Accumulation of savings in foreign exchange is a devaluation expectations indicator
After a series of devaluations in the country, the Belarusian population, having the slightest fear of the Belarusian ruble devaluation, follows the traditional pattern and transfers savings into foreign exchange.
On October 12th, 2012 the National Bank published data on money supply. In September 2012, the outflow of ruble deposits from the Belarusian banking system has been recorded for the first time since the beginning of the year.
In September 2012, the population bought USD 365.6 million net, partly due to increased wages. In the first half of 2012, the population was selling currencies for daily needs, in the second half of the year wages rise has resulted in savings accumulation and the need to sell the currency disappeared.
However, the relatively high rates on ruble deposits amid relative stability in the foreign exchange market resulted in an increase in population’s ruble deposits. Since the beginning of the year to September the volume of short-term BYR deposits in Belarusian banks increased from BYR 9.4 trillion to BYR 13.6 trillion.
In September 2012 the situation has changed. Problems with foreign trade resulted in shrinking foreign currency proceeds. Reduced BYR deposits rates reduced the attractiveness of BYR deposits amid increasing devaluation expectations.
The BYR/USD/EUR exchange rate was BYR 8,500 per US Dollar and BYR 10,990 per Euro.
The population’s reaction to these developments was traditional: people started closing BYR deposits massively. BYR deposits in September 2012 shrank by BYR 738 billion. Businesses reacted in the same way. Short-term denominated corporate deposits decreased by BYR 823.2 billion.
Thus, the National Bank’s fears about the financial illiteracy of the population are somewhat exaggerated. Previous experiences have cemented in the people’s minds the effective scheme of preserving their savings. If people feel any uncertainty about the BYR exchange rate, they quickly exchange ruble savings into foreign currency and for safety reasons use foreign currency deposits even if their profitability is falling.
The rapid increase in wages has led to a decline in the ratio between labour productivity and real wages to one. Previously, the rule was that enterprises, in which the state owned more than 50% of shares in the founding capital, were not allowed increasing salaries if this ratio was equal to or less than one. The authorities are unlikely to be able to meet the wage growth requirement without long-term consequences for the economy. Hence, the government is likely to contain wage growth for the sake of economic growth.
According to Belstat, In January – August 2017, GDP growth was 1.6%. The economic revival has led to an increase in wages. In August, the average monthly wage was BYN 844.4 or USD 435, i.e. grew by 6.6% since early 2017, adjusted for inflation. This has reduced the ratio between labour productivity and real wages from 1.03 in January 2017 to 1 in the first seven months of 2017. This parameter should not be less than 1, otherwise, the economy starts accumulating imbalances.
The need for faster growth in labour productivity over wage growth was stated in Decree No 744 of July 31st, 2014. The decree enabled wages growth at state organizations and organizations with more than 50% of state-owned shares only if the ratio between growth in labour productivity and wages was higher than 1. Taking into account the state's share in the economy, this rule has had impact on most of the country's key enterprises. In 2013 -2014 wages grew rapidly, which resulted in devaluation in 2014-2015.
Faster wage growth as compared with growth in labour productivity carries a number of risks. Enterprises increase cost of wages, which subsequently leads to a decrease in the competitiveness of products on the domestic and foreign markets. In construction, wholesale, retail trade, and some other industries the growth rate of prime cost in 2017 outpaces the dynamics of revenue growth. This is likely to lead to a decrease in profits and a decrease in investments for further development. Amid wage growth, the population is likely to increase import consumption and reduce currency sales, which would reduce the National Bank's ability to repay foreign and domestic liabilities.
The Belarusian government is facing a dilemma – either to comply with the president’s requirement of a BYN 1000 monthly wage, which could lead to new economic imbalances and could further affect the national currency value, or to suspend the wage growth in order to retain the achieved economic results. That said, the first option bears a greater number of negative consequences for the nomenclature.
Overall, the rapid growth in wages no longer corresponds the pace of economic development. The government is likely to retain the economic growth and retrain further growth in wages. Staff reshuffles are unlikely to follow the failure to meet the wage growth requirement.