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):
- 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).
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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..
- 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.
- Aleinikov & Partners, MTBank and Nordic Environment Finance Corporation. Available at: https://argument.by/en/projects/detail.php?ID=297.
- Belarusbank policy in the field of corporative social responsibility. Protocol of the supervisory board meeting #7.4, 15.05.2020. (Rus. Политика ОАО «АСБ Беларусбанк» в области корпоративной социальной ответственности), 26 pp.
- Belinvestbank, 2020, Environmental and social management (in Russian). Available at: https://www.belinvestbank.by/about-bank/page/ekologicheskij-i-soczial.
- Belinvestbank, Apr. 2019a (in Russian). Available at: https://belinvestbank.by/about-bank/press-service/news/
- BelVeb. Sustainable development report 2019 (Rus. Отчет об устойчивом развитии за 2019 г.). Available at: https://www.belveb.by/about/korporativnaya-sotsialnaya-otvetstvennost/
- BNB-Bank, BNB Bank launches «Smart Energy» program (in Russian). Available at: https://www.bnb.by/chtoby-znali/my-i-ekologiya/belorusskiy-narodnyy-bank-obyavlyaet-o-zapuske-programmy-sodeystviya-razvitiyu-elektrotransporta-v-b/
- Climate Bonds Initiative. Available at: https://www.climatebonds.net/about.
- Council of Ministers of the Republic of Belarus, Decree, № 1061, December 21. 2016, National plan of activities on green economy (in Russian). Available at: https://www.economy.gov.by/ru/nac_plan-ru/
- Development Bank of the Republic of Belarus (DBRB), Support for environmental projects (in Russian). Available at: https://brrb.by/activity/support-to-smes/podderzhka-ekologicheskikh-proektov-2/.
- Equator principles. Available at: https://equator-principles.com/about/
- Green financing, UNEP. https://www.unep.org/regions/asia-and-pacific/regional-initiatives/supporting-resource-efficiency/green-financing – :~:text=Green financing is to increase,sectors to sustainable development prioritieSalman
- Harrison C., Muething L., April 2021, Sustainable debt. Global state of the market 2020, Climate Bonds Initiative, 30 pp.
- Huw Jones, May 21, 2021 , EU watchdog signals long journey for banks to become “green”, ed. by Kristen Donovan, Available at: https://www.reuters.com/business/sustainable-business/eu-watchdog-signals-long-journey-banks-become-green-2021-05-21/.
- IDB Invest, Five things to know about blue bonds. Available at: https://www.idbinvest.org/en/blog/development-impact/five-things-know-about-blue-bonds.
- IFC, Global Trade Financial Program (GTFP). Available at: https://www.ifc.org/wps/wcm/connect/industry_ext_content/ifc_external_corporate_site/financial+institutions/priorities/global+trade/gtfp.
- Liam Jones, July 13, 2021, EU action sets new baseline: EC & ECB promise systemic change to Europe’s finance sector: Landmark commitments on climate change and transition strategy. Available at: https://www.climatebonds.net/2021/07/eu-action-sets-new-baseline-ec-ecb-promise-systemic-change-europes-finance-sector-landmark.
- Luzgina A., 2021, Green banking: concept, instruments and development prospects, Available at: https://beroc.org/en/publications/policy_papers/green-banking-concept-instruments-and-development-prospects/
- Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection of the Republic of Belarus (MNREP), March 18 2021, Green economy: transition to sustainable development (in Russian). Available at: https://minpriroda.gov.by/ru/news-ru/view/zavershena-realizatsija-meroprijatij-natsionalnogo-plana-dejstvij-po-razvitiju-zelenoj-ekonomiki-3646/
- Priorbank, 2021, Lending program “Green economy”( in Russian). Available at: https://www.priorbank.by/offers/credits/credits-green-economy.
- Raiffeisen Bank International. Sustainability report 2019. Focus on sustainable value creation. Available at: https://www.rbinternational.com/en/sustainability/sustainability-report.html.
- ResposAbility Investments AG. 2017. Public paper #5. Green Banking. Available at: https://www.gcpf.lu/files/assets/images/reporting_news/insights/2017/2017-12-Green-Lending/Topic_Case_Green_Lending.pdf.
- Tara, K., Singh S., Kumar, R., 2015, Green banking for environmental management: a paradigm shift. Current World Environment, Vol., 10(3),. Available at: http://www.cwejournal.org/vol10no3/green-banking-for-environmental-management-a-paradigm-shift/
- Tarasevich V., April, 2014, KPMG, Bank participation in renewable energy and energy efficiency projects: A sustainable energy financing program in Belarus EBRD (BelSEFF) (in Russian). Available at: http://www.inogate.org/documents/RES%20investment%20forum%2022-23%20April%202014%20-%20BelSEFF%20presentation.pdf.
- Ukaz of the President of the Republic of Belarus, № 466, December 15 2016, Socio-economic development program of the Republic of Belarus on 2016-2020 (in Rus.). Available at: https://www.economy.gov.by/uploads/files/Programma-2020.pdf.
- Ulrich Volz, March 2018, Fostering green finance for sustainable development in Asia, WP 814, Asia, Development Bank Institute, 26 pp.
- Vinogradov E. April 2, 2020 Light to green: Minec. has offered benefits to responsible investors (Rus. Зеленому свет: Минэк предложил льготы для ответственных инвесторов). Available at: https://iz.ru/993693/ekaterina-vinogradova/zelenomu-svet-mer-predlozhilo-lgoty-dlia-otvetstvennykh-investorov.
- Zafar, July 18. 2021 Green Financing as a tool for sustainable development. https://www.bioenergyconsult.com/green-finncing/.
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.
After a relatively long period of macroeconomic stabilization, Belarus faces the threat of a purposeful deviation from it. However, today there is no room for a ‘growth injection’ by means of monetary policy. Moreover, Belarus still suffers from a problem of unanchored inflation expectations. This prevents monetary policy from being effective and powerful. So, unless inflation expectations have been anchored, any discussion about reshaping monetary policy and making it ‘pro-growth’ is meaningless.
Policy Mix and Macroeconomic Landscape in Belarus
Since 2015, Belarus has considerably improved the quality of its macroeconomic policies. The country has fallen back upon a floating exchange rate, and feasible monetary and fiscal rules. This change followed a long history of voluntary expansionary policy mixes associated with numerous episodes of huge inflation, currency crises, etc.
Due to the new policy mix, the country has been displaying a movement towards macro stability in recent years. For instance, the external position is close to being balanced, the fiscal position has even become positive, while the inflation rate is at historical lows around 5%. For Belarus, these achievements are important, taking in mind a ‘fresh memory’ of price and financial instability. Hence, until recently there were no doubts in the feasibility of the commitments of Belarusian authorities to sound macroeconomic policies.
However, despite a relatively strong macroeconomic performance, the threat of a purposeful and at least temporary deviation from policy commitments seems to strengthen. What is important is that this time, popular simple explanations – e.g. political voluntarism (Belarus will have presidential elections in 2020), a naïve perception of economic policy mechanisms by authorities, etc. – are not sufficient for understanding the phenomenon. Rounds of loosening economic policies tend to be justified as ‘lesser evils’. Exploring some rationality in such a justification requires more insight into the Belarusian macroeconomic landscape.
In recent years, the lack of productivity and output growth has become more evident: in 2015-2019 the average output growth rate has been around 0. The root of the problem is the deficit in productivity and growth (Kruk & Bornukova, 2014; Kruk, 2019), while the rules-based policy mix just uncovered it.
However, this direction of causation tends to be challenged by some policy-makers. In an ’archaic’ manner, the policy mix is accused of blocking any pro-output policy discretion, even if there is a justification for it. For instance, an ‘extra’ need for a ‘growth injection’ may be justified by social challenges. Poor growth in Belarus results in a rather sensitive squeezing of relative levels of well-being in comparison to neighboring countries. Between 2012 and 2019, the well-being shrank from around 78% of the average level in 11 CEE countries down to about 63%. This intensified the labour outflow significantly, including for those employed in socially important industries, say, in healthcare. So, according to this view, the ‘growth injection’ is a lesser evil rather than systemic social threat.
A more advanced ‘accusation’ of the new policy mix assumes that it either causes a too restrictive stance of monetary policy with respect to output or that it ignores complicated transmission channels. For instance, one may argue that too much emphasis on price and financial stability can actually result in undermining them, given the huge debt burden of Belarusian firms. The quality of a considerable portion of the debts in Belarus tends to be sensitive to output growth rates. Hence, according to this argumentation, the monetary policy rule should be ‘more pro-growth’, reflecting the debt-growth-financial stability linkage inside it.
‘Translating’ this policy agenda to a research agenda results in two questions. First, is there room for a more expansionary monetary policy? Second, do financial instability risks require making the monetary policy rule ‘more pro-growth’?
The Monetary Policy Stance: Causality and Causes
Monetary policy, as a rule, aims to be counter-cyclical, i.e. generate expansionary incentives during cyclical downturns, and vice versa. In this respect, its stance should be matched to the estimate of the output gap. From this view, given dominating estimates of a near-zero output gap for 2019 in Belarus (National bank, 2019; Kruk, 2019), today’s monetary policy should be roughly neutral. However, analyzing monetary policy stance together with the estimates of the output gap is not a univocal option, especially given doubts about the consistency of any estimate of the output gap (Coibion et al., 2017).
From this point of view, a direct measurement of the monetary policy stance – matching ex-post real interest rate vs. an ex-ante one – is a worthwhile alternative. If the ex-post real interest exceeds the ex-ante rate, it means that the interest rate policy by a central bank is restrictive, while an opposite situation witnesses its expansionary stance (e.g. Gottschalk, 2001). A methodology for identifying inflation expectations by Kruk (2016) allows detecting restrictive and expansionary stances as well. Moreover, doing it in this way allows simultaneously tracing the stance of actual and expected inflation, and study its possible impact on monetary policy (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Monetary Policy Stance, Actual Inflation and Inflation Expectations in Belarus
Note: Positive sign means restrictive stance of monetary policy, while negative sign means expansionary stance.
Source: Own elaboration according to methodology in Kruk (2016) and based on data from the National Bank of Belarus.
First, this diagnostic shows that the stance of the monetary policy today is roughly neutral, which conforms to the diagnosis based on matching with the output gap. In this respect, it means that there is no room for monetary policy softening today.
However, eventually the situation may change and a need for an expansionary monetary policy may indeed arise. Can the National Bank of Belarus unconditionally satisfy such demand? Second, and the more important conclusion, is that the National Bank cannot. Figure 1 also demonstrates that the monetary policy stance in Belarus is very sensitive to the stance of inflation expectations. From this view, the restrictive monetary policy, say in 2015-2016 and 2018, reflected shocks in inflation expectations. The National Bank had to take a mark-up in the expected inflation in respect to the actual one into account and to transform it to the mark-up of the interest rate. If the National Bank ignores such shocks and nevertheless softens monetary policy, it will undermine price stability due to a powerful transmission effect from expected inflation to the actual one. Moreover, a reverse linkage from actual inflation to the expected one is likely to result in a prolonged inflationary period, causing a so-called ‘abnormal’ stance of the monetary environment (Kruk, 2016).
So, a generalized policy diagnosis for today looks as follows. Monetary policy has reached a roughly neutral level due to a considerable reduction in inflation expectations. The latter, in turn, happened due to a prolonged period of a restrictive policy stance (in 2015-2016), which suppressed actual inflation by means of sacrificing output in a sense (the period of cyclical downturn could have been shorter without such limitations in monetary policy).
Unanchored Expectations Bar a More ‘Pro-Growth’ Policy
A deeper cause of the limited room for monetary policies is unanchored inflation expectations. Statistical properties of the inflation expectations series (Kruk, 2019 and 2016), as well as the polls of households and firms by the National Bank, suggest that despite the reduction of the level of inflation expectations, the issue of it being unanchored is still on the agenda. In this respect, expected inflation in Belarus tends to be sensitive to numerous kinds of actual and information shocks, e.g. domestic and global output dynamics, interest rate levels and spreads, exchange rates, financial stability issues, etc. Hence, unless expectations have been anchored, the monetary policy would still suffer from a lack of power. This means that anchoring inflation expectations is the core precondition for normalizing the monetary environment and the power of any monetary policy.
For the monetary rule, this means that it cannot become more ‘pro-growth’, keeping in mind the risks to financial stability. Otherwise, it can spur price destabilization, which may also trigger financial instability. Hence, the logic of a ‘lesser evil’ does not work. Indeed, there are risks to financial stability stemming from poor growth. But combating them through a more ‘pro-growth’ policy will cause price instability and financial instability stemming from that. But what is more important, the logic of a ‘lesser evil’ itself is doubtful with respect to monetary policy. Recognizing the linkage between monetary policy and financial stability does not mean that risks to the latter should be directly traced by the former. Financial stability issues can and should primarily be tackled through macroprudential tools.
After a relatively long period of macroeconomic stabilization, Belarus faces some risk with respect to it. However, today’s monetary policy stance is roughly neutral in Belarus. Hence, a ‘growth injection’ may result in inflation resurgence. Moreover, even today’s near-neutral monetary policy stance is a considerable achievement, as the country still experiences the challenge of unanchored inflation expectations. This issue is a deep underlying problem, which keeps the monetary policy from being more effective and powerful. So, unless inflation expectations have been anchored, any discussion about reshaping it and making it ‘pro-growth’ is meaningless.
As for today’s justifications for monetary policy softening – poor growth and financial instability risks – they hardly relate with the monetary policy agenda. The challenge of poor growth requires thinking in terms of productivity issues, while financial stability risks in terms of macroprudential tools first.
- Coibion, O., Gorodnichenko, Y, Ulate, M. (2017). The Cyclical Sensitivity in Estimates of Potential Output, National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper No. 23580.
- Gottschalk, J. (2001). Monetary Conditions in the Euro Area: Useful Indicators of Aggregate Demand Conditions? Kiel Institute for the World Economy Working Paper No. 1037.
- Kruk, D. (2019). Belarusian Economy in Mid-2019: the Results of the Recovery Growth Period, BEROC Policy Paper No. 69.
- Kruk, D. (2016). SVAR Approach for Extracting Inflation Expectations Given Severe Monetary Shocks: Evidence from Belarus BEROC Working Paper No. 39.
- Kruk, D., Bornukova, K. (2014). Belarusian Economic Growth Decomposition, BEROC Working Paper No. 24.
- National Bank of the Republic Belarus (2019). Information on the Dynamics of Consumer Prices and Tariffs and Factors of Changes Therein, 2019Q3.
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
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
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
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 –
|December 2011 –
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.
In the second half of 2010, the National Bank of Belarus carried out a soft monetary policy to stimulate domestic demand. Until March 2011, the country experienced strong economic growth. There was an increase in real incomes with a parallel increase in the negative trade balance and the reduction of international reserves. Stimulating policy became one of the reasons for the formation of a multiplicity of exchange rates on the foreign exchange market. Beginning of March and until the end of October 2011, there was an official and gray currency market in the country. High domestic demand and rapid devaluation processes led to the deployment of an inflationary spiral, which in turn meant a decrease in the growth of real incomes.