Statement by the IMF Mission to Kazakhstan

Jun 23. International Monetary Fund

By Ainhoa Goyeneche

Statement by the IMF Mission to KazakhstanFollowing is the text of the mission statement from the International Monetary Fund visit to Kazakhstan:

IMF Executive Board Concludes 2012 Article IV Consultation with the Republic of Kazakhstan

On June 18, 2012, the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) concluded the Article IV consultation[1] with the Republic of Kazakhstan. Background

Real GDP growth reached 7? percent in 2011. While growth of oil production slowed, high commodity prices helped spur domestic demand and activity in transport and communications. Agriculture recovered from a severe drought, but activity in construction and real estate remained flat. Official unemployment rate, at 5? percent, continued to be unaffected by real growth, as was the case at the time of the slowdown.

Driven by rising global food prices and large increases in public sector wages, inflation peaked at 9 percent in mid-2011, exceeding the official objective range of 6-8 percent. More recently, however, slowing international commodity prices, an exceptionally high harvest, and the use of administrative measures to limit food and fuel price increases helped to bring inflation below 5 percent. Core inflation, which excludes energy and food, remains subdued.

The current account surplus rose to 7? percent of GDP, the highest level in recent years, as robust exports outpaced the demand-driven rebound in imports. Assets in the National Fund (NFRK) rose rapidly, and together with National Bank of Kazakhstan’s (NBK) international reserves, reached a comfortable level equivalent to 17 months of imports and 110 percent of broad money.

Fiscal and monetary policies have adapted to the economic recovery. An expansion of nonoil revenues from improved tax collection combined with a small decrease in the expenditure-to-GDP ratio resulted in a decline in the nonoil fiscal deficit. Key monetary indicators continued to grow at a slower rate than nominal GDP, and as inflation pressures subsided, the NBK signaled a more accommodative monetary policy stance, cutting its policy rate by 100 bps in early 2012. The tenge has started to show more flexibility, with the NBK intervening on both sides of the market to avoid undue exchange rate volatility in either direction.

The banking sector has still not fully recovered from the severe shock in 2007. Foreign liabilities have fallen drastically, aggregate liquidity is ample, and provisioning of overdue loans is still relatively high. Nevertheless, domestic banks’ burden of nonperforming loans has further increased, and BTA bank has embarked on a second debt restructuring with external creditors. So far, economic growth and government ad-hoc support to distressed borrowers in the construction, real estate and Small and medium enterprise (SME) sectors have not improved the quality of the loan portfolio, as activity in construction and real estate, the sectors subject to highest bank exposure, remains flat.

Executive Board Assessment

Directors commended the authorities’ policies which, together with high commodity prices, yielded a strong economic recovery and helped rebuild external buffers. The authorities have appropriately responded to the upswing in the cycle by gradually tightening fiscal policy, sterilizing excess bank liquidity, and allowing greater exchange rate flexibility. Directors noted that the growth outlook is positive, but subject to downside risks. They called on the authorities to address vulnerabilities in the banking sector posed by the deterioration of asset quality, and further strengthen the macroeconomic framework.

Directors appreciated the preparation of plans to deal with a possible protracted global slowdown and a decline in oil prices. They stressed that achieving the nonoil medium-term deficit target remains a priority and spending plans should not unduly stimulate demand in the absence of a shock. They encouraged the central bank to closely monitor inflation, and to stand ready to tighten monetary policy if domestic demand picks up.

Directors underscored the need to address the continued rise in bank troubled assets, which presents a public sector contingent liability. They stressed that restoring banks’ health would support growth and economic diversification. Envisaged regulatory improvements should be complemented with strict enforcement to provide an incentive for banks to clean up their balance sheets. Directors noted that the new mechanism to manage troubled assets represents only a partial solution. A successful strategy would require action by the central bank to enforce realistic asset valuation and loss recognition, ensure adequate provisioning, replenish bank capital where needed, and close unviable banks.

To mitigate further risks, a quick and definitive solution to the difficulties of BTA bank is a crucial priority. Directors welcomed the plan to adopt Basel III standards by yearend. Directors considered that macroeconomic policymaking would benefit from improved medium-term frameworks and policy coordination. In the fiscal area, this would require broadening the tax base and fully integrating the oil fund and state entities’ accounts into the fiscal framework. In the monetary sector, strengthening the transmission mechanism by deepening financial markets would allow the gradual unwinding of administrative price controls. Greater exchange rate flexibility would facilitate monetary management and the economy’s response to external shocks. A well-capitalized and well-regulated financial system would be important to support these reforms.

Directors welcomed the authorities’ ambitious plans to promote growth in the non-oil sector. The envisaged job-creating government investments, partly financed by oil savings, will however need to be complemented by enhanced private sector participation. Directors therefore called for sustained efforts to improve the business environment through strengthened governance and institutions and integrate Kazakhstan into the global economy.

Along with improvements in the coverage of the social safety net, these reforms would promote greater social inclusiveness and help ensure that the oil wealth benefits the population as a whole.