Financial performance of Belarusian economy leaves no hope for economic growth to resume
Writing off currency exchange rate differences in March 2016 has not helped to improve the financial health of the economy. The main reason behind Belarus’ economic losses was faster growth of production costs in comparison with the growth of rouble revenues. The lack of funds does not allow companies to produce new products and promote them on foreign markets, which is why export performance is unlikely to improve in 2016 and economy is unlikely to recover.
According to the National Statistics Committee, in Q1 2016 the Belarusian economy performed with a BYR 1.2 billion loss. A year before, the Belarusian economy’s profit was BYR 11 trillion. In March 2016, the government enabled writing off currency exchange differences, which has reduced the losses by BYR 20-25 billion. More than one third of Belarusian companies are unprofitable, and 70% of those profitable have less than 10% in return on sales. Currently, the following industries are unprofitable: oil extraction, metallurgy, cement and rubber products, electric power, mechanical engineering, hotel business and catering.
The economy is at a loss due to enterprises’ financial and investment activity. In order to modernise their production capacities enterprises have used foreign currency loans, but due to the national currency devaluation, the servicing costs of the loans have increased substantially. Enterprises purchased fuel and raw materials outside the country using foreign currency and deterred payments, which had led to an overestimation of the amount payable for the received raw materials. As a result, production costs grew at a faster pace than revenues, which led to losses in the economy.
Amid economic losses, economic growth is impossible. The enterprises have no funds to modernise production capacities. Without new equipment, they cannot produce new products and demand for old products is consistently reducing. The lack of funds does not allow enterprises to study modern trends in their product niches and promote their products on foreign markets. In Q1 2016, exports of goods decreased by 20%, and trade deficit totalled USD 825 million.
In the given circumstances, only some economic sectors will demonstrate a positive trend in sales on foreign markets. The state will not stimulate domestic demand due to a plan to reduce budget spending by 7-8% in 2016. The National Bank, in turn, for the sake of stability on the currency market will constrain the money supply and soft loans to the economy. The decline in industrial production is inevitable, wage growth will be minimal and will not exceed the inflation rate. Construction is not the economic driver any longer and the share of other types of economic activity, even in the case of their growth, is not enough to overcome the overall economic downturn in 2016.
Even after writing-off losses from currency exchange rate differences at BYR 20 trillion, the Belarusian economy in Q1 2016 is at a loss. Amid the lack of funds at enterprises and restrictions on lending by the National Bank, the Belarusian economic recovery is impossible.
The Belarusian authorities have launched a discussion on the moratorium or abolition of the death penalty under the pressure of Belarusian human rights activists and international community. Apparently, the authorities are interested in monitoring public sentiments and response to the possible abolition of the capital punishment. The introduction of a moratorium on the death penalty would depend on the dynamics in Belarusian-European relations, efforts of the civil society organisations and Western capitals.
In Grodno last week, the possibility of abolishing the death penalty in Belarus or introducing a moratorium was discussed.
The Belarusian authorities are likely to continue to support the death penalty in Belarus. During his rule, President Lukashenka pardoned only one person, and courts sentenced to death more than 400 people since the early 1990s. Over the past year, Belarusian courts sentenced to death several persons and one person was executed.
There are no recent independent polls about people’s attitude about the death penalty in Belarus. Apparently, this issue is not a priority for the population. In many ways, public opinion about the abolition of the death penalty would depend on the tone of the state-owned media reports.
That said, the Belarusian Orthodox Church and the Roman-Catholic Church stand for the abolition of the capital punishment, however their efforts in this regard only limit to public statements about their stance. Simultaneously, the authorities could have influenced public opinion about the death penalty through a focused media campaign in the state media. As they did, for example, with the nuclear power plant construction in Astravets. Initially unpopular project of the NPP construction was broadly promoted in the state media, and eventually, according to independent pollsters, was accepted by most population.