Tag: financial investments

Green Banking and Its Development in Belarus

20211012 Green Banking and Its Development in Belarus Image 01

Climate change and environmental protection are challenging both policymakers and society. People are getting increasingly concerned about the careful consumption of water and energy, use of biodegradable products, and biodiversity. In these conditions, more and more companies and industries adopt “green” and “sustainable” standards in their work. The financial sector is also involved in this process. For banks and other financial institutions, green activities require adopting new approaches, strategies, and instruments. This brief discusses green banking with a special focus on the development and challenges of this industry in Belarus. It concludes by providing policy recommendations for green banking development in the country.


Sustainable development is one of the main global challenges, and an important role in facilitating and funding it belongs to green financing. The UN Environment Program defines green financing as “to increase the level of financial flows (from banking, micro-credit, insurance, and investment) from the public, private and non-profit sectors to sustainable development priorities”. Such financing can be provided by banks, financial institutions, nonfinancial private companies, governments, and individuals. The instruments of green financing range from climate, blue, and sustainability bonds to green credits and mortgages. One of the leading roles in the field is played by banks, which will be the focus of the current brief. This brief first offers a general overview of green banking. Then it and a discusses the existing green banking practices and challenges in Belarus. It concludes by providing policy recommendations for the development of the Belarussian green banking sector.

Green Banking: An Overview

The Indian Bank’s Association defines a green bank as “a normal bank which considers all the social and environmental/ecological factors, with an aim to protect the environment and conserve natural resources”. Moreover, the Finance Initiative of the UN Environment Program states that all green banks’ operations and activities should be consistent with sustainable development goals (Tara, K., Singh S., Kumar, R., 2015).

Considering the importance of green and sustainable development, it is natural to expect increasingly more financial companies and banks to implement eco-friendly instruments and policies. However, there is still much work to be done to ensure that market players consider green aspects in their deals. For example, while the European “green” financial market is growing rapidly, the Green Assets Ratio (GAR, the share of green loans, bonds to total bank’s assets) was only at 7,9% for the EU banking sector in March 2021 (Huw Jones, May 21, 2021).

A necessary component to speed up banks’ uptake of green practices is an appropriate regulatory and supervisory framework. Indeed, as green aspects become part of the traditional banking activities – e.g., international financing, work in foreign markets, participation in financial programs and projects -, there  is a need to develop common rules of work, principles, and standards in the green financing sphere. Today, several international initiatives and platforms provide such rules. For example, the Energy efficient Mortgages Initiative supports green mortgage development in Europe (Energy Efficient Mortgages Initiative, n.d.). The International Capital Markets Association acts as a (self-) regulatory organization that forms, implements, and manages principles and standards of green social, or sustainable bonds. One of the famous standards in green finance is the Equator Principles, a set of guidelines for project financing evaluation that incorporates social and environmental risks management (Equator Principles, n.d.). The Climate Bonds Initiative supports the mobilization of the bond market to meet the challenges of climate change (Climate Bonds Initiative, n.d.).

At the same time, most national monetary regulators work on legislation and rules of green banking development. The financial sector in general and the banking sector in particular are highly regulated. Financial institutions distribute owned and borrowed funds by providing short- and long-term credits and investing in numerous financial instruments with different levels of risk in national and foreign currencies. Monetary regulators need to control the their activity in order to minimize banks’ risks (credit, liquidity, and currency risk, etc.). For this reason, it is essential to have clear guidelines for dealing with new instruments (climate, social, blue, sustainability bonds, green mortgages, etc.), as their characteristics are likely to differ from the traditional ones. For instance, green bonds may have distinct characteristics of issuing and circulation. Green mortgages can be considered less risky than traditional credits due to more liquid collateral (energy-efficient buildings). There are specific measures that could make green instruments more attractive for banks, for instance by introducing green capital requirements or regulation against greenwashing.

Apart from guidelines, recommendations, and rules, central banks can create additional incentives for developing the green financial market. For example, the Bank of Bangladesh established a preferential lending Fund for projects in spheres such as renewable energy, energy efficiency, alternative energy, and green industry (Ulrich Volz, March 2018). Also, the Central Bank of Hungary introduced preferential capital requirements for energy-efficient housing loans (Liam Jones July 13, 2021).

Another important aspect of regulation and incentives created by monetary regulators is environmental and climate change risks management. Climate change and the green transition increase the environment-associated financial risks for banks. Banks’ financial losses can result from not only storms floods, tsunamis, and temperature increases, but also financial problems of borrowers due to stricter environmental legislation and changes in social and environmental norms and standards.  According to the ECB survey, many banks develop sustainable development strategies, but very few include environment-associated financial risks in their risk management. Therefore, the ECB works on creating incentives and regulations for banks in green risks-management. It is expected that bank stress-testing will start in 2022 (Harrison C., Muething L., 2021). At the same time, the Bank of Bangladesh, with IFC support, has developed guidelines on social and environmental risk management for the banking sector (Ulrich Volz, 2018).

Based on the above mentioned, there is still much to be done to ensure that market players consider green aspects in their deals. Green banking is still a new thing, but its implementation takes place in many countries, and green finance is an essential element of sustainable economic development.

Green Banking in Belarus

In this section, we overview the current state and perspectives of green banking development in Belarus. The country takes its first steps in green finance market development. Socio-economic development program of the Republic of Belarus for 2016-2020 has incorporated green projects in spheres such as transport and agriculture, recycling, eco-labelling and eco-certification development, as well as a study of the implementation of green bonds and green investment bank creation (Ukaz № 466, December 15 2016). In 2016, the National Plan of Activities on Green Economy Development in the Republic of Belarus till 2020 was adopted. The plan included the development of areas such as organic agriculture, eco-tourism, energy-efficient construction, and smart cities (CMRB Decree, № 1061, December 21, 2016). However, none of these projects were introduced with links to green financing and green banking. The National Plan of the Activities of Green Economy Development in the Republic of Belarus till 2025 pays more attention to green finance. In this plan, there is a description of implemented projects in recent years and a list of instruments (green bonds, credits, insurance products), tools (indexes, ratings, databases, etc.), entities and elements of the green finance ecosystem (MNREPRB, 2021). Still, there is no plan or detailed strategy of special regulation, rules, or framework of green banking development.

In the absence of precise plans from the government, green banking in Belarus began to emerge at the micro-level. Banks started to provide green products for their clients, participate in sustainable initiatives, and implement green management in their work. One of the main incentives to transition towards more sustainable banking practices comes from the investors’ side. In the case of joint investment and lending programs implementation, many foreign partners require that the bank applies modern green standards.

Another incentive to this transition builds on reputational risks and competition. Today, there is a public demand for eco-products, energy-efficient construction, and environmental protection. Banks that consider these issues have a competitive advantage and gain a positive reputation among their clients. Moreover, some commercial banks with foreign capital have to introduce green standards and green management at the request of their parent companies.

A few green initiatives by Belarusian banks are worth mentioning here. The Belinvestbank can be distinguished as one of the brightest examples of green banking in Belarus. The financial institution started transforming into EcoBank – it began to hold green financing transactions in the framework of the Global Trade Financial program (a program by the International Finance Corporation), adopted a new ecological and social strategy, issued a charity-bonus payment card made from recycled plastic, and held activities in ecological spheres (Belinvestbank, 2020). The bank plans to issue green bonds, establish green projects accelerator, continue green financing, and build new communications approaches with its clients (Belinvestbank, 2019a). Green financing is one of the main lending spheres of the EBRD, which planned to purchase a share of Belinvestbank.

Priorbank is another case of a green banking initiative in Belarus. The bank presented a new type of lending that allows consumers to buy only energy-, water- and heat-efficient products (Priorbank, 2021).

The Development Bank of Belarus launched a program of ecological projects financing for small and medium businesses and individual entrepreneurs for preferential interest rates (DBRB, n.d.).

As part of the Belarus Sustainable Energy Finance Program (BelSEFF) framework, funding was provided by banks such as MTBank, BelVeb Bank, BPS-Sberbank, and Belgazprombank with EBRD support (Tarasevich. V., 2014). Agreement about energy-efficient projects financing between MTBank and Nordic Environment Finance Corporation can be highlighted as one more example of a green initiative (Aleinikov & Partners, n.d.). The last but not least example of green activities is the joint project of BNB-Bank and North Ecological Financial Corporation in which they offered loans to private individuals and legal entities for the purchase of hybrid and e-vehicles, as well as for building infrastructure for e-vehicles. (BNB-Bank, n.d.).

Some Belarusian banks implement standards of environmental management into practice. For example, the Sustainable Development Report of Raiffeisen Bank International mentions that the Raiffeisen Group plans by 2025 to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 35% (Raiffeisen Bank International, 2019). They also present plans on water savings, reduction of paper document flow and energy consumption. Priorbank is involved in this process as part of the Raiffeisen Group. Similar goals can be found in the Sustainable Development Report of Bank BelVeb. The environmental priories of the bank are to reduce pollution, restore biodiversity, and increase the efficiency of water,  energy, and other resources consumption (BelVeb, 2019). In the Social Report of Belarusbank it is mentioned that the bank tries to consider negative environmental effects and ecological factors in their lending-decisions (Belarusbank, 2020).

Based on the information above, the conclusion is that Belarusian financial institutions gradually introduce principles of green banking. Most green projects in Belarus are implemented with the support of international financial organizations, parent institutions, or by request from foreign bank partners. Today, Belarusian banks carry out two types of green banking activities. First, they incorporate an environmental perspective in their everyday activities, not directly related to green finance: for example, by reducing water and electricity consumption and waste, switching to electronic document management, providing green incentives to their employees, etc.. Second, banks integrate an environmental perspective into their financial activities using green instruments, for instance by providing loans to the population and corporate sector based on  sustainable finance principles.

At the same time, Belarusian banks do not work with climate-related and environmental risks management. This is not surprising, as, normally, regulators would initiate and incentivize this process, but in Belarus, neither the National Bank nor any other regulator deals with environmental risk management rules for banks. Another challenge is that Belarusian banks do not take part in international green financing initiatives, such as the Equator Principals or the Climate Bond Initiative. Finally, the narrowness of the Belarusian financial market and absence of clear rules and definitions restrict green bond markets and green mortgage development.


Investment in green projects imposes positive externalities on society that are not necessarily internalized by the market. As reflected in the international practices discussed earlier, support from the government and financial authorities might be necessary both in monetary and regulatory terms. Even if developing countries like Belarus may not have a green transformation on top of their agenda, they will soon be faced with the necessity to adapt to the European Green Deal, at least with respect to their trade with the EU. Hence, they will also need policies that promote and support green finance development.

Based on international experience and national issues of green banking, the following recommendations can be highlighted (Luzgina A., 2021):

  1. The adoption of supportive regulation/rules of work with green instruments, including green, sustainable and/or sustainability-linked bonds, green mortgages, and green project financing. This regulation can include criteria for identifying green projects and construction, principles of green projects evaluation, rules of green bonds issuing, tax benefits, and/or preferential credit eligibilities. The ResponsAbility Investments Survey confirms the necessity to implement special rules on green lending development in emerging economies. According to the survey, 40% of respondents believe that an affordable regulatory environment is a key element of green loan market development (ResponsAbility Investments AG, 2017).
  2. The implementation of economic and social incentives for green banking activity popularization. Such incentives can include lower interest rates on green loans, providing tax exemptions for companies and people involved in green projects realization, subsidizing the process of green bonds verification, and holding study activities on green economy and finance. According to ResponsAbility Investments Survey, 60% of respondents agree that special green credit lines of public financial institutions have played an important role in green finance development. At the same time, governments subsidize the process of bonds verification issued by SMEs in Russia (at the stage of adoption), Singapore, and Japan (Vinogradov E. April 2, 2020).
  3. The creation of an additional section in the Belarusian currency and stock exchange for green corporate and state bonds circulation. Green or sustainable bonds have special characteristics in terms of issuing purposes and listing features that require highlighting them in a separate section.
  4. Guiding the development of climate-related and environmental risks management as well as green management rules implementation for all banks. Based on the international experience, this area of green banking requires incentives from the Government and Central Bank, as it is poorly studied and associated with additional costs for banks. Financial institutions are not sufficiently motivated to implement green risks management principles on their own.
  5. Extending the international collaboration in the field of green finance. This activity may include participating in not only international programs on green financing or foreign investments attraction but also international initiatives such as Principles for Responsible Banking, Climate bonds Initiative, Equator Principles, etc..
  6. The development of a green banking methodology and (or) strategy/ concept by responsible bodies. The introduction of green banking requires the development of new approaches, definitions, and rules that are within the competence of not only the Central Bank but also the Ministry of Economy (in terms of SMEs support), Ministry of Finance (in terms of funding), Ministry of Agriculture (in terms of the development of bioproducts standards), Ministry of Architecture and Construction (in terms of energy-efficient building definition and indicators), Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection, etc. An institutional body could coordinate this work by developing a methodology of green banking in discussion with the National Bank, ministries, and other interested parties (NGOs, banks). The association of Belarusian Banks can perform this function as it knows the specifics of banking legislation, can identify the existing obstacles of green banking and other challenges in the field, and is interested in developing the Belarusian banking system in line with current trends.


Green finance as a whole and green banking in particular will continue to develop. Monetary regulators are working on green rules and risk management implementation for banks. Financial institutions from different countries are participating in international green initiatives and developing sustainable strategies.

Green banking development is an international process which Belarus cannot ignore. Today, the majority of green activities at the national level are based on the initiative of banks. Contracts with international financial institutions and requirements of parent companies and investors motivate Belarusian banks to implement green instruments and approaches. Traditionally, the banking system works under restricted and highly regulated conditions. Therefore, it is necessary to introduce clear rules of green banking by the government as well as to increase the attractiveness of green financing, including economic and social incentives development.

Otherwise, the existing policy gap in green banking will widen and the opportunities for collaboration between Belarusian banks and foreign financial institutions will diminish. Finally, the absence of green regulation will deteriorate the quality of risk management in the Belarusian banking system compared to the world level.


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.

Creative Industries: Impact on the Development of Ukraine’s Economy

Image of coloured umbrellas representing impact of creative industries

This brief is based on research investigating the effects of creative industries on the development of the Ukrainian economy. The results indicate that capital investment in creative industries has a significantly greater effect on economic growth than a simple increase in the consumption of the respective industry’s products. Thus, we conclude that to achieve a more substantial economic effect of spending in creative industries, it is necessary not only to increase the expenditures in these industries and boost consumption of their products but also to support these industries in developing production capacity. The underlying study “Creative Industries: Impact on the Development of Ukraine’s Economy” was prepared by the Kyiv School of Economics in cooperation with the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy of Ukraine. The first results from the study were presented at the international forum “Creative Ukraine” in 2020.


In 2019, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly declared 2021 as the International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development. This nomination was a recognition of the growing role of creative industries in the economic development of both developed and developing countries. The program of events taking place under the theme of the International Year of the Creative Economy for Sustainable Development includes forums, conferences, and intergovernmental meetings, which intend to draw attention to the problems that hinder the development of creative industries (CI) and the opportunities that these areas create.

The importance of CIs, which lie at the crossroads of art, business, and technology, is constantly growing both at the national level and in terms of international competition between countries. CIs have become a strategic direction for increasing competitiveness, productivity, employment, and sustainable economic growth (UNCTAD 2019) [1]. Exceptional rates of growth in turnover, creation of new jobs, and resilience to the economic crisis make creative industries an attractive area for investment at both the private and governmental levels. (UNCTAD 2004) [2]. On the other hand, the scope of knowledge about the economic role of CIs and their impact on the development of other sectors of the economy is quite limited.

This brief describes the economic effect of spending in CIs. Particularly, using input-output and computable general equilibrium models, we outline CI multiplier effects on the development of other industries and discuss implications for government support of CI.

Creative Industries in Ukraine

Although the term creative industry is becoming more common, countries have different approaches to the definition. There have been attempts to introduce an international standard, but the goal has not yet been achieved [3].

Ukrainian law define CIs as “types of economic activity aimed at creating added value and jobs through cultural (artistic) and/or creative expression”.

Currently, the Cabinet Ministers of Ukraine list 34 basic economic activities belonging to CIs, including visual arts, performing arts, publishing, design, fashion, IT, audiovisual arts, architecture, advertising, libraries, archives and museums, folk arts and crafts.

The gross value added (GVA) of CIs in Ukraine is growing rapidly. In 2013, the GVA of creative industries amounted to UAH 31 billion (3% of total value added), and in 2019 it amounted to UAH 117.2 billion (3.9% of total value added) (Figure 1). The number of companies and employees in the field of CI is also growing rapidly. In 2019, there were 205.5 thousand business entities and more than 350 thousand employees. 

Figure 1. Gross value added of CI in Ukraine

Source: State Statistics Service of Ukraine

Most GVA of CIs is generated by information technology (IT) activities. In 2019, the IT sector generated UAH 63.7 billion of GVA or 54.3% of the national CI GVA (Figure 2). In second place, there is Advertising, ¢Marketing and PR – UAH 20.2 billion of GVA or 17% of national GVA. In third place with a small gap there is Audiovisual Art – UAH 19.4 billion of GVA or 17% of national GVA.

Figure 2. Structure of Gross Value Added CI in Ukraine, 2019.

Source: State Statistics Service of Ukraine

Methodology and Data

To assess the economic effect of creative industries, we employ a computable general equilibrium (CGE) approach. CGE estimates a general equilibrium model of an economy using real-life economic data. It models interactions of individual markets – such as manufactured goods, services, and factors of production – encompassing the entire economic system. In doing so, the model takes into account reactions of economic agents – economic sectors, households, government, external sectors – and assumes that markets are perfectly competitive. The resulting set of simultaneous equations then employs real data from the economy in question to estimate the equilibrium in these markets by balancing supply and demand in all markets via the appropriate choice of prices.

In this way, the CGE model is a good reflection of a studied economy. In particular, in application to our research question, it allows us to distinguish the economic impact of additional consumption and capital investments in creative industries, and therefore to form reasonably precise recommendations for policy measures. This feature makes the CGE approach much more relevant than the alternative methods, such as the input-output approach.

Limitations of the CGE approach include increased analytical difficulty and computational demands, calibration and the use of estimated parameters, etc.

Data utilized by the CGE model are given by the Social Accounting Matrix (SAM). The SAM structure is related to the input-output table. Each row and column reflects the income and expenses of a particular economic agent. The main principle of SAM is balance, i.e., income from the sale of goods and services equals expenditures.

As a result, the availability of input-output table data is a crucial factor for our analysis. The State Statistics Service of Ukraine publishes an input-output table for 42 industries, which is not sufficient to distinguish creative industries from other sectors of the economy. To compensate for these deficiencies, we use the following sources:

  • input-output table for Ukraine for 2018.
  • input-output table for Poland for 2015 (latest available) to approximate the intermediate consumption of creative industries, not available from Ukrainian input-output tables.
  • annual report on state budget expenditures of Ukraine for 2018.
  • balance of payments of Ukraine for 2018.
  • structural business statistics of Ukrainian enterprises in part of gross value added and sales volume for 2018.


The results of the CGE model suggest a strong effect of investment in CIs.  The sizes of the multipliers across the most creative industries are similar. The exception is the programming industry, for which for a one hryvnia investment leads to a total GDP growth of 3.2 hryvnias. This value is the highest among all sectors of the economy, not only among the CIs. For the rest of the CIs, the multiplier ranges from 1.9-2.2, which is comparable to the multipliers of the construction and finance and insurance sector (Figure 3). Accordingly, the increase in GDP for one hryvnia of investment by the industry is:

  • UAH 2.2 for libraries, museums, archives.
  • UAH 2.1 for publishing.
  • UAH 2.1 for architecture.
  • UAH 2.0 for performing and other arts.
  • UAH 2.0 for production of jewellery, costume jewellery, musical instruments.
  • UAH 2.0 for public relations, marketing, advertising.
  • UAH 2.0 for design, photography, translation.
  • UAH 1.9 for audiovisual and audio art.

Figure 3. GDP change per one hryvnia of capital expenditures*

* Estimated assuming 5% increase in capital Source: Our calculations are based on data from State Statistics Service of Ukraine and Poland, as described in the data section.

While the above results are obtained by estimating GDP response to a 5% increase in capital, the results are quite similar for different sizes of investments.


Our estimations show that investment in creative industries has a considerable impact on GDP. Investment in the IT sector has the highest multiplier, even compared to “non-creative” sectors of the economy. Other CIs’ multipliers can be compared to the construction and finance and insurance sector. Therefore, the results suggest that creative industries offer a highly valuable investment opportunity.

We also find that increase in capital investment in a creative industry has a stronger positive impact on GDP than an increase in the consumption of the respective industry’s products. An immediate policy implication of this finding is that, to achieve a more significant economic effect of government spending in creative industries, it is necessary not only to increase the expenditures on these industries or boost consumption of their products but also to support them in expanding production capacity.


  • Nikolaeva, O., Onoprienko, A., Taran, S., Sholomitskyi, Y. and Iavorskyi, P., 2020. Creative Industries: Impact on the Development of Ukraine’s Economy. Ministry of Culture and Information Policy of Ukraine.
  • UNCTAD, 2019. How can the creative economy help power development? https://unctad.org/news/how-creative-economy-can-help-power-development
  • UNCTAD, 2004. Creative Industries and Development. https://unctad.org/system/files/official-document/tdxibpd13_en.pdf

 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.

Financial Stress and Economic Contraction in Belarus

20180211 Financial Stress and Economic Contraction in Belarus Image 01

This brief summarizes the results of an analysis of financial stress episodes in the Belarusian economy. Based on a principal component analysis, I construct a financial stress index for Belarus (BFSI) that incorporates distinctive indicators for the banking sector, exchange market and external debt risks covering the period January 2004 to September 2016. Next, I identify episodes of financial turmoil in Belarus using the BFSI and assess the consequences for the real economy. Finally, I investigate the long-run relationship between financial stress and economic activity in Belarus.

It has become conventional wisdom that a well developed and smoothly operating financial system is critically important for economic growth (see Levine, 2005). It helps in overcoming frictions in the real sector, influencing economic agents’ savings and investment behavior, and therefore enabling the real economy to prosper (Beck, 2014).

In contrast, financial stress to financial system can be defined as the force that influences economic agents through uncertainty and changing expectations of loss in financial markets and financial institutions. It arises from financial shocks such as banking or currency crises (Iling & Ying, 2006). Consequently, the current stress level in the financial system can be quantified by combining a number of key individual stress measures into a single composite indicator – the Financial Stress Index (FSI).

In practice, such indices are already widely used, and allow regulators to maintain financial stability and help investors to assess the overall riskiness of investments in financial instruments of the country. The FSI for Belarus (BFSI) has been estimated for the first time and can be used as an early warning signal of systematic risk in the Belarusian financial sector (Mazol, 2017). In the financial context, systematic risk captures the risk of a cascading failure in the financial sector, caused by inter-linkages within the financial system, resulting in a severe economic downturn.

Construction of the FSI for Belarus

Based on a principal component analysis, the calculated index incorporates distinctive indicators for banking-sector risk estimated by the Banking Sector Fragility Index (BSFI), currency risk assessed by the Exchange Market Pressure Index (EMPI), and the external debt risk proxied by the growth of total external debt.

The BFSI reflects the probability of a crisis (episode of financial stress) – the smaller is the indicator, the better. The stability regime ends, when the BFSI exceeds a predetermined threshold. In particular, episodes of financial stress are determined as the periods when the BFSI is more than one standard deviation above its trend, which is captured by the Hodrick–Prescott filter. The identified episodes of financial stress show that one or more of the BFSI’s subcomponents (banking, external debt or foreign exchange) has changed abruptly.

Episodes of financial stress

During 2004—2016, two episodes of financial stress were detected in the economy of Belarus (see Figure 1). In both cases, there were large devaluations of the Belarusian currency, caused by the need to adjust its real exchange rate.

Figure 1. Episodes of financial stress in Belarus 2004—2016

Source: Author’s own calculations.

The first episode began in December 2008 and ended in May 2009. This episode was mainly a consequence of the global economic and financial crisis that caused a deep recession in Russia, reducing Russia’s demand for import of products from Belarus, further loss of competitiveness due to the sharp depreciation of the Russian ruble and deterioration of the current account balance and the depletion of foreign exchange reserves.

The second episode of financial stress began in December 2011 and ended in May 2012. It was caused by the renewed unbalanced macroeconomic policy aimed primarily at boosting aggregate demand by increasing government spending and accelerating economic growth; and monetary policy aimed at targeting the exchange rate. All this has led to problems in the foreign exchange market that eventually encompassed issues in the banking sector and caused a sharp reduction in foreign exchange reserves.

Financial stress and recessions

Figure 2 shows the contribution of each of the sub-indices to the increase in the BFSI.

Figure 2. The dynamics of components of BFSI during 2004-2016

Source: Author’s own calculations.

The main feature of the graph is that the currency stress is the prevailing factor in the two identified stress episodes. However, while the origins of the second episode were in the currency market, by early 2012, the stress had become much more broad based – the banking stress and the external debt stress contributed significantly to BFSI growth at the same time.

In contrast, since the beginning of 2016 until the end of the observation period, an upward movement in the BSF sub-index was detected indicating that the National Bank of Belarus (NBB) had to be worried about instability in the banking sector, which was mostly related to a loans crisis of state-owned enterprises (SOEs). A loans crisis of SOEs in Belarus means the inability of these enterprises to repay their debts and the need for budget coverage of their obligations and investments in fixed capital (see Figure 3). This happened due to a significantly higher cost of capital for SOEs after the second episode of the financial stress had begun.

Figure 3. Sources of investment financing and overdue loans of Belarusian enterprises

Source: Belstat.

Correspondingly, in the late 2016, the above problems have amplified the external debt stress (lack of external financing) in the economy of Belarus (see Figure 2).

Next, the results showed that financial stress negatively influences economic activity proxied by the index of composite leading indicators (CLI). In particular, an increase by one standard deviation (s.d.) in the BFSI leads to the contraction in the CLI index by 0.5 s.d. (see Mazol, 2017).

Moreover, financial stress has caused significant real output losses. The first episode of financial stress has resulted in the contraction of GDP by 5.9%. Second one has pushed Belarusian economy into a severe recession, which lasted 52 months with cumulative output losses about 12.9% of GDP (see Table 1).

Table 1. Descriptive statistics on episodes of financial stress and recessions in Belarus

Episodes of financial stress Duration (months) Output lossa

(% of GDP)

Number of months after start of financial stress to recession


December 2008 –

May 2009

6 12 -5.85 0
December 2011 –

May 2012

6 52 -12.89 6

Note: a) output loss is measured as GDP below trend during recession; b) a recession is occurred if there was a serious contraction in the economic activity (CLI) during six month or more. Source: Author’s own calculations.

Finally, a great reliance of Belarusian economy on external financing is associated with longer and sharper downturn in the aftermath of second episode of financial stress (see Figure 2).


The study has three policy implications. First, the BFSI may be considered as a comprehensive indicator that successfully determines the main episodes of financial stress in Belarusian economy and can be used to study their macroeconomic consequences.

Second, the BFSI identifies the most salient stress factors for Belarus, thereby showing which financial sectors need to be monitored carefully by national regulator to avoid a critical buildup of risks in the financial system.

Third, efforts to confine financial stress will support the country’s economic activity in the long run, which may include intervention in the foreign exchange market and build up of investor confidence in the economy.


  • Beck, Thorsten, 2014. “Finance, growth, and stability: lessons from the crisis”. Journal of Financial Stability, 10, 1-6.
  • Illing, Mark; and Ying Liu, 2006. “Measuring financial stress in a developed country: an application to Canada”. Journal of Financial Stability, 2, 243-265.
  • Levine, Ross, 2005. “Finance and growth: theory and evidence”. In: Aghion, P., Durlauf,S.N. (Eds.), Handbook of Economic Growth, vol. 1A. Elsevier, Amsterdam, 865-934.
  • Mazol, Aleh, 2017. “The influence of financial stress on economic activity and monetary policy in Belarus”. BEROC Working Paper Series, WP no. 40, 33 p.

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.


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.


  • 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
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  • 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
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