Cheap national currency loans for the economy
On February 21st, Prime Minister Myasnikovich announced implementation of a step-by-step strategy regarding loans interest rates reduction.
High interest rates on loans hamper modernization, which has been declared an economy’s priority in the coming years. With the means available the National Bank lowered rates on the interbank market, which is a prerequisite for reducing the loans’ costs. Deposit investments profitability will be reduced, and the bankers will be asked to share revenues in the name of “the economic needs”.
The average rate on overnight loans in the interbank market in the national currency in January 2013 was 35.4% for loans to residents. Enterprises could obtain loans at 40% p/a and higher, which, taking into account the declining profitability of sales in the economy up to 7% in December, is a prohibitive rate. Slight increase in lending to some public enterprises in the national currency is linked to the ‘subsidies for modernization programme’ practices. This mechanism is used, because such subsidies relate to industrial subsidies and do not reduce GDP by their amount. Private enterprises do not have access to these practices and reduce the amount of debts to the banks.
Using credit auctions, the National Bank marked the desired level of interest rates in the interbank market at 35% p/a. The liquidity problem for the backbone state-owned banks remains unresolved, which hinders reduction of rates in the interbank market. In the second half of February, the National Bank was able to solve the problem and the rates fell below the refinancing rate standard (30% p/a). The recommendation to limit the margin on loans issued by banks with lower interest rates will reduce the cost of credits.
The problem of high interest rates on loans reached the highest state level. To compensate for the ban on mortgages in foreign currency, the National Bank has decided to issue loans with substantially reduced rates to poor people, who cannot benefit from preferential programmes. As of February 25th, this social group can borrow at a reduced rate – 16% p/a – which will strengthen the housing construction industry. Statement by the Prime Minister and the President indicate, that possibly, banks will be offered to lower rates for special categories of borrowers, “for modernization purposes”, for enterprises that cannot benefit from public programmes.
Thus, the reduction of interest rates on loans has been declared a national task, and conventional donors, the banking sector and individuals, who have placed deposits in the banking system, will be forced to share partially their incomes through lower pays for borrowed funds. If banks practically have no other choice, individuals may transfer their savings from national currency deposits to foreign currency deposits with depreciation sentiments increasing.
Over the past year, military-political relations between Minsk and Kyiv have become complicated. Due to their high inertia and peculiarities, this downward trend would be extremely difficult to overcome.
The root cause of the crisis is the absence of a common political agenda in the Belarusian-Ukrainian relations. Minsk is looking for a market for Belarusian exports in Ukraine and offers its services as a negotiation platform for the settlement of the Russo-Ukrainian war, thereby hoping to avoid political issues in the dialogue with Kiev. Meanwhile, Ukraine is hoping for political support from Minsk in the confrontation with Moscow. In addition, Ukraine’s integration with NATO presupposes her common position with the Alliance in relation to Belarus. The NATO leadership regards the Belarusian Armed Forces as an integral part of the Russian military machine in the western strategic front (the Baltic states and Poland). In addition, the ongoing military reform in Ukraine envisages a reduction in the number of generals and the domestic political struggle makes some Ukrainian top military leaders targets in politically motivated attacks.
Hence, the criticism of Belarus coming from Ukrainian military leadership is dictated primarily by internal and external political considerations, as well as by the need to protect the interests of generals, and only then by facts.
For instance, initially, the Ukrainian military leadership made statements about 100,000 Russian servicemen allegedly taking part in the Russo-Belarusian military drill West-2017. Then the exercises were labelled quazi-open and military observers from Ukraine refused to provide their assessment, which caused a negative reaction in Minsk. Further, without citing specific facts, it was stated that Russia was building up its military presence in Belarus.
Apparently, the Belarusian and Ukrainian Defence Ministries have entangled in a confrontational spiral (on the level of rhetoric). Moreover, only a small part of the overly hidden process has been disclosed. That said, third states are very likely to take advantage of the situation (or have already done so). This is not only about Russia.
The Belarusian Defence Ministry officials are restrained in assessing their Ukrainian counterparts. However, such a restraint is not enough. Current military-political relations between Belarus and Ukraine are unlikely to stabilise without the intervention of both presidents.