Tag: central banks

Monetary Policy in Belarus Since Mid-2020: From Rules to Discretion

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The most important “safeguard” against negative consequences from government’s economic policy mistakes is an independent monetary policy aimed at maintaining inflation near a pre-announced target and smoothing out short-term fluctuations. In Belarus, various monetary policy regimes have been employed and, for most of history, the ability of the National Bank of Belarus to set goals and deploy monetary policy instruments without government intervention has been limited. As a result, monetary policy in Belarus tend to exacerbate negative shocks to the Belarusian economy rather than play a stabilizing role. Since mid-2020, the National Bank has de facto lost operational and institutional independence, and monetary policy has become discretionary – focused on stimulating economic activity. As of 2024 this discretionary and expansionary monetary policy has increasingly come into conflict with the need to ensure macroeconomic stability.

Monetary Policy Design in Belarus: Developments in the Last Decade

Since 2015, the National Bank of Belarus (henceforth the National Bank) has declared its monetary policy regime to be monetary targeting. The primary goal of such policy is price stability, while the intermediate target is broad money supply growth. However, research results show that monetary targeting was employed only until mid-2016. From mid-2016 to mid-2020, the National Bank implicitly employed flexible inflation targeting (Kharitonchik, 2023b).

In mid-2020 the National Bank de facto lost its operational independence as the bank was no longer in control of the rules concerning monetary policy (Kharitonchik, 2023a). In 2022-2024, among other things, targets were set for inflation, the growth of the ruble monetary base, broad money supply, the banks’ claims on the economy, and the refinancing rate level. Thus, the National Bank seeks to simultaneously control both the volume of money in the economy and the prices. This is, in practice, expressed in the implementation of discretionary and situational monetary policy.

Under pressure from the government, the National Bank’s monetary policy has since mid-2020 focused on stimulating economic activity, with a high degree of tolerance to inflationary risks. After the US, EU, UK, and several other countries imposed strict sanctions on Belarus in the beginning of 2022, the government’s pressure on the National bank to support economic activity increased even further.

Since October 2022, the only inflation regulator has been strict price controls, exercised by the government in the form of a system of price regulations for approximately 85 percent of the items in the consumer basket. According to the system, manufacturers are obliged to coordinate wholesale prices with government authorities and retailers were in Q4 2022 forced to adjust prices. The system has been modified several times, but as of 2024, it continues to operate in an extremely rigorous version.

Besides the erosion of operational independence, the recent years have been characterized by a marked decline in the institutional framework for executing monetary policy. Aspirations to enhance transparency and accountability of the National Bank to the public seem to be history, at least for the time being. The frequency of the bank’s communication has decreased significantly and its content, as well as the bank’s published data and analytical materials have deteriorated. There are no longer any National Bank briefings on the outcomes of its board meetings, nor are there clear explanations of the decisions made or meetings with the expert community.

The National Bank also introduces uncertainty and undermines confidence in its policies with its strange approach to setting and announcing inflation targets. The increased inflation target, from the previous 5, to 7-8 percent for 2023 is unexplained, the explicit inflation target for 2024 was not presented until the end of August 2023, and the medium-term inflation target is nonexistent. Under such conditions, investment planning and forecasting becomes challenging, necessitating substantial efforts to rebuild trust in monetary authorities for the future.

Figure 1. Inflation and inflation targets in Belarus, 2015–2023.

Source: Author’s estimates based on data from Belstat and the National Bank of Belarus.

Between 2020 and 2023, the National Bank was unable to effectively implement monetary policy in a coordinated manner, falling short in achieving de jure primary and intermediate targets. Thus, inflation in 2020–2022 was significantly higher than targeted levels, while the money supply growth was close to the lower bound of its target range (see Figure 1 and 2).

Figure 2. Broad money growth and its target in Belarus, 2015–2023.

Source: Author’s estimates based on data from the National Bank of Belarus.

In 2023, the inflation was below its target due to total price controls, while money supply growth was twice its target (see Figure 2). Such targeted monetary policy dynamics indicate the instability of the economy’s demand for money and the money multiplier, the instability and poor predictability of money velocity in the face of shocks to the Belarusian economy, as well as the lack (or inability) of a strict commitment by the National Bank to achieve the primary goal of monetary policy.

Monetary Conditions Between 2020 and 2023

Monetary conditions are calculated as a weighted combination of deviations of real interest rates on assets in Belarusian rubles and the real effective exchange rate of the Belarusian ruble from their equilibrium levels. As detailed in Figure 3, the monetary conditions for 2020–2023 are considered stimulative for economic activity and pro-inflationary.

Figure 3. Monetary conditions in Belarus,2015–2023.

Source: Author’s estimates based on QPM BEROC (Kharitonchik, 2023b).
Note: Monetary conditions are estimated as a combination of deviations of real interest rates on the Belarusian ruble assets and of the real effective Belarusian ruble exchange rate from their equilibrium (or inflation-neutral) levels (assessed within the model). Positive monetary condition values indicate their restraining-economic-activity and disinflationary stance, and negative monetary condition values indicate their stimulating and pro-inflationary stance.

In 2020, the soft monetary conditions (the combined effect of interest rates and the exchange rate on the economy) were determined by the behavior of the exchange rate. The Belarusian ruble weakened significantly and became undervalued in 2020 due to a sharp increase in demand for foreign currency at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in Belarus and following the presidential elections in August 2020.

As a result of the National Bank’s discretionary monetary policy, interest rates’ volatility significantly increased. A deterioration of the liquidity situation in the banking system and increased risks to the economy during the acute phase of the socio-political crisis in 2020 resulted in interest rates restraining economic activity in September-December 2020.

In 2021, there was a notable improvement in the economic situation in Belarus compared to the crisis experienced in 2020. External demand for Belarusian goods and services rose, and export prices increased significantly which contributed to an increase in foreign currency earnings. As a result, the undervaluation of the Belarusian ruble neutralized during 2021, the banking system moved to a liquidity surplus, and interest rates decreased noticeably, creating soft monetary conditions (see Figure 3).

In 2022–2023, monetary conditions became even softer against the backdrop of increasing priority for the National Bank to support economic activity over inflation containment. The Belarusian ruble again became undervalued which increased foreign trade and allowed for the banking system’s liquidity surplus to expand significantly (see Figure 4).

The realization of a substantial liquidity surplus in 2022 resulted from the National Bank’s active emission policy, likely associated with considerable government pressure. The National Bank injected at least 1.7 billion Belarusian rubles (0.9 percent of GDP) into the financial system through lending to non-deposit financial organizations in 2022, and more than 1.9 billion Belarusian rubles (1 percent of GDP) in 2022 and 1.1 billion Belarusian rubles (0.5 percent of GDP) in 2023, through the purchase of government bonds on the secondary market.

Figure 4. Banking system liquidity in Belarus, 2017–2023.

Source: Author’s estimates based on data from Belstat and the National Bank of Belarus.

Under a colossal and stable liquidity surplus – not withdrawn by the National Bank – interest rates in the money and credit-deposit markets, in 2022-2023, repeatedly reached historically low levels in nominal terms, and in real terms remained  significantly below their equilibrium levels (see Figure 3).

The Monetary Conditions’ Impact on Economic Activity and Inflation in Belarus, 2022–2024

Under loose monetary conditions there was a significant strengthening of the credit impulse (share of new loans in GDP) from Q3 2022 and onwards (BEROC, 2023). In this environment of increased credit activity, the money supply grew at a rapid pace in the second half of 2022–2023 (see Figure 2). The money supply growth significantly exceeded an inflation-neutral pace and by the end of 2023, the volume of real money supply exceeded the inflation-neutral level by almost 10 percent.

Expansionary monetary policy was one of the drivers of the rapid economic recovery in the second half of 2022–2023. The negative output gap, which widened in Q2 2022, following increased sanctions against Belarus, was offset in Q1 2023. Moreover, in Q2–Q4 2023, GDP surpassed its equilibrium level (see Figure 5).

Figure 5. Output gap decomposition in Belarus, 2015–2023.

Source: Author’s estimates based on QPM BEROC (Kharitonchik, 2023b).
Note: The output gap is the deviation of real GDP from its potential (or equilibrium) level, where potential is understood as such a volume of GDP that does not exert any additional pro-inflationary or disinflationary pressure.

By 2024, the Belarusian economy reached a state of moderate overheating (see Figure 5). Currently, loose monetary policy fuels demand but the ability to adjust supply to increased demand levels is limited under sanctions and labor shortages. This mismatch between supply and demand would normally lead to a significant acceleration of inflation. However, due to the strict price controls, this is yet to realize. In fact, inflation reached a historically low value of 2.0 percent Year over Year (YoY), in September 2023. Nonetheless, inflation in Belarus began to accelerate in Q4 in 2023 and amounted to 5.8 percent YoY at the end of the year. In an environment of excess demand and a shortage of workers, firms’ costs rise and translate into higher selling prices, albeit on a limited scale and with a time lag due to the price controls (see Figure 6).

Figure 6. CPI inflation in Belarus, 2015–2023.

Source: Author’s estimates based on data from Belstat. Calculations based on QPM BEROC (Kharitonchik, 2023b).

A prolonged combination of total price controls and loose monetary policy leads to an inflationary overhang – the potential for delayed accelerated price growth. Inflation overhang is a highly undesirable phenomenon since it increases the risk of a price surge in the future and the need for a sharp and aggressive tightening of monetary policy. The inflationary overhang in Belarus is estimated at 5–9 percent (for the end of 2023).  This means that there is a risk of a sharp increase in prices by 5-9 percent if price controls are removed or significantly relaxed.

Conclusion

Since mid-2020, the National Bank has de facto lost its operational independence, and monetary policy has become discretionary, focused on stimulating economic activity. By the beginning of 2024, this discretionary and overly loose monetary policy has increasing come into conflict with the task of ensuring macroeconomic stability.

The Belarusian economy enters 2024 in a state of low economic growth potential (about 1 percent per year) and an imbalance of supply and demand, which creates threats of intensified inflation and a decline in foreign trade.

Attempts by the authorities to artificially maintain high rates of GDP growth and low inflation through excessively stimulating economic policies and archaic price controls may lead to an economic overheating by the end of 2024 similar to the situations leading up to the currency crises in 2009, 2011 and 2015. Under such developments, the fragility of the economy and the likelihood of an economic crisis in Belarus will increase.

To prevent such negative development, it is critical to gradually normalize the monetary policy design in coordination with fiscal policy. Key recommendations from experts for a strengthening of the stabilizing role of monetary policy include ensuring the National Bank’s independence, eliminating discretionary and subjective policymaking, and outlining a clear hierarchy of monetary policy goals (Kruk, 2023).

Simulation results indicate that the use of flexible inflation targeting is the most preferable monetary policy strategy for Belarus under existing sanctions and internal and external capital control measures (as discussed in Kharitonchik, 2023a).

Lastly, as monetary policy is about managing expectations for which trust (i.e. credibility) plays a key role, restoring the public’s trust in the National Bank is essential. To achieve this, the National Bank needs to reestablish communication with the public and resume the publication of analytical and statistical reports, at a minimum matching the extent seen in early 2021.

References

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

Political Responsibility for Economic Crises

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This brief summarizes the results of research on the political costs of large-scale economic crises. In a large historic sample of countries, we study the impact of different types of crises, such as sovereign and domestic defaults, banking crises and economic recessions, on political turnover of top politicians: heads of the state and central bank governors. According to the findings, only default on domestic debt increases the probability of politicians’ turnover but not the default on external debt. As argued, this is due to the fact that the latter is not directly felt by the voters. In addition, we find that although currency crises increase chances of head of central bank turnover, it does not affect tenures of heads of state. Presumably, this is the case since currency crises are in the eyes of the public the responsibility of CB governors. These findings are relevant for both developed and transition economies, but are especially important for the latter as political turmoil and economic recessions are more prevalent in developing nations.

Overview and Key Findings

Large-scale economic crises are associated   not only with the economic downturns, but also with political turnover. When the national economy is in a critical state, a default declaration often turns the economy back to growth as it is typically viewed as an act of  acknowledging a problem and showing readiness for changes. However, politicians responsible for the economy and leaders of the states are often reluctant to declare default and try to postpone it, which worsens the situation. One of the reasons behind such unwillingness to act is a fear of a political turnover following the open acknowledgement of a problem.

This brief summarizes the findings Lvovskiy and Shakhnov (2018). We investigate the statistical evidence of political costs related to different types of economic crises.

We find that the effects of a crisis depend on the crisis type and on whether it was in the area of responsibility of a given politician. For example, external sovereign defaults have no effect on political turnover, which we interpret as external sovereign default having a small impact on the general public. On the contrary, domestic sovereign defaults have a large impact on the country population and often lead to the replacement of the top executive. In turn, banking crises are followed by the downfall of the government at the level of chief executive as well as the governor of the central bank.

While there is large literature on career concerns of politicians and political turnover, the majority of papers either focus on the regular changes through elections in democratic regimes (Treisman, 2015) or study a particular non-democratic country, like China (Li and Zhou, 2005). However, throughout history, crises have often happened in transition, non-democratic or not fully democratic countries. Furthermore, even in democratic countries many changes of government have been irregular. Since a delay in default declaration usually harms economies it is important to understand the mechanisms behind it in different institutional settings. Our paper contributes to this understanding by analyzing the impact of economic crises on political survival in a wide set of countries and regimes. Better understanding of the political costs that the top executives face while making such decisions is crucial for the prediction of these decisions as well as for international default negotiations and consultations.

Below we describe our finding in some more detail.

Statistical Analysis and Results

Our analysis consists of two main parts. We start with the political turnover for heads of state, who are in charge of the performance of the whole economy, which we measure by the GDP growth. Then, we look at central bank (CB) governors, who are in charge of the monetary policy, price stability, stability of the financial sector and banking supervision.

Table 1. Head of state changes

Table 1 presents the estimated linear probability regression models for the head of state turnover. As expected, elections have a strong impact on the probability of the turnover of the head of state. Further, as Column 1 in Table 1 shows default on external debt has no significant impact on the head of state tenure while default on domestic debt increases the yearly chances of being displaced by 34 %. This supports the idea that voters care more about their own savings than about the general situation with the state’s budget. When we look at the effect of past crises (the predictor variable in this case is whether a crisis took place last year), Column 2 coefficients for both external and domestic defaults appear to no longer be statistically significant. Instead, banking crises become significant. This situation could be due to the fact that one of the common consequences of domestic defaults is an ongoing distortion  of savings  which often leads  to deposit runoffs, so the effect of the previous year’s domestic default now acts through a banking crisis.

Table 2. Central bank governor changes

Table 2 presents similar results but this time the left hand side variable is CB governor turnover. Similarly to the case with the head of state turnover, only default on domestic debt has a significant effect on the CB’s governor tenure and not the one on external debt. The main differences with Table 1 are that elections do not statistically predict turnover of CB heads while currency crises do. The former result is expected since in most countries there are no direct elections of central bank governors and central banks often have some degree of independence from the government. The latter result, that currency crises have a significant impact on CB governors’ tenures, implies that since currency control is one of the roles of a CB, its head is held accountable for currency crises and not the head of a state.

Conclusion

We examine the political cost of different types of economic crises, and find non-uniform effects of different types of crises on the political survival of various key officials. Domestic defaults, and recent banking crises are shown to be costly both for heads of states and central bank governors, while currency crises only have an impact on the political survival of the latter.

Interestingly and importantly, we find no evidence of the impact of (external) sovereign default on political turnover of the head of state or central bank governors. In other words, contrary to Yeyati and Panizza’s (2011) suggestion, it seems that there is no immediate political cost at the top associated with (external) sovereign default. One possible explanation is that the public does not  punish a politician for defaults because by defaulting, the politician makes the optimal decision.  In a modern world, many developing nations experience rapid growth of their sovereign debt. The presented evidence brings partial optimism that even if economic mistakes have already been made, top politicians would understand that acknowledging a problem and making steps toward its solution may not always be as costly for them as has previously been thought.

References

  • Li, Hongbin; Li-An Zhou, 2005. “Political turnover and economic performance: the incentive role of personnel control in China,” Journal of Public Economics, 89 (9), 1743 – 1762.
  • Lvovskiy, Lev; Shakhnov, Kirill, “Political Responsibility for Different Crises”, BEROC working paper #50, 2018
  • Treisman, Daniel “Income, Democracy, and Leader Turnover”, American Journal of Political Science,  2015, 59 (4), 927–942.
  • Yeyati, Eduardo Levy and Ugo Panizza, “The elusive costs of sovereign defaults,” Journal of Development Economics, January 2011, 94 (1), 95–105.

Time to Worry about Illiquidity

At a time when central banks have injected unprecedented amounts of money, worrying about illiquidity may appear odd. However, if poorly understood and unaddressed, illiquidity could be the foundation of the next financial crisis. Market liquidity is defined as the ease of trading a financial security quickly, efficiently and in reasonable volume without affecting market prices. While researchers find that it has been positively correlated with central bank’s liquidity injection, it may no longer be the case. The combination of tightly regulated banks, loosely regulated asset managers, and zero (or negative) policy rates could prove toxic.

One recent volatile day on the markets, an investor called her bank manager asking to convert a reasonably small amount of foreign currency. The sales person was quick to respond: “I will hang up now and we will pretend this call never happened”. In other words, the bank was not ready to quote her any price. The typical academic measures of market liquidity, such as bid-offer spreads, remained tranquil on Bloomberg, there was no transactions taking place.

When the investor was finally forced to exchange, the result was messy: currency price gapped—fell discontinuously—causing alarm among other market participants and policymakers. All that due to a transaction of roughly $500,000 in one of the top emerging market currencies in the world according to the BIS Triennial Central Bank Survey at an inopportune moment.

Markets becoming less liquid

Post crisis, G-7 central banks have embarked on unconventional monetary policy measures to boost liquidity and ease monetary policy at the zero-lower-bound, while tightening bank regulation and supervision. On net, however, the ability to transact in key financial assets in adequate volumes without affecting the price has fallen across a range of markets, including the foreign exchange markets that are traditionally assumed to be the most liquid compared to bonds, other fixed income instruments and equities.

Financial market participants have reported a worsening of liquidity, particularly during periods of stress. Event studies include the 2013 “taper tantrum” episode, where emerging markets’ financial assets experienced substantial volatility and liquidity gapping that did not appear justified by the Fed’s signal to reduce marginally its degree of monetary policy accommodation, as well as the recent shocks to the US Treasury market (October 2014) and Bunds (early 2015).

Banks are retreating

Market-makers (international “sell-side” or investment banks as in the introducing example), which used to play the role of intermediators among buyers and sellers of financial assets, are now increasingly limiting their activities to a few selected liquid assets, priority geographies and clients, thus leading to a fragmentation of liquidity. Market-makers have also been reducing asset holdings on their balance sheets in a drive to reduce risk-weighted-assets, improve capital adequacy and curb proprietary trading. As a result, they are less willing to transact in adequate volumes with clients.

In the past, leverage by banks has been associated with higher provision of market liquidity. Loose regulation and expansionary monetary policy has been conducive to higher leverage by banks pre-2008. It is therefore puzzling that, now, at the time of unconventionally large monetary expansions by central banks, sell-side banks are unwilling to provide market liquidity. The answer may lay in tighter bank capital and liquidity regulation as more stringent definitions of market manipulation. Risk aversion by banks has also become harsher, a trader stands to lose a job and little to gain on a $2 million swing in her daily profit and loss, while in the past a swing of $20 million at a same bank would have hardly warranted a telling-off. Banks have become safer, but can that also be said about the financial system?

Asset managers growing in importance

Ultra-accommodative and unconventional monetary policies have compressed interest rates across all maturities. In a world where US Treasuries at two-year maturity do not even yield 1%, and Bunds are yielding negative rates even beyond 5 years, investors in search for yield are looking at longer (and less liquid) maturities and riskier assets. If banks are unable to meet this demand, others will: assets under management (AUM) by non-bank financial institutions, specifically real asset managers have expanded dramatically in recent years. Total size of top 400 asset managers’ AUM was EUR50 trillion in 2015, compared to EUR35 trillion in 2011 according to IPE research, with the largest individual asset manager in excess of EUR4 trillion. A fundamental problem arises when such asset managers are lightly regulated and very often have similar investment strategies and portfolios.

In the industry jargon, these asset managers are called long-only or real-money. Why the funny names? Long-only means they cannot short financial assets, as opposed to hedge funds. For every $100 collected from a range of individual investors’ savings via mutual funds, pension and insurance fund contributions, a small share (say 5%) is set aside as a liquidity buffer and the rest is invested in risky assets. Real money refers to the fact that these managers should not be levered. However, that is true only in principle as leverage is related to volatility.

Performance of real-money asset managers is assessed against benchmark portfolios. For emerging markets, the portfolio would typically be a selection of government bonds according a range of criteria, including size of outstanding debt, ease of access by international investors, liquidity, and standardization of bond contracts. Investors more often than not do not hedge foreign currency exposure. The benchmark for emerging markets sovereigns could have 10% allocated to Brazil, 10% to Malaysia, 10% to Poland and 5% to Russia, for example. India, on the contrary, would be excluded, as it does not allow foreign investors easy access to government bonds.

Benchmarks and illiquidity dull investor acumen

Widespread use of benchmarks among institutional asset managers can steer the whole market to position in “one-way” or herding, contributing to illiquidity and moral hazard risks. Benchmarks by construction reward profligate countries with large and high-yielding stocks of government debt.

While each individual portfolio manager may recognize the riskiness of highly-indebted sovereigns, benchmarking makes optimal to hold debt by Venezuela, Ukraine or Brazil as each year of missed performance (before default) is a risk of being fired, while if the whole industry is caught performing poorly, it is likely that the benchmark is down by as much.

Furthermore, real-money asset managers have become disproportionally large relatively to the capacity of sell-side banks (brokers) to provide trading liquidity. In fact some positions have de-facto become too large-to-trade. Even a medium-sized asset manager of no more than $200bn under management (industry leaders have $2-$4 trillion AUM) that attempts to reduce holdings of Ukraine, Venezuela or Brazil at the signs of trouble, is likely to trigger a disproportionate move in the asset price. This further reduces incentives to diligently assess each individual investment. In such environment, risk management has become highly complex, stop losses may no longer be as effective, while more stringent cash ratios would put an individual asset manager at a disadvantage to others.

Conclusion

Anecdotal and survey-based measures from the market demonstrate that liquidity is scarcer and less resilient during risk-off episodes. While regulation has made banks stronger, it may have rendered the financial system less stable. Lightly regulated real asset managers are increasing assets under management, are often positioned “one-way” and are becoming too-large-to-trade.

Nonetheless, systemic risk stemming from illiquidity in the new structure of the market remains little researched and poorly understood by policymakers and academics. Most models of the monetary transmission mechanism and exchange rate management do not incorporate complexities of market liquidity.

While regulatory changes have been largely driven by policy makers in the developed markets (naturally since they were at the epicenter of the global financial crisis), it is the emerging markets that in my view are most at risk. They tend to have less developed and less liquid domestic financial markets, and be even more prone to liquidity gaps with higher risks of negative financial sector-real economy feedback loops.

References

  • Sahay, R., et.al., “Emerging Market Volatility: Lessons from the Taper Tantrum”, IMF SDN/14/09, 2014 http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/sdn/2014/sdn1409.pdf
  • Shek, J., Shim, I. and Hyun Song Shin, (2015), “Investor redemptions and fund manager sales of emerging market bonds: how are they related?” BIS Working Paper No. 509, http://www.bis.org/publ/work509.pdf
  • “Market-making and proprietary trading: industry trends, drivers and policy implications”, Committee on the Global Financial System, CGFS Papers, no 52, November 2014. www.bis.org/publ/cgfs52.pdf
  • “Fixed income market liquidity”, Committee on the Global Financial System, CGFS Papers, no 55, January 2016. www.bis.org/publ/cgfs55.pdf
  • Hyun Song Shin, “Perspectives 2016: Liquidity Policy and Practice” Conference, AQR Asset Management Institute, London Business School, 27 April, 2016. https://www.bis.org/speeches/sp160506.htm
  • Fender, I. and Lewrick, U. “Shifting tides – market liquidity and market making in fixed income instruments”, BIS Quarterly Review, March 2015. www.bis.org/publ/qtrpdf/r_qt1503i.htm
  • Tobias Adrian, Michael Fleming, and Ernst Schaumburg, “Introduction to a Series on Market Liquidity”, Liberty Street Economics, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, August, 2015.