Belarus is looking for investors in Europe
Belarus’ EBRD Director, First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Semashko said that during the past year bank’s operations in Belarus reached a record high EUR 194 million. During the EBRD Board Meeting Mr. Semashko requested to send members of the Board of Directors and Bank’s specialists to Belarus this summer to assess the country’s economic situation. Therefore, one can expect some political concessions to be made by Belarus to allow expanding of possibilities for bilateral cooperation in the future.
On 22nd - 24th May, Belarusian government delegation held a series of meetings and talks with representatives of the leading international investment firms in London and discussed current economic situation in Belarus, short-and medium-term objectives and how to use macroeconomic policy instruments.
The delegation included Deputy Finance Minister Vladimir Amarin, Deputy Economy Minister Dmitry Golukhov, Deputy Chairman of the National Bank Taras Nadolny, and Council of Ministers’ Deputy Chief of Staff Alexander Zaborovsky.
According to Mr. Amarin, one of the key challenges the Belarusian delegation addressed during the London meetings was “finding support for Belarusian Eurobonds listings and country’s international credit ratings”. The government is currently interested in placing new Eurobonds however the current market environment is unfavorable for Belarusian residents (see Figure 1).
Thus, the yield on sovereign Eurobonds is still high. According to Cbonds, on May 24th, 2012 effective yield of the first issue of Belarus Eurobonds maturing on August 3, 2015 was 11.25%. This profitability level for sovereign Eurobonds makes the new placement of Belarusian bonds unwise.
Currently investors assess Belarusian risks as the highest, after Argentina and Venezuela, among the developing countries - Eurobond market players. For comparison: on May 24th, the effective yield of Ukrainian Eurobonds maturing in 2021 was 10.07%, Hungarian maturing in 2020 - 7.96%, Russian maturing in 2030 - 4.22%, Polish, maturing in 2019 - 3.98%, South Korean maturing in 2019 - 3.03%.
From the viewpoint of reducing the yield on sovereign Eurobonds, and reducing the costs of new foreign borrowings, it would be more appropriate for Belarus to improve its political relations with the European Union, which would reduce political risks for investors in the Belarusian securities (bonds, stocks, etc.).
Currently, there are two outstanding Belarusian Eurobond issues: maturing on August 3, 2015 for USD 1 billion (coupon rate is 8.75%) and maturing on January 26, 2018 for USD 800 million (at 8.95%).
In fact, the first payment of coupon profit from the first issue of Belarusian Eurobonds was USD 43.75 million, made on February 3, 2011, the second payment on August 3, 2011 (also USD 43.75 million), third payment – on February 2, 2012 (USD 43.75 million). The first payment of coupon profit from the second issue Eurobonds was made on July 26, 2011 (USD 35.8 million), the second payment on January 25, 2012 (USD 35.8 million).
Therefore, currently Belarus has paid off to investors USD 202.9 for both Eurobond issues. Following payments are due on July 26, 2012 for the second Eurobond issue (USD 35.8 million), and on August 3, 2012 for the first Eurobond issue (USD 43.75 million).
Simultaneously, the Belarusian government is looking for opportunities to attract private foreign capital from European countries. In May a delegation of Estonian businessmen visited Minsk to discuss investment cooperation. In particular, Estonian investors were interested in building a 3-4 star hotel in Belarus and a woodworking plant.
The Estonian delegation included General Manager, Chairman of the Board at JSC “Infortar”, Chairman of the Supervisory Board at a shipping company “Tallink Group”, Chairman, Association of large entrepreneurs in Estonia Ain Hansshmidt, Marketing Director at SILPORT Andrey Birov, and Estonian Ambassador to Belarus Jaak Lensment. The delegation met with the Prime Minister Mikhail Myasnikovich and Economy Minister Nikolai Snopkov.
During talks, Estonia invited Belarus to open own cargo terminal at the Sillamae port, which is the largest private port in the European Union (50% of the shares are owned by the Estonian port SILMET Group and 50% by Russian entrepreneurs). Belarus is studying this proposal in order to increase goods’ exports via Estonia.
In 2011 Estonian investments in Belarus totaled USD 63.7 million, of which USD 29.3 million were direct investments. There are more than 100 companies with Estonian capital, and over 10 representative offices of Estonian companies registered in Belarus.
The Belarusian authorities could to step up the opposition representation in local councils, should party members demonstrate potency. The Belarusian leadership is unlikely to have the resources to ensure 100 percent pro-government candidates in the local elections. The authorities have exhausted the grassroot support and have no funds to pay for the loyalty.
The Belarusian Central Election Commission has proposed to hold the elections to the local Councils of Deputies on February 18th, 2018.
The president has repeatedly emphasised the importance of the local councils in the power system and the state machine always tried to ensure the necessary local election results. Candidates have been decreasing in number with each elections and the authorities dealt with that by reducing the deputy corps. That said, during the rule of President Lukashenka, his electoral base has changed substantially. Over the past decade, most Belarusians have moved to cities and lost their local roots. The rural population is ready to support the president, but rural residents are constantly decreasing in number.
The Belarusian leadership is likely to permit broad participation in the election campaign and an increase in alternative representatives in the local councils. However, the opposition would have to boost its activity, so as so far it has been passive in defending its interests. In addition, the authorities, while determining the date for the local elections, have taken into account the fact that the opposition is usually the least active in the winter time.
Overall, both, the opposition and the local authorities have exhausted their grassroot support, however new local leaders may still come on political stage, although the party opposition has not yet shown sufficient aspirations.