High interest rates halted consumer loans
On April 7th, the National Bank published data on individuals’ debt on consumer loans.
In 2012, amid rising real incomes, consumer lending in Belarus increased significantly. Interest rate under some credit agreements was over 100%, but a number of tricks were used to mask it. The government’s ban on hidden fees and commissions and the demand to show full interest rate resulted in slowdown in consumer lending.
In 2012, the volume of outstanding consumer loans in the national currency, grew from BYR 7.6 trillion to BYR 10 trillion or by one-third. Consumer loans in foreign currency were banned in Belarus since mid-2009. Strong growth in consumer lending is associated with increased incomes, aggressive advertisements of consumer loans by both, traders and banks, as well as not always proper actions of some banks, which were attracting consumers with extremely low rates while masking the real picture with high bank fees and additional payments.
On January 22nd, 2013 amendments to the Banking Code enforced a ban on the collection of additional fees and other payments under consumer loan agreements, other than the interest rate. The amendments proved to be effective. Since early 2013 consumer debt grew by 2.2% only, or BYR 218 billion. On April 1st, household debts on consumer loans was BYR 10.2 billion. The 80-90% annual interest rate on consumer loans, against the background of relative stability in the foreign exchange market stopped potential borrowers and forced them to review the feasibility of borrowing at high interest rates.
Thus, a number of banks, which have used tricks to mislead consumers, were unable to manipulate the interest rate, and consumers have become more financially aware. It is anticipated, that the consumer credit market will be reformed in favor of larger and, above all, state-owned banks. Banks, providing consumer loans services will have to revise their approaches in working with the population and seek for new operational opportunities to maintain the profitability.
The rapid increase in wages has led to a decline in the ratio between labour productivity and real wages to one. Previously, the rule was that enterprises, in which the state owned more than 50% of shares in the founding capital, were not allowed increasing salaries if this ratio was equal to or less than one. The authorities are unlikely to be able to meet the wage growth requirement without long-term consequences for the economy. Hence, the government is likely to contain wage growth for the sake of economic growth.
According to Belstat, In January – August 2017, GDP growth was 1.6%. The economic revival has led to an increase in wages. In August, the average monthly wage was BYN 844.4 or USD 435, i.e. grew by 6.6% since early 2017, adjusted for inflation. This has reduced the ratio between labour productivity and real wages from 1.03 in January 2017 to 1 in the first seven months of 2017. This parameter should not be less than 1, otherwise, the economy starts accumulating imbalances.
The need for faster growth in labour productivity over wage growth was stated in Decree No 744 of July 31st, 2014. The decree enabled wages growth at state organizations and organizations with more than 50% of state-owned shares only if the ratio between growth in labour productivity and wages was higher than 1. Taking into account the state's share in the economy, this rule has had impact on most of the country's key enterprises. In 2013 -2014 wages grew rapidly, which resulted in devaluation in 2014-2015.
Faster wage growth as compared with growth in labour productivity carries a number of risks. Enterprises increase cost of wages, which subsequently leads to a decrease in the competitiveness of products on the domestic and foreign markets. In construction, wholesale, retail trade, and some other industries the growth rate of prime cost in 2017 outpaces the dynamics of revenue growth. This is likely to lead to a decrease in profits and a decrease in investments for further development. Amid wage growth, the population is likely to increase import consumption and reduce currency sales, which would reduce the National Bank's ability to repay foreign and domestic liabilities.
The Belarusian government is facing a dilemma – either to comply with the president’s requirement of a BYN 1000 monthly wage, which could lead to new economic imbalances and could further affect the national currency value, or to suspend the wage growth in order to retain the achieved economic results. That said, the first option bears a greater number of negative consequences for the nomenclature.
Overall, the rapid growth in wages no longer corresponds the pace of economic development. The government is likely to retain the economic growth and retrain further growth in wages. Staff reshuffles are unlikely to follow the failure to meet the wage growth requirement.