Belarusian GDP resumed its fall signalling of unresolved economic problems
In July 2016, GDP fell by 2.7%. Curtailed oil supply from Russia has demonstrated the Belarusian economy’s heavy dependence on the refinery. In the given circumstances, the Belarusian authorities have limited ability to influence the situation in the economy and are likely to wait for external factors to improve.
According to the National Statistics Committee, in January-July 2016 Belarus’ GDP declined by 2.7% compared to the same period in 2015. In H1 2016, GDP fell by 2.5%. Over the past five months, there was a consistent reduction in the GDP gap as compared with 2015. In January 2016, the decline in GDP was 4.4%. Only agriculture, mining and transport industries have demonstrated growth. Construction, wholesale and retail trade and industry have major negative impact on GDP.
In July 2016, GDP dynamics changed, which was due to several factors. Firstly, petroleum production fell sharply in July 2016, which was likely due to curtailed oil supplies from Russia, amid Belarus’ overdue debt for Russian gas. In addition, Belarus could no longer re-export Russian oil products as anti-oxidants, which had a negative impact on chemical production in the Vitebsk region.
Secondly, in July 2016, motor vehicles production reduced sharply. Finally, falling cash incomes of the population reinforced the negative trend in retail sale, where performance slumped in July 2016.
GDP fall in July 2016 implies that imbalances in the Belarusian economy have not disappeared. Exports remain poorly diversified; a list of major exports is limited; and any problems with the oil prices or reduced demand for oil, petroleum products or food industry lead to reduced production throughout the country. The fall in exports cannot be compensated with other exports due to their low specific weight in the foreign trade turnover. Sometimes Belarus benefits from her transit position and re-exports goods to Russia, but the latter has learned to reveal such schemes and to use them to apply pressure on Belarus where needed. That said, Belarus has limited opportunities to resume economic growth. As Belarus has no plans to improve the investment climate, she may only hope for external factors to improve.
Amid economic imbalances and the lack of desire to carry out structural economic reforms, the Belarusian authorities may only rely on external factors to improve, since their reserves to influence the economy are limited.
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.