Government to decide: devaluation or financial paralysis
On November 22nd, Prime Minister Myasnikovich said that the state housing construction programme was short of BYR 1.8 billion.
A slowdown in lending has affected Belarus’ economy. If restrictions on lending are not lifted in the medium term, economic settlements will be paralyzed. Today the only cheap money source available is printing, but that might result in rapid devaluation.
In October, the economy felt the effects of the credit crunch policy. A positive effect from this decision was the decline in net demand for foreign currency by legal entities in October 2013 - to USD 29.4 million – the lowest in the last three months. However, there were significantly more negative effects. Some companies have used loans to finance current operations and after the credit crunch will be unable to pay wages, which may lead to greater social tensions. Cement plants have reduced production due to the unavailability of bank loans. The construction industry may derail 2013 housing construction plans due to restrictions on concessional lending.
If credit crunch policy is prolonged, payments in the economy will be crippled. Loans were used by counterparties to make payments throughout the cycle. Using loans, customers were paying construction contractors, wages were paid, building materials were bought, electricity, etc. Lack of financial resources leads to arrears and economic slowdown. Ultimately the resources will stop returning to the banking system and entire economy will become paralyzed. Even the slightest panic by depositors may result in some banks having problems with meeting their customer obligations.
Partially, the credit crunch problem is recognized in the government. The latter has elaborated some regulations, envisaging resuming concessional lending in some spheres, such as housing construction. When there is lack of budgetary proceeds, the National Bank has an option to switch on the printing press or the Government might take a decision to privatize state property. Besides sale of MTS shares (Belarus requested USD 800 million), no other major transactions have been projected. Therefore, the only source for concessional lending is money-print. However, it will rapidly increase pressure on the currency, which coupled with the lack of external lending, will accelerate devaluation.
Thus, the government has to choose between attempts to maintain the stability of ruble by slowing down the economy or to lift the credit ban, which will accelerate the onset of devaluation. Since the government has failed to fulfil most 2013 economic development indicators, it has nothing to lose and could be held responsible for the future devaluation.
The Belarusian authorities regard the Catholic conference as yet another international event to promote Minsk as a global negotiating platform. Minsk’s proposal to organise a meeting between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is rather an image-making undertaking than a serious intention. However, the authorities could somewhat extend the opportunities for the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus due to developing contacts with the Catholic world.
Minsk is attempting to lay out a mosaic from various international religious, political and sportive events to shape a positive image of Belarus for promoting the Helsinki 2.0 idea.
Belarus’ invitation to the head of the Holy See for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church should be regarded as a continuation of her foreign policy efforts in shaping Minsk’s peacekeeping image and enhancing Belarus’ international weight. The Belarusian authorities are aware that their initiative is unlikely to find supporters among the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In Russia, isolationist sentiments prevail.
In addition, for domestic audiences, the authorities make up for the lack of tangible economic growth with demonstrations of growth in Minsk’s authority at international level through providing a platform for religious, sportive and other dialogues.