “Over the last five years we have been pursuing a rigorous monetary and foreign exchange policy. We have accumulated certain gold and foreign exchange reserves and budget leftovers. We have always known these were set aside for a rainy day. I am not saying that day has come. This is a problem because we don’t know what will happen to the global economy, on which we (and other countries) depend so much. Everything is globalized, everything is related. It is difficult to understand whether today is a rainy day or will get even rainier just like in other countries.”
In other words, the president does not rule out the possibility of “eating away” gold and foreign currency reserves. Taking into account the fact that Belarusian reserves are largely of debt nature, their spending on maintaining an ineffective public sector may have very painful consequences.
Lending will be given an administrative boost
Lending, and especially directed lending, is highly likely to start growing within the next few months to come.
Despite the fact that the authorities planned to completely abandon directed lending as early as 2020, they have so far had little success implementing these plans. Moreover, the initial plans to restrict this time of lending this year have ended up with an administrative increase in the ceiling on directed lending by 70% to Br1.26 billion.
This line of behaviour of the authorities is proof that their economic projects are inefficient and, consequently, investors are unwilling to take market risks related to implementing such projects.
Meanwhile, so far the pace of lending has been rather restrained due to balanced credit policy of banks, as well as due to limited number of promising projects and solvent borrowers.
According to the National Bank, the economy’s debt to banks stood at Br61.013bn as of Jun 1, 2019, up 11.2% since early 2020. The real sector’s debt to banks stood at Br42.221bn as of June 1, 2019, up 13.2% since early 2020. This includes the debt of state-owned non-financial organizations – Br20.933bn, up 10.1% in Jan-May 2020, and on other non-financial organizations – Br21.288bn, up 16.5%.
More dynamic lending to the non-financial sector may be indicative of its greater efficiency and, consequently, its attractiveness for financing by banks.
Private households’ debt to banks stood at Br15.151bn as of June 1, 2020, up 5.6% since early 2020. A more modest increase in lending to private households compared to other sectors is due to the fact that banks fully meet individuals’ demand for loans; another reason is the tightening of lending conditions by banks.
Thus, it can be assumed that the aggravation of credit risks will be very important at least until the end of this year both for banks and for the country’s economy as a whole.
Risks will increase if GDP gets artificially pumped up
The National Bank has estimated that maintaining moderately soft monetary conditions allows maintaining an acceptable level of price stability and financial stability.
At the same time, the economic policy vector voiced by the authorities suggests artificially pumping up the GDP (for example, by means of creating excessive warehouse inventories, further raising of the ceiling on directed lending).
The government declares that the crisis will hit the bottom in the second quarter, and the recovery processes will start in the third quarter. Economy Minister Alexander Chervyakov hopes to prevent the economy from contracting in 2020, although over the period of Jan-May 2020 the economy has already declined by 1.8%. If the authorities really intend to reduce the GDP decline to zero, it will reduce the National Bank’s room for manoeuvre in terms of the possibility to reduce interest rates and increase the risks of economic instability.
PrimePress Business Analysis Agency
Belarus registers 60,713 coronavirus cases as of Jun 26, 2020, 373 dead
MINSK, Jun 26 – PrimePress. Belarus registered 60,713 coronavirus cases as of June 26, 2020, 373 people died, the Health Ministry of Belarus reports on its official Telegram channel.
42,689 patients have recovered and have been discharged from hospitals.
Yesterday, the ministry reported 60,382 registered coronavirus cases and 367 coronavirus-related deaths in Belarus.
The Health Ministry says around 939,500 tests for the coronavirus infection have been conducted in Belarus as of June 26. End
Belarus may get new constitution within 2 years – Lukashenko
MINSK, Jun 26 – PrimePress. The new Constitution of Belarus may be adopted within two years. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko made a statement to this effect during his working trip to Soligorsk District, Minsk Oblast, on June 26.
“The Constitution is the Fundamental Law. We will make it in two years. Several options have already been suggested to me – they are no good.
People are just afraid of introducing more resolute amendments to the Constitution. I think we should do it. Before we adopt the Constitution, we will do a lot in terms of transferring more power to the lower-level authorities, including heads of district administrations and governors,” Lukashenko’s press-service reports citing their patron as saying.
According to him, local authorities should deal with their territories more broadly. “As for the redistribution of powers at the very top of the power – president, parliament and government – everything should be clearly written in the Constitution. It will be approved at a referendum; we should clearly define the way we will go. Either we take the road suggested by ‘alternative candidates’, with privatization, reforms and so on, I will not be part of it, because I will not go as far as to disrupt the social system of our country,” said Lukashenko.
He said that a return to the 1994 Constitution is a movement backwards. “We shouldn’t talk about reform and moving forward if we lead the people back,” said Lukashenko. End
Lukashenko hopes to discuss some issues of further cooperation with Putin on June 30
MINSK, Jun 26 – PrimePress. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko expects to discuss with Russian President Vladimir Putin some issues of further cooperation on June 30, 2020.
Lukashenko made a statement to this effect during his working trip to Soligorsk District, Minsk Oblast, on June 26.
Lukashenko says he plans to attend the official opening of the Soviet Soldier Memorial near Russia’s Rzhev. “Tuesday next week (June 30 – editor’s note). We are choosing the time for this trip. We are looking for a moment to go and discuss (with the president of Russia – editor’s note) there some issues of our further cooperation,” he said.
As previously reported, on June 24, Lukashenko attended the Victory Day parade in Moscow dedicated to the Soviet Union’s victory in World War II. The Belarusian President’s spokeswoman Natalia Eismont reported on June 19 that Lukashenko and Putin “agreed to meet and discuss the issues on the agenda today … in Moscow.” However, there were no reports of their meeting on June 24. End
Lukashenko will not privatize large state-owned enterprises, and mineral deposits
MINSK, Jun 26 – PrimePress. Belarusian President of Lukashenko will not go for privatizing large state-owned enterprises and mineral deposits. Lukashenko made a statement to this effect during his working trip to Soligorsk District, Minsk Oblast, on June 26.
“I cannot allow the privatization of, for instance, Belaruskali. There is no need to privatize it because it works effectively, just the way the country needs. Privatization does not always change things for the better. I am afraid of job losses. We’ve already seen that. It is good that we didn’t go for universal privatization when an investor comes and he doesn’t need 20,000 workers (like here), he doesn’t need non-core assets that don’t generate revenue such as kindergartens and the rest. I don’t need that kind of privatization,” said Lukashenko.
“At one time they offered me to sell Belaruskali. You remember this. But I’m glad we didn’t go for that. I set a prohibitive price at that time – $35 billion, of course, no one could pay us. The price was brutal – buy if you want, 50% – split in half, and buy,” he said.
Also, according to Lukashenko, “we have not privatized subsurface resources and are not going to, including oil, natural gas, potassium, salt, gravel, and the rest.” End
National Bank, State Customs Committee start implementing electronic circulation of bank guarantees
MINSK, Jun 26 – PrimePress. The National Bank and the State Customs Committee of Belarus have given a start to the pilot operation of software that allows issuing bank guarantees and other communications related to their application in favour of customs authorities in the form of an electronic document, the NBB press-service said in a report.
Full-fledged data exchange between the National Bank’s information network and the SCC information system is scheduled for August 1, 2020.
This project is implemented under the agreement on information interaction in the field of bank guarantees between the National Bank and SCC. “It will allow exchanging relevant information between the National Bank’s information network, which uses blockchain technology, and the information system of the State Customs Committee”. End
EBRD approves €20m loan to Stadler Minsk
MINSK, Jun 26 – PrimePress. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has approved a loan in the amount of €20 million to Belarus’ Stadler Minsk intended to assist the rolling stock manufacture in replenishing its working capital, according to a message posted on the EBRD website.
The proposed working capital support facility will allow the company to deliver the contracted orders in a timely manner and maintain its competitive advantage as a reliable provider of the rolling stock in the region.
Established in 2014 as an affiliate of Stadler Rail Group, Stadler produces railway transport. End
Friday forex session: ruble down 0.05% against dollar to Br2.3839/$1
MINSK, Jun 26 – PrimePress. Following the bidding at the single forex session of the Belarusian Currency and Stock Exchange (BCSE) in the format of a continuous two-way auction, the Belarusian ruble stood at Br2.3839/$1 to the dollar on June 26, down 0.05% on the previous day of trading, says the BCSE official report.
Following the bidding at the single forex session on Friday, the ruble stood at Br2.6753/€1 to the euro, up 0.05%; at Br3.4486/RUB100 to the Russian ruble, down 0.41%.
As previously reported, the National Bank of Belarus (NBB) on June 1, 2015 stopped the practice of fixing the exchange rate of the Belarusian ruble to the basket of foreign currencies on a day-to-day basis and switched over to FX trading on the Belarusian Currency and Stock Exchange (BCSE) in the format of a continuous two-way auction.
The parties taking part in continuous two-way auctions at the BCSE are free to make bids and offers during the entire auction period, however deals will be made if the FX trading system bridges bids with relevant offers.
The weighted average rate of the US dollar, the euro and the Russian ruble shall be the National Bank’s official exchange rate of the relevant currency for the day that follows the day of trading.
At the moment, the exchange rate of the Belarusian ruble is pegged to the basket of foreign currencies, with the share of the Russian ruble standing at 50%, the US dollar – 30%, the euro – 20%. End
New Oil Company established in Belarus to facilitate alternative oil supplies
MINSK, Jun 26 – PrimePress. A private company entitled New Oil Company (NOC) was established in Belarus in March 2020 to organize alternative oil supplies, an official representing a relevant state agency told PrimePress.
“The company was established by private commercial entities. This is another operator, which will organize oil supplies to Belarus,” the official said.
Asked to comment on the news, Spokesman for Belneftekhim Concern Alexander Tishchenko told PrimePress that the NOC will not be a competitor for the state-run exporter of oil products Belarusian Oil Company (BelOil), which is also engaged in organizing alternative oil supplies to Belarus.
“On the contrary, with the advent of the NOC there will be more opportunities for attracting oil to Belarus,” said Tishchenko. In his words, it is possible that if there are certain commercial incentives, the NOC could also supply oil to the Belarusian refineries (Mozyr NPZ and Naftan) on a give-and-take basis.
“The NOC has been registered only recently, and we are not yet aware of the company’s commercial plans. But, obviously, as a private entity, the NOC will risk only its shareholders’ money when buying oil,” Tishchenko said. He would not name the NOC shareholders. “These could be both domestic and foreign companies,” he said.
Belarus has been diversifying oil supplies to its refineries (Mozyr Oil Refinery, Gomel Oblast, and Naftan OJSC, Novopolotsk, Vitebsk Oblast) after Russia cut supplies in January-March 2020 due to price disagreements with Russian large oil companies. Since early 2020, Belarus has purchased oil from Azerbaijan, Norway, Saudi Arabia and the United States via Klaipeda (Lithuania) and Odessa (Ukraine). End
Belarus’ crude oil output up 1% in May 2020 to 142,992 tonnes
MINSK, Jun 26 – PrimePress. Belorusneft (Rechitsa, Gomel Oblast)–Belarus’ sole producer of crude oil–says its crude output increased 1% year on year in May 2020 to 142,992 tonnes.
Oil production by means of hydraulic fracturing reduced by 5% year on year in May 2020 to 22,739 tonnes; oil production from new wells and branch holes reduced by 7.2% to 9,159 tonnes.
As previously reported, Belarus plans to increase oil production in 2020 by 1.18% on the year to 1.7 million tonnes. In 2019, Belorusneft increased oil production by 1.19% on the year to 1.69 million tonnes.
Belorusneft was founded in 1966. The company specializes in exploration work, oil extraction, gas processing and offers a wide range of seismic exploration operations.
Belorusneft provides oil extraction service in Russia, Ukraine, Venezuela and Ecuador, facilitates crude supplies to Belarusian on refineries on a give-and-take basis. Belorusneft sells oil products via a proprietary network of refilling stations–the largest network in the country. End
Belarus cuts gas consumption by 6bn cubic metres in 2011-2019 after energy system upgrade – Energy Ministry
MINSK, Jun 26 – PrimePress. An upgrade of Belarus’ energy system has made it possible to reduce gas consumption by 6 billion cubic metres or $900 million in 2011-2019. Belarus Energy Minister Viktor Karankevich made a statement to this effect on June 26 during a visit to Mogilev, reported the press service of the Ministry of Energy.
In his words, 25 power plants has been reconstructed, with a total capacity of 3 thousand MW, which accounts for about 30% of the country’s total power generating capacity, said Karankevich. Electricity tariffs for private households have decreased by 40%. Since 2018, Belarus has completely abandoned electricity import, replacing it with electric energy from its own energy sources at lower costs.
In his words, 132 charging stations for electric cars were put into operation in 2019 and 142 more are planned for 2020.
As previously reported, Belarus imports about 20 billion cubic meters of gas from Russia annually and is the largest consumer of gas after Germany. In 2020, gas price for Belarus remained at the level of 2019 – $127 per 1 thousand cubic metres. End
Belarus govt counts on foreign funding to retool MTZ tractor factory
MINSK, Jun 26 – PrimePress. The Belarusian authorities count on being able to conduct a large-scale retooling campaign at Minsk Tractor Works (MTZ) at the expense of trade financing programmes by the world’s leading suppliers of equipment and technology on favourable terms for Belarus.
Belarus Prime Minister Roman Golovchenko made a statement to this effect following a tour of MTZ on June 26.
“Buying [equipment and technologies] is easy but we have to make it as economical as possible. We have to bring finance from those vendors here. All the world’s leading producers want to participate in tenders. One of the conditions specified by MTZ is that they have to bring their money here. We don’t want the project to be a drain on the state budget in any way,” said Roman Golovchenko.
Speaking about MTZ’s operation in current conditions, the prime minister pointed out that markets have shrunk and sales have dropped all over the world due to the pandemic, this is why the state supports enterprises. “But it will be too much of a burden on the state budget in the long run. This is why the enterprise chose a different tactic. As a matter of principle, Western suppliers are ready to provide resources on more advantageous terms in comparison to Belarusian banks or government investments. This is why, as I’ve already mentioned, trade financing will be a very advantageous option without putting a drain on the state budget,” Golovchenko explained.
The premier said: “We have to actually make a brand new factory. It will be difficult to accomplish because we don’t want to do it from scratch, which would be easier. We have to preserve this platform, integrate new divisions into the existing structure of the enterprise.”
MTZ was founded in 1946, in January 2014 it was transformed into an open joint stock company with 100% state share. It manufactures tractors with engine capacity ranging from 20 to 355 hp. End
NBB’s currency rates as of Jun 29, 2020
MINSK, Jun 26 – PrimePress. The National Bank of Belarus (NBB) set on Jun 26 the following exchange rates of the Belarusian ruble (Br) against foreign currencies for Jun 29, 2020.
|1||New Zealand Dollar||NZD||1.5351|
|1||SDR (Special Drawing Rights)||XDR||3.2837|
|1||BRITISH POUND STERLING||GBP||2.9539|