Growth in problem assets threatens Belarusian banking system stability
The share of problem assets in the Belarusian banking system has grown to 14.8%. The growth is due to the deterioration in the financial health of large state-owned enterprises, which are the main borrowers. The National Bank has undertaken some measures in order to strengthen the stability of the banking system, however further growth in distressed assets is likely to persist if economic situation deteriorates.
According to the National Bank, on September 1st, 2016, distressed assets totalled BYN 6 billion or 14.8% of the assets subject to credit risk. In early 2016, problem assets totalled BYN 2.8 billion. Problem assets have been growing in the past ten months with a slight increase in total assets. The most distressed sectors include industry, agriculture, and real estate operations.
Problem assets have grown due to the poor financial health of the state-owned enterprises, which make the largest borrowers. They have used foreign currency loans to purchase exported equipment to upgrade their facilities. Most enterprises have failed modernisation deadlines, their financial plans were poorly elaborated, and in the meanwhile, the market situation has changed.
In addition, mutual non-payments in the economy have grown, which led to the inability to service credit lines. In H1 2016, state support in the form of reimbursement of interest on loans to enterprises totalled BYN 25.3 million, and loans from the state budget - BYN 233 million.
The National Bank has taken measures to mitigate the risks in the banking system. It has evaluated the quality of assets in 9 largest banks in Belarus, which account for 92% of total assets in the banking system. After the audit, the Asset management agency will take over problem loans of agricultural enterprises in the Belagroprombank. The authorized capital of Belinvestbank will be increased, and some distressed assets transferred to the Development Bank.
The main risk is a further deterioration in the economy, which will reduce the possibility of servicing foreign currency loans, which exceeded USD 11 billion. The budget has insufficient funds to restructure public debt due to the increase in the servicing costs of the public debt. In these circumstances, the government will restructure the debt on loans for a longer period, resort to new borrowing on domestic and foreign markets, some small enterprises with problem debts may be sold or, in the case of a lack of interest from investors, may become subject to readjustment procedure.
Thus, the growth in bad debts in the banking system was the result of deterioration in the financial health at large state-owned enterprises. The measures undertaken by the National Bank are likely to reduce potential risks in the banking system, however, may require additional borrowing if economic situation in Belarus continues to deteriorate.
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.