Kazakhstan 2017 | FINANCE | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Daniyar Akishev, Governor of the National Bank of Kazakhstan (NBK), on its success with de-dollarizing the economy, banking sector consolidation, and sectors with significant potential.

Daniyar Akishev
Daniyar Akishev was appointed Governor of the NBK by a presidential decree in 2015. He graduated with honors from the Kazakh State Academy of Management in economics, with a specialization in the organization of banking systems. He started his career as a specialist at the Central Asian Stock Exchange. He later occupied different positions in the research and statistics department of the NBK and subsequently headed the department. In 2007, he was appointed Deputy Governor of the NBK. From August 2014 to August 2015, Akishev was the Head of the Social And Economic Monitoring Department of the Executive Office of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan and was later an acting aid to the President.

How would you characterize the changes that have occurred in Kazakhstan's economy in recent years?

From 2014 to the present, Kazakhstan's economy experienced significant shocks from falling oil prices, reduced exports, and the depreciation of the national currency. The situation was further exacerbated by geopolitical crises and the slowing economies of Kazakhstan's main trading partners, in particular Russia, the EU, and China. In 1Q2016, real annual GDP contracted by 0.1% for the first time after the 2009 crisis. However, the measures taken by the government within the framework of anti-crisis programs to stimulate and diversify the economy partially offset the impact of shocks, maintaining employment and contributing to the development of non-oil sectors. According to preliminary statements from the Ministry of National Economy, in 2016 the economy grew by 1%. Such sectors as construction industry, agriculture, manufacturing, and transport had a significant contribution to the positive dynamics of the GDP. In addition, growth of investment in fixed capital financed by both the government and the private sector remains high. The dynamics of domestic consumption indicate a gradual adaptation of the population and businesses to the new economic conditions. In general, we can talk about a transition to a gradual recovery of the economy; however, this trend is unstable and depends largely on the stability of the external economic environment.

How is the situation with the de-dollarization of the economy progressing?

In January 2016, our statistics showed the share of FX-denominated deposits of individuals amounted to 80%: no one trusted the tenge and people were converting their savings to dollars. In that situation, monetary policy became ineffective and credit channels and the state securities market did not work. At that point, NBK started providing concrete measures to restore confidence in the tenge. First, we increased the recommended interest rate for tenge deposits from 10% to 14% and reduced the recommended interest rate on FX-denominated deposits from 3 to 2%. After some confidence was restored in the oil market, the tenge started to appreciate. Between January 2016 and January 2017, the tenge appreciated by 16%. People see tenge deposits as a more appropriate instrument to save money. Overall the share of FX-denominated deposits was 70% in January 2016 and at the end of 2016 it was 55%, so tenge deposits grew by KZT3.3 trillion over the last year while FX-denominated deposits decreased by KZT1.1trillion, which is roughly equivalent to USD3.2 billion. We analyzed the experiences of other countries and found that many countries that had a high level of dollarization spent many years to achieve the same results. For example, in Turkey a change in deposits dollarization of 10 percentage points was seen only after five years. My task is to bring this value back to the historical levels of 40% dollar-denominated deposits.

What can you tell us about the consolidation talks in the banking sector?

GDP volume in dollar terms in 2014 was roughly USD221 billion, which fell to around USD133 billion in 2016; this represents a dramatic decline of more than USD80 billion in just two years. Therefore, room for business activity has reduced significantly, which is why we talk about consolidation, not only in the financial sector but also in construction, mining, and other sectors. The period of easy money has ended; therefore, there is a need to find additional capital injection to the banks to provide liquidity. If a company does not have funds, it needs to consider some options to merge its assets and distribution of the market to achieve some effect of optimizing and reducing cost through optimizing management and others. Consolidation of the banking sector is therefore inevitable. However, I would like to mitigate the risks as some players might start an aggressive policy of attracting deposits of individuals' assets to try to save their institutions on the market. This is why I recommended being more careful in terms of asset allocation and providing more safeguards in such conditions

What is your forecast for the domestic economy over the medium term and where do you see the biggest growth and development potential?

The NBK estimates growth of the Kazakhstani economy in 2017 to be 1.5-2%, with oil prices set at USD40 per barrel. The positive—but still quite weak—trend in 2017-2018 reveals the slow adaptation of the economy to the new economic reality. The economy will operate below its potential level until 1Q2018, reflecting deflationary pressures from the domestic demand side. External demand is expected to be in the positive zone with respect to its potential by mid-2018, primarily due to the acceleration of economic activity in Europe and Russia, which will have a positive impact on the exports of Kazakhstan. Among sectors with significant potential are agriculture and the agro-industrial complex, in particular the development of animal husbandry, food production, and light and textile industries. In addition, our geographic location creates opportunities to improve transport and logistics infrastructure and develop our transit potential. Projects in these areas will attract foreign investments, particularly those of strategic partners such as China, Russia, India, Iran, and others. Currently, the government is actively involved in the development of potential sectors of the economy through financing the enterprises of the real sector at the expense of budgetary funds, supporting small- and medium-sized businesses.

What are your expectations for 2017 and what will be the main focus of the NBK?

The main objective of NBK's monetary policy is to ensure price stability. In 2017 we set the inflation target range at 6-8%. The main tasks are to overhaul the monetary policy instruments, as well as to create the pleasant conditions for lending recovery. Key measures will be taken to strengthen the role of the base rate. Moreover, the question of the clarification of the target rate in the money market will be considered. In order to adequately reflect the cost of money in the economy, the official refinancing rate will be equalized to the base rate. In addition, the reserve requirement mechanism will be improved. NBK plans to continue working on the formation of the risk-free yield curve, which is an indicator of market expectations on interest rates. NBK will continue to issue its own securities—NBK notes—with various maturities. If necessary, it will use its own portfolio of government securities for the purchase and sale of government bonds on the secondary market. Along with short-term notes and the auction for the purchase of securities with reverse sale (credit auction), NBK plans to introduce deposit auctions as part of open market operations. We are also highly focused on communication. We will continue to work on the disclosure of information on monetary policy directions, publishing decisions about the base rate and other instruments, also explaining the rationale behind the decisions. In addition, NBK will continue to publish forecasts of the main macroeconomic variables and analytical and statistical information, as well as the results of conducted research.