National Bank’s measures to increase lending in national currency start showing results
On May 22nd the National Bank published data about various economic sectors’ debts to the banking system.
Due to high interest rates on national currency business loans, enterprises used foreign currency loans. Enterprises received cheap foreign exchange resources, but increased their foreign currency risk. The National Banks’ consistent policy aiming at reducing the discount rate and banks’ restrictive margins has gradually achieved positive results and increased lending in national currency.
High devaluation expectations, lack of ruble’s liquidity in the banking system in early 2013 resulted in the suspension of national currency business loans. Interest rates on ruble loans were up to 38.5% per annum, including interest rates within government programmes. In fact, such high rates were prohibitive for the majority of enterprises in Belarus. Ongoing economic activity, against the background of growing accounts receivable and accounts payable, requires additional resources in the national currency. The solution was found through increased lending in foreign currency and the subsequent sales of received loans at BCSE (Belarusian Currency and Stock Exchange). The resulting ruble resources were used to finance current operations.
Along with the reduced devaluation expectations, this funding scheme has gained a considerable scale. With minor national currency exchange rate fluctuations, the differences in interest rates on currency and ruble business loans (9-10% per annum and over 40% per annum respectively) have resulted in an increased share of foreign currency business loans. In the short-term, provided that the Belarusian ruble exchange rate is relatively stable, these measures were justifiable, however in the mid- and long term, they increase businesses’ currency risks. Noteworthy, that a government body also receive a foreign currency loan for the first time in the history: Grodno Oblast Executive Committee borrowed USD 80 million at 8% per annum for 6.5 years.
To reduce the interest rate on national currency loans, the National Bank, acknowledging the changes in the business loans structure and under pressure from the government, started reducing the discount rate. The banking system has received additional liquidity and business loans interest rates started dropping. In late April 2013 businesses’ outstanding loans in the national currency were BYR 2.5 trillion, the highest volume in 2013.
Thus, on the one hand, businesses’ access to affordable loans in national currency is gradually improving, and on the other hand, the National Bank addresses the issue of growing currency risks in the economy and simultaneously fights against the main problem – economy’s dollarization. Business loans interest rates will be going down gradually in order to prevent the possible sharp increase in business borrowings provided there is a lack of long cheap ruble liquidity.
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.