May 26, 2011
“A ‘91-style meltdown is almost inevitable.” So says Alexei Moiseev, chief economist at VTB Capital, the investment-banking arm of Russia’s second-largest lender, discussing the imminent economic catastrophe that is sure to engulf Belarus following the surprise devaluation of the country’s currency by over 50%, which we announced on Monday. “Unless Belarus heeds Russia’s call for mass privatization of state assets, it is headed for “hyperinflation, massive un- and under-employment, and a shutdown of production” Moiseev concludes. Ah: “privatization” as Greece is about to learn, the lovely word that describes a fire sale of assets to one’s creditors, courtesy of a “globalized” new world order. Ironically, this is precisely the warning that will be lobbed at each country in the developed world, as the global race to devalue currencies, first against each other on a relative basis, and ultimately against hard currencies, or on an absolute basis, as the world realizes that there simply is not enough cash flow to cover the interest payments on a debt load, in both the public and private sectors, that continues to rise at an astronomic rate, even as the world prepares to exit from the latest transitory, centrally-planned bounce in the Great Financial Crisis-cum-Depression that started in earnest in 2007 and has been progressing ever since. Ultimately, Belarus will succumb to hyperinflation, as will each and every other government seeking to devalue its currency (hint: all of them): “Unless Belarus heeds Russia’s call for mass privatization of state assets, it is headed for “hyperinflation, massive un- and under-employment, and a shutdown of production,” VTB’s Moiseev said. The ruble will slide to 10,000 per dollar, he added.” Of course, this is the primary side effect of attempting to avoid formal bankruptcy through currency devaluation. And all those who continue to believe deflation is an outcome that will be allowed by the Fed, need to look just to the former Soviet satellite to see what lies in store for everyone currently doing all in their power to devalue their currency.
First look at the Belarus Ruble chart below: this is what always happens to every country that resolutely continues to live outside its means. Always.
And here are some additional observations from Bloomberg on the country that everyone in the media continues to ignore, yet which will very soon be the model for virtually everyone else engaging in central planning warfare.
The Belarusian central bank let the managed ruble weaken by 36 percent versus the dollar on May 24 as demand for dollars and euros from importers and households threatened to derail an economy already laboring under a current-account deficit equal to 16 percent of gross domestic product. Russia and other former Soviet partners last week agreed to give Belarus a $3 billion loan and urged President Aleksandr Lukashenko’s government to sell $7.5 billion of assets to replenish the state’s coffers.
Finance ministers from former Soviet nations agreed in Minsk on May 19 to give Belarus up to $3.5 billion over three years, with the first $800 million payment expected in the week after a separate meeting on June 4, Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin said in Moscow yesterday.
The Nationalnyi Bank Respubliki Belarus set its official dollar-ruble rate at 4,931 for today’s trading, from 3,155 on May 23, according to its web site. Trading of foreign currency between companies, banks and individuals needs to stay within a 2 percent range of the daily rate, the regulator said May 23, when it announced the devaluation and reintroduced restrictions lifted on the interbank market on April 19 and for households on May 11.
Devaluing the currency will only worsen the situation for Belarus, VTB’s Moiseev said.
“The main problem is that the economy produces goods which consist of little else than a combination of imported spare parts,” he said. “So devaluation only makes things worse.”
Belarus’s economy effectively collapsed in 1991 as the disintegration of the Soviet Union eliminated natural markets for the country’s exports of farm machinery, textiles and agricultural products.
The catalyst for the country’s imploding economy: socialism and price controls. Sound familiar?
Lukashenko reintroduced controls on prices and the currency and re-nationalized some companies and infrastructure after coming to power in July, 1994, on a platform of “market socialism.” The nation’s economy returned to growth in 1996, according to World Bank data.
At the Minsk Refrigerator Plant Co. shop in the capital today, about 20 people queued in drizzling rain to use their rubles to buy fridges. While the shop didn’t open on the day of the devaluation, most of the models in the store already had ‘Sold Out’ stickers on their doors.
“I came on Saturday and it was a nightmare, the store was stormed by people who wanted to spend their rubles because of rumors about the devaluation,” said Nikolay, a 74-year-old pensioner who declined to provide his last name. His entire savings of 6 million rubles now buy one fridge compared with three before the devaluation, he said.
The people are not happy…
The devaluation lifted the local price of automobile fuels as much as 24 percent, according to Belneftekhim, an industry group for the country’s oil sector. Last night, about 50 people protested the price increase in the car park of a Minsk hypermarket.
“I can’t describe how I feel without using obscenities, this is all our government’s fault,” said Sergey, a 32-year old attending the protest who works for a computer importer. “The whole world tells them, guys, you have economic problems, you should do something, and all they did was live off getting more and more loans.”
Who can blame the country if it devolves into civil war: as a result of Monday’s decision the average salary was “1.6 million rubles in April, according to the government statistician. Converted into dollars, it fell to $325 after the May 24 devaluation, from $507 a day earlier, using central bank exchange rates.”
Naturally, the IMF wuz here:
Both the IMF and the EBRD have blamed Lukashenko’s spending before last year’s presidential election for much of the economy’s woes. Lending was increased by 38 percent last year and public-sector salaries rose by about 50 percent, the Washington-based IMF said in a March 9 report.
Belarus got a $3.5 billion bailout loan from the IMF during the global credit crisis and the country has more than $2 billion of ruble and dollar debt outstanding. Foreign-currency reserves hit a 1 1/2-year low in March.
“The ruble is probably still too strong, but devaluation hurts the average consumer through imported inflation and deteriorating purchasing power,” Sanna Kurronen, an economist in Helsinki at Danske Bank A/S, said by e-mail yesterday. “There is really no easy way out of this economic distress and the only way is to do a major reform in the country.”
Here comes hyperinflation…
The price of children’s diapers has “gone completely insane” in Minsk, said Natalia, a 24-year-old mother also queuing outside the refrigerator store. “I used to buy a pack for 69,000 rubles, now they cost 140,000,” or almost half the 343,260-ruble monthly child benefit paid by the government, she said.
“We have become paupers,” said Tatiana, a 70-year-old woman in the line who also declined to give her last name. “We have been squeezed into a corner by this devaluation.”
Belarus’s dollar debt has been buoyed by news of the Russian loan, with the yield on the government’s debt due 2015 dropping four basis points to 9.881 percent by 6:35 p.m. in Minsk, the lowest since March 14. Dollar-denominated notes due 2018 yielded 10.38 percent, down six basis points.
The country has raised its refinancing rate twice since April 20 to 14 percent, the highest in Europe. The central bank also stopped selling foreign currency out of its reserves in March and will continue to stay out of currency markets, spokesman Anatoly Drozdov said by phone in Minsk yesterday.
…And following that, complete socio-economic collapse
Unless Belarus heeds Russia’s call for mass privatization of state assets, it is headed for “hyperinflation, massive un- and under-employment, and a shutdown of production,” VTB’s Moiseev said. The ruble will slide to 10,000 per dollar, he added.
Unemployment was 0.7 percent in December, according to government data. Inflation accelerated to 14 percent in March, the fastest since April 2009 and more than neighboring Russia’s 9.6 percent in April. Imports into Belarus exceeded exports by $7.3 billion at the end of 2009, according to the latest annual data available.
Russian media are creating a “flurry” of speculation about the nation’s asset sales so they can “make good at our expense,” Lukashenko said today in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, according to comments reported by state news agency Belta. “But we will not throw anything to anybody for nothing.”
Note the parallels to Greece, which would follow the same fate if it were to make the choice of returning to the drachma.
Alas, there is nothing left to add: this is the future, and it is coming to a developed country near you.
This article was posted: Thursday, May 26, 2011 at 4:05 am