National Bank of Belarus concerned about foreign currency credits
Against the background of minor currency fluctuations, the sharp rise in interest rates in the credit market shifted enterprises’ focus towards borrowing in foreign currencies. Deteriorating economic situation in Belarus raises National Bank’s concerns about solvency of enterprises in terms of foreign currency borrowings. The newly introduced restrictive measure is designed to reduce the credit risk for the banking system.
On November 18th took effect the National Bank’s resolution No 577, which restricted foreign currency lending to Belarus-resident legal persons.
Lack of liquidity caused by the new obligatory reserve requirements resulted in a significant increase in interest rates on BYR loans. Interest rates in the interbank market increased from 19% per annum to 64% per annum. Therefore legal persons started borrowing in foreign currency at 9% per annum to meet their immediate needs. Thus, in September and October legal persons have increased their debt to the banking system by USD 790 million.
Shifting focus towards borrowing in foreign currency has increased the credit and foreign exchange risks for the banking system. Part of the foreign currency loans are long-term loans, which means that if foreign currency rate changes substantially, there will be problems with servicing these loans. In addition, the projected external debt growth as committed to the ACF EurAsEC in a letter of intent has already been exceeded, and further growth in lending is not desirable, because negotiations about the following tranche will start soon.
Therefore the National Bank has to find ways to restrict corporate lending in foreign currency. Lending in foreign currency for working capital purposes at the cost of the bank’s currency reserves has been restricted. However, if a bank has the opportunity to attract foreign capital from the foreign headquarters or from credit agreements with foreign partners, it is allowed to do so.
So, on the one hand, the National Bank reduces the pressure on the foreign exchange market by limiting the demand from the banks and legal enterprises and reduces the credit risks of the banking system – if there are any significant exchange rate fluctuations, and, on the other hand, ensures customers inflow to the banks, which offer borrowing in foreign currency, encouraging foreign currency inflow in the Belarusian economy. Thus, foreign contractors bear currency risks.
President Lukashenka has met with the head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov, who visited Minsk and the Minsk Automobile Plant. Minsk has always sought to have independent links with Russian regional elites, partially, to compensate for the Kremlin's diminishing interest in Belarus. In recent years, Belarus’ contacts with the Russian regions have been extremely intense. However, with some leaders of Russian regions, primarily heads of large republics, communication was more difficult to build. As many analysts in Minsk suggested, Minsk could regard contacts between President Lukashenka and the head of Chechnya as an additional communication channel for relieving tension in relations with the Kremlin. However, most likely, a trusting relationship with Kadyrov is a value for Minsk as such, provided Kadyrov’s broad business and political interests, and a high degree of autonomy for the Chechen leader from the Kremlin.