Devaluation is inevitable
Last week’s initiatives of the authorities show that they have exhausted their resources vis-a-vis maintaining the threshold of stability. In the near future one should anticipate increased USD exchange rate, another round of inflation with inevitable consequences for production sites and markets.
Abolishment of privileges with regard to the mandatory sale of foreign currency earnings, the permission issued to five banks allowing them not to sell foreign currency to the population (with the exception of so-called "social needs") and the Azeri loan intended to maintain the status quo at the currency market for another month or so. However, foreign trade performance results, as well as information about Azerbaijan loan, cancellation of benefits, and the appointment of the new Head of the National Bank have already affected the USD exchange rate at the „gray market”. Market players assess the latest initiatives as additional barriers with regard to acquisition of currency, and the loan of Azerbaijan as a sign of the currency lack, they anticipate the growth of exchange rate and thereby trigger it. On 25 July, the „gray market” exchange rate increased by about 4%, reaching over the weekend the average of Br 6,300 per USD.
In the meanwhile the government plans to increase pensions, index salaries, fund state programmes, all of which will require broader emission. Moreover, the appointment of Ermakova as the Chairman of the National Bank spurs inflation expectations. There is not enough of resources available to prevent price increases and shortages of goods.
Foreign trade performance results show that exporters have already exhausted the devaluation shed, and that re-imports grow faster than exports. Moreover, comparative analysis of the data provided by the Customs Control Committee and by the Ministry of Statistics shows that there was no excess of exports over imports in May (as reported by the government).
There are no official channels left for obtaining loans, (except in case of political change), large privatization deals are put on ‘hold’. The most likely source of foreign currency remains the second tranche of the EurAsEC (autumn) and sale of Beltransgaz to Gazprom (probably by the New Year).
Therefore, it is reasonable to expect official devaluaiton in September to about Br 6,200 per USD with the „gray” rate closer to Br 7,500.
All actions of the authorities envisage salvation of the current economic policy and preservation of the political conrol. To be fair, their tactics works: protests grow slowly and constantly fluctuate under the influence of expectations (for instance, hopes to increase pensions and indexation of salaries, which inevitably will be devalued by rising food prices and prices for housing utilities services), and fear. Therefore the most popular ‘getaway’ from the current situation among the population is the „escape” option: into illegal business activity or to working abroad.
At the same time such policy also bears risks. First of all, it concerns the reduced functionality of the state and as a consequence reduced resource base and restrictions of the beneficiaries of the regime. Moreover, the narrowing scope of beneficiaries of the regime implies a split in the ruling elite.
Last week, Belarusian Foreign Minister Makei participated in the foreign ministers’ meeting of the Eastern Partnership and Visegrad Group initiative hosted by Warsaw. The Belarusian FM emphasized Belarus' interest in cooperation in the transport sector, which could be due to Belarus’ desire to export electricity surplus after Belarus finished construction of the nuclear power plant in Ostrovets. Minsk expressed concerns about Warsaw’s stance on the Belarusian NPP, as it refused to buy electricity from Belarus and supported Vilnius’ protest on this issue. Following accusations by the Belarusian leadership and the state media against western states, including Poland, of training "nationalist militants", Minsk did not agree on the visit of the European Parliament deputies from Lithuania and Germany to Belarus and to the NPP construction site near Ostrovets in particular. In addition, the Belarusian authorities have stepped up efforts to enforce education in Russian in Polish-language schools in Grodno and Vaukavysk. Should a rift in Belarusian-Polish relations persist, the Belarusian authorities are likely to step up the pressure on the Polish-speaking minority in Belarus.