NBP actively supports the Polish economy during the pandemic
Narodowy Bank Polski has taken decisive, early action, while supporting the protective measures imposed by the government in the face of the pandemic. As a result, it was possible to avoid “the worst case scenario”. At the same time, the outlook for the Polish economy looks very good against the backdrop of other economies.
Mervyn King, erstwhile Governor of the Bank of England, said in 2000 that central banks should pursue their monetary policy in a “boring” manner. By that he meant that the monetary policy – so as to best serve the aims of preserving macroeconomic stability and keeping inflation low – should be followed according to predefined and tried-and-tested rules and with the use of standard instruments.
The experience gained by Narodowy Bank Polski before the pandemic proves that following a conventional and conservative monetary policy is an effective means of accomplishing the objectives pursued by a central bank in normal times. Before the outbreak of the pandemic, NBP held the reference rate at an unchanged level of 1.5% for five years, and so inflation stayed around NBP’s inflation target and rapid, though sustainable, economic growth could be maintained. As a result, the growth in Poland was based on sound foundations, and the Polish economy was well prepared for the more difficult times ahead.
However, the unprecedented nature of the events that took place in the first half of 2020, surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, required that NBP reach for monetary policy tools not yet used by the Polish central bank, though used by other banks following the global financial crisis. This is because the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic led to the biggest global recession for decades and a clear restriction of the economic activity in Poland, which entailed the risk of inflation falling below NBP’s inflation target in the following years. NBP therefore had to stand on the frontline of the fight for mitigating the negative economic consequences of the pandemic.
At the onset of the pandemic, i.e. in mid-March, no one had any data yet on the impact it exerted on the economy. It could, however, be expected that the pandemic would hit Polish enterprises and households through direct restrictions on the functioning of some industries and sectors (among others, gastronomy, education, culture, transport or tourism), a massive increase in uncertainty, and a decrease in revenues, as well as a clear contraction in foreign demand for Polish goods and services.
As a result, it could be expected that a deep recession would hit and a wave of bankruptcies and strong rise in unemployment would ensue, unless adequate protective action was taken as part of national economic policy. From the point of view of a central bank, whose primary statutory objective is to maintain price stability, it was significant that there was a risk of inflation dropping below the inflation target in the medium term, and the risk was linked to a potentially deep recession and its secondary effects later on.
Therefore, NBP’s greatest challenge was to act swiftly in order to buffer the economic consequences of the pandemic, while at the same time preventing these from strengthening and creating conditions for a faster recovery in the economic activity in the following quarters. At the beginning, it became essential to maintain liquidity in the temporarily “frozen” economy. Because of the restrictions on conducting business activity and a severe reduction in demand, many enterprises could lose liquidity and would, as a result, have to cease their activities and dismiss their workforce, which might even further reduce revenues in the economy and curb demand. In such an event, the Polish economy would not quickly get back on its previous track having been “unfrozen”.
In view of the above, Narodowy Bank Polski – as one of the first central banks in Europe – took anticipative action to address the expected deterioration in the economic situation and already in mid-March it introduced decisive measures in order to ease the monetary policy and mitigate the crisis. Firstly, since 17 March, the Monetary Policy Council has cut the reference rate three times, by 1.4 percentage points in total, to the level of 0.10%. Secondly, NBP launched structural open market operations aimed at purchasing government securities and government-guaranteed debt securities on the secondary market. Thirdly, in March, the Monetary Policy Council decided to decrease the required reserve ratio by 3 percentage points, to the level of 0.5%, and at the same time, the Financial Stability Committee recommended releasing the systemic risk buffer for banks, which was set at 3%.
The said measures adopted by NBP all had a common denominator, and that was to support Polish entrepreneurs and households in the crisis. Through these measures, NBP reduced the risk of inflation dropping below NBP’s inflation target in the medium term. Here, we can point to three main channels through which the monetary policy pursued by NBP has influenced the Polish economy.
Firstly, the easing of NBP’s monetary policy has contributed to lowering interest rates on loans granted to households and enterprises, thereby reducing repayment instalments. It may be estimated that cutting the NBP interest rates since March this year will contribute to reducing the burden on households and enterprises on account of interest on the existing loans by nearly PLN 7 billion annually. It is substantial support for the financial situation and sentiment of indebted business entities.
Secondly, the easing of NBP’s monetary policy has enabled smooth implementation and financing of the protective measures imposed by the government, thus providing Polish families and enterprises with direct financial support. The asset purchases launched by NBP – by the end of August 2020, NBP purchased securities with a par value of PLN 103.3 billion – helped to maintain the liquidity of the Treasury bond market, and, consequently, facilitated the placement of additional bonds by the Ministry of Finance, Bank Gospodarstwa Krajowego, and the Polish Development Fund in the market. At the same time, the costs of financing the protective measures adopted by the government have been cut efficiently, as there has been a substantial decline in Treasury bond yields. This, in turn, will result in markedly lower costs of servicing the public debt.
Thirdly, the steps taken by NBP, including Treasury bond purchases and decreasing the required reserve ratio for banks, along with the recommendation from the Financial Stability Committee to release the systemic risk buffer set at 3%, have all made a vital contribution to increased bank lending. As a result, banks now lack neither liquid funds nor capital to provide Polish enterprises and households with access to credit. Furthermore, NBP offered bill discount credit to banks enabling them to obtain low-cost refinancing of loans extended to enterprises.
NBP has thus undertaken decisive and early intervention measures, while supporting the protective measures imposed by the government in the face of the pandemic. As a result, it was possible to avoid “the worst case scenario”. At the same time, the outlook for the Polish economy looks very good against the backdrop of other economies. Obviously, this is not only due to the central bank’s and the government’s response to the pandemic, but also to the strong fundamentals of the Polish economy laid down in the years before the pandemic, and most of all – to the entrepreneurship and diligence of Polish citizens
Finally, it has to be pointed out that the adequate response of the central bank to the current pandemic shock would not have been possible if Poland was in the Eurozone. In such a case, the monetary conditions in Poland would be shaped by the decisions of the European Central Bank, adopted de facto on the basis of the situation in the largest economies of the Eurozone. As a result, the monetary policy response would not be fully dovetailed with the macroeconomic processes taking place in Poland in terms of its scale and the time of its implementation.
The latest data on the Polish economy give reasons to look into the future with cautious optimism. The data indicate that the return of the Polish economy to growth may be faster than it was previously thought. At the same time, forecasts say that in 2020 Poland is standing a chance to achieve the highest economic performance in Europe with inflation kept at a level compliant with NBP’s inflation target. It speaks very well for the anti-crisis action taken by Narodowy Bank Polski.
However, the struggle against the economic consequences of the pandemic is certainly not over yet. It will surely take some time for the economy to recover and heal completely. NBP therefore remains ready to undertake further anti-crisis measures, where the implementation of the central bank’s objectives and the Polish economy so require.
Regardless of how the situation develops further, I can assure all entrepreneurs and Polish families that NBP will continue to maintain price stability and enhance sustainable economic growth and thus – lay the foundations for maintaining the Polish economic success.
The text was published in the sixth edition of the “Polski Kompas” annual, issued by the editorial board of the “Gazeta Bankowa” monthly.
We have to serve the highest values
On the difference between God’s economy and human economy,
the institution of a bank, and the obligation to multiply our talents
– a conversation between Professor Adam Glapiński, the president of NBP,
and Father Jarosław Rodzik SAC
Dear Mister President, when priests want to encourage the faithful to pay more attention to their own salvation, they sometimes speak of the difference between the human economy and God’s economy. So, how is it actually? Which one is more important?
This is a very important question. We should recognize, however, that these notions are incomparable. God’s economy is governed by laws that are only known to God, although people should strive to learn about them and to understand them. The Parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard is one of those stories that could illuminate the concept of God’s economy. Each of the workers received the same pay regardless of how much time they spent working. In human economy we would demand some distinction to be made. The easiest answer, however, is that God’s economy requires people to work on themselves.
I would also introduce an additional notion of private economy, understood as finding your right path in life. We should first find in ourselves the features of our own vocation. We should answer the question of what we should be doing for the good of others. This is the path towards God’s economy, which is guided by a different set of principles than human economy. As a university teacher and a professor of economics I’ve always sought the traces of this unique vocation in science, literature, and culture. While I sometimes joke that I chose economics by accident, in reality these studies fascinated me also because they allowed me to gain a better understanding of the mechanisms governing human decision-making.
This question also has a hidden agenda – the difference between the temporal and the eternal homeland. In his lecture on “the last things of man”, contained in the Letter of Paul to the Philippians 3:1-4:1, St. Paul makes the following statement: “Our citizenship is in heaven.” This is putting the matter on a knife-edge…
As a believer, I recognize that every human action should be oriented towards a confirmation of these words: “Our citizenship is in heaven.” And this means that we have to serve the highest values. Putting this in terms more relevant to everyday life, this means working on ourselves for the common good, as mentioned previously.
In economics textbooks we don’t encounter concepts such as the original sin or human selfishness. Meanwhile, they remain intricately linked to our thinking and our activities. They almost entirely define our human nature. In your opinion, what (or who) makes us reluctant to confront these notions not only in the sphere of scientific reflection but also in the public debate?
The notion of original sin in the theological understanding is indeed typically absent from the works of economists, although in the metaphorical sense we will probably encounter such a term in the descriptions of mistakes made in the area of financial management. The second notion, “selfishness”, is actually recognized in economics, although it isn’t always referred to in this way. If we were to look, for example, at practices which place the greatest emphasis on maximizing profits at the expense of the common good, then under certain assumptions we would arrive at the concept of selfishness. The reluctance to use clearly defined ethical concepts may have its source, among others, in the narrow specialization of many scientific fields. We should keep in mind that we are living in times in which attempts are being made to redefine many concepts. Economics as a social science primarily focuses on mechanisms, presents the relationships between various phenomena, refers to statistics. Only then certain differences in interpretation can emerge, where we may apply the concepts of ethics and morality.
Before we move on to the institution of the bank, let’s talk about one more story from the Gospels. In the Parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12: 13-21) Jesus describes a man who is not able to share with others and only cares about his earthly granaries. He criticizes the attitude of gathering things in excess, complacency, the lack of sensitivity to the needs of fellow men, and the refusal to think about the final judgment. How can we reconcile our concern for the “earthly granaries” with the need to invest in our eternal treasures in heaven?
This is another important question, which has a deep theological sense, forcing us to think and act not only in the context of our earthly life. If we were to look at the parable from the point of view of the principles of economics, which I hold dear, then we should indeed multiply goods, take care of the economy, and be able to seize the opportunities for development. But it’s important not to lose the broader perspective and, as they sometimes say in the economic forecasts, to remember about the more “long-term horizon.” Future generations will judge us with regard to our concern for the future using earthly measures, and God will evaluate our work by His own measure of good deeds.
The bank is an institution with long traditions – the beginning of the Renaissance, the 14th century, Italy. Although there are some sources stating that a family-owned Venetian bank began operating as early as in 1156. How can we explain this phenomenon, that merchants, businessmen and ordinary people started flocking to such an innovative form of managing assets and multiplying them?
The desire to accumulate and to increase one’s wealth is as old as human civilization. Already in antiquity, even before the contemporary form of money was developed, there was a need for financial institutions providing the secure storage of goods and valuables. One interesting example is ancient Egypt, which had an entire network of state-owned grain banks. They were used by people to deposit and dispose of grain, that is, an article of strategic importance for the Egyptian economy, which was also used in the payment of remuneration for work.
The period of the Middle Ages lasted for about a thousand years, and therefore it was not uniform in terms of economic developments. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 AD, large parts of Europe experienced economic decline. The importance of long-distance trade decreased significantly. The people reverted to some extent to the natural economy, that is, one in which there is no need for money in the form of coins or banknotes. Such conditions were not conducive to the development of banking.
However, over time the European countries gradually rebuilt their international trade relations. Starting from the 11th century, Italian cities – which experienced rapid development as a result of Mediterranean trade – became the most important centres of economic activity. This benefited the merchants, who were among the financial elite of Medieval European society. They controlled substantial amounts of money, which made it possible for them to get involved in more complex financial activities. They established private banking houses, some of which operated in many countries simultaneously. This was a very lucrative business. However, for the merchants of that time, security was as important as the profits derived from their activities. The development of banking allowed for cashless settlement of large transactions, eliminating the necessity of carrying coins over long distances. This was a very important innovation. Europe entered the Modern Era with a somewhat well-developed financial infrastructure, which gradually gave rise to the forms of banking existing until today.
The etymology of the word “bank” is also interesting. It derives from the French word banque and the Italian word banco, which refer to the benches, tables, or counters used by the Italian goldsmiths and traders involved in the transfer of metallic coins between customers. Could it be argued that these transactions were based on mutual trust?
Looking from a broad historical perspective, we could point out that even in ancient Mesopotamia people were using certain simplified loan-like mechanisms (and were therefore involved in quasi-banking activities). The first institutions resembling today’s banks – taking deposits and providing loans – operated and successfully developed in the ancient civilizations of Babylon, Greece, and Rome. Along with the collapse of the classical culture, banks faded into oblivion, but the concept of such institutions resurfaced in the Middle Ages. Due to the development of the Medieval monetary and commodity system, the wealthier merchants started performing the functions of banks. They didn’t want to risk involvement in dangerous trade expeditions and decided to multiply their wealth by lending money to others at a very high interest. Along with the expansion of trade and the necessity of exchanging different currencies, the role of Medieval currency exchange offices was assumed by the money traders and goldsmiths. They also offered the settlement of payment orders to third parties. Money inevitably became the glue that strengthened the relationships between the lender and the borrower, between the bank and the client. This relationship had to be based on trust.
Institutions that most resembled contemporary banks were created in the late 14th century in northern Italy – Genoa, Venice, and Milan. Like the goldsmiths and money traders of the previous time periods, they took in deposits and issued promissory notes in return, and they also granted loans. However, these institutions were already organized in larger networks and operated in various cities or countries, sometimes located far away from each other. In this way the banks were creating a new quality in the relations with the borrowers and the depositors. Thanks to the ties within such networks, a customer who deposited money, for example, in Genoa, could withdraw money in Milan on the basis of the received promissory note. This eliminated the potential risks associated with carrying money over long distances. However, the promissory notes issued by the bankers were only worth anything as long as the clients trusted them and were certain that they would get their money back after submitting these documents. It sometimes happened that customers demonstrated their “undermined” confidence by demolishing the headquarters of a given bank, for example, by breaking the banking bench. This was also a warning signal to other customers that the bank had lost its liquidity and credibility. Over time, such negative experiences led to the development of systemic solutions aimed at building and strengthening the customers’ confidence in banks. Public guarantees provided to these institutions by the city, and later also by the state, were supposed to increase the security of bank transactions.
In 1790, the Warsaw-based banker Jędrzej Kapostas published a document entitled “Planta ułożenia projektu Banku Narodowego” (“Plans for the establishment of a National Bank”). Unfortunately, the partitions of Poland prevented the implementation of this project. Then came the year 1916 – the creation of Polska Krajowa Kasa Pożyczkowa (the Polish Loan Bank), and the year 1924 – the establishment of Bank Polski Spółka Akcyjna (the Bank of Poland). Could we say that these two institutions gave rise to the banking system of the reborn Polish state?
After the reestablishment of the Polish state in November of 1918, the authorities had to face many challenges – leading the economic reconstruction of the country, pursuing the reform of public finances, and ending the currency chaos. For over 100 years Polish people lived under three separate economic systems of the partitioning powers. As a result, the Polish state needed a new, unified monetary system, a well-organized fiscal and banking administration, and the efficient circulation of its own national currency. However, due to the extremely difficult economic position of the Polish state, it was impossible to quickly stabilize the banking system and the financial and monetary system. for this reason, the Polish government decided to take over Polska Krajowa Kasa Pożyczkowa, which had been established by the German occupation-era authorities. Polska Krajowa Kasa Pożyczkowa was supposed to serve as the central bank and the bank of issue until the launch of Bank Polski SA – the new Polish central bank.
As a result of this decision, the authorities were able to ensure both institutional continuity and the continuity of the Polish central bank’s issuing activity. After Poland regained its independence, the state authorities decided to unify the monetary system on the basis of the Polish mark, that is, the currency issued by Polska Krajowa Kasa Pożyczkowa. The temporary use of the Polish mark was supposed to give the authorities the time necessary to prepare a full currency reform. In this sense, the banking and issuing activity of Polska Krajowa Kasa Pożyczkowa served as a bridge to the full restoration of the Polish state finances, and as a necessary stage on the path to the establishment of a strong and stable banking system. This new system was based on Bank Polski SA, which was launched at the end of April 1924. It was created as part of the currency and fiscal reform of Władysław Grabski. Bank Polski SA operated as a joint stock company with a share capital of 100 million złoty and its shares were held by private individuals, businesses, various institutions, and banks. The State Treasury initially controlled a 1 per cent stake, which guaranteed that the bank was an institution fully independent from the government. It primarily served the function of the bank of issue and the bank of banks. Bank Polski SA undoubtedly constituted the foundation of the banking system in the newly reborn Polish republic and served an important role in the struggle to maintain the position of the Polish currency. Meanwhile, a stable Polish złoty was one of the key elements of the economic sovereignty of the state.
Before we conclude this historical thread, I would like to ask you about Władysław Grabski and his contribution to the institution that you are currently heading. I’m mentioning Grabski in order to highlight that it is possible to combine human genius with deep concern for the Polish state…
It's no accident that Władysław Grabski is primarily mentioned as a figure representing the Polish economic reconstruction after the First World War. He not only possessed all the formal qualifications necessary to hold the highest offices in the state, but through his actions he also exemplified a truly pro-state attitude. He was not afraid to take personal responsibility for his decisions and he defended his views regardless of the circumstances. Grabski believed that the restoration of a strong national currency with centuries-old tradition should be something more than just a symbolic gesture. He believed that the Polish złoty, reborn in 1924, should also provide the economic foundation for the citizens’ trust in the state. That it should enable successful development in the following years. This was particularly important in the context of the recent hyperinflation, which consumed the Polish mark in 1923 and had a very negative effect on public sentiment. Concern about the stability of the new currency was the primary objective of Bank Polski SA, whose establishment was so tirelessly pursued by Grabski. It’s worth recalling that this institution was the immediate predecessor of Narodowy Bank Polski, and the ideas that guided its activities, are also being reflected in more recent times. The redenomination carried out in Poland in 1995 could be seen as a symbolic rebirth of the Polish złoty in the conditions of a free market economy. In 1997 Narodowy Bank Polski acquired its present institutional shape. Since then, Poland has had numerous economic achievements, and the stable position of the Polish złoty has certainly contributed to that success. Władysław Grabski once said that “a healthy and strong currency is the foundation of the healthy development of economic life and the strength of state financing.” These words have lost none of their relevance.
On the website of NBP, we read the following statement: “Narodowy Bank Polski is the central bank of the Republic of Poland. Its tasks are stipulated in the Constitution of the Republic of Poland, the Act on Narodowy Bank Polski, and the Banking Act.” Could you please explain to our readers what the precise meaning of these somewhat complex provisions is?
Narodowy Bank Polski is the central bank, in other words, it is the most important bank in Poland. Our motto is: “We protect the value of money.” This is due to the statutory provision that the primary task of NBP is to maintain price stability. The objective of NBP is to stabilize the inflation rate at the level of 2.5 percent, with a permissible fluctuation band of +/- 1 percentage point. This is in line with the “Monetary Policy Strategy beyond 2003”, which was developed by the Monetary Policy Council. We are responsible for the stability of the national currency, the Polish złoty. We manage foreign exchange reserves and thus we also ensure the appropriate level of financial security of the Polish state. We are the issuing bank of the Polish złoty, so we secure the liquidity of cash transactions. One important objective of NBP is also promoting the stability of the financial system. We care about the liquidity, efficiency, and security of the payments system. We also popularize economic knowledge. The work of analysts and experts employed at NBP is focused on these goals.
On the NBP website, we also find the following provision: “NBP fulfils three basic functions: the issuing bank, the bank of banks, and the central bank of the state.” The legislator has provided this institution with a great degree of independence. What are the arguments in favour of such legal regulations?
It's worth quoting a part of the Act on Narodowy Bank Polski: “The basic objective of the activity of NBP shall be to maintain price stability, while supporting the economic policy of the Government, insofar as this does not constrain the pursuit of the basic objective of NBP.” This sentence lays out the main objective: “maintaining price stability”, but also the responsibility for our country: “while supporting the economic policy of the Government”, with the important stipulation that the support for the economy cannot constrain the pursuit of the bank’s basic objective. It is extremely important to ensure that our national currency – the Polish złoty – retains its value. Let's keep in mind that the independence of the central bank is in reality a huge responsibility towards the state, to the citizens, and not some sort of unchecked privilege, as one might naively believe. A state can only thrive if it has an efficiently operating independent central bank.
I would also like to ask you about the role of the state in economic life. How can we reconcile the two classical approaches to this issue – state interventionism (proposed by John Maynard Keynes) and the free-market, liberal approach (represented by Friedrich August von Hayek or Ludwig von Mises)? Is there any effective alternative or a third way?
As is often the case in such debates, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. On the one hand, the experience of socialism has clearly shown that excessive state intervention in the economy has negative consequences. On the other hand, it would be impossible to find a single country whose economy is solely based on market mechanisms. There is no doubt that the appropriate solution lies somewhere in the middle between these two extreme options, and that the functioning of the free market should be complemented with an appropriate economic policy of the state. However, there is no consensus with regards to the scope of such intervention. Individual countries differ significantly in terms of the areas of state activity, which is reflected in the large differences in the scale of public spending. For example, in countries such as Chile, South Korea, and Switzerland, where the retirement pension systems, health care and education have a significant private component, the level of state expenditure is significantly lower than in France, Finland, and Belgium, where these services are mainly financed with public funds.
Despite differences in the views on the necessary scale of interventionism, in some cases, there is no doubt that an economic policy response is necessary. The current situation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is certainly such a case. In the current conditions an intervention on the part of economic policy was necessary in order to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on the financial situation of companies and – consequently – on the labour market. I’m saying this despite the fact that, in principle, I am opposed to rescuing unprofitable enterprises using public funds. In normal conditions such measures reduce the incentive for more effective management and block the flow of resources in the economy. However, in the current situation strong assistance from the state was fully justified. In this crisis, even healthy companies were at risk of bankruptcy, as entire sectors of economic activity were forced to shut down. Meanwhile, the collapse of numerous companies would have had dramatic consequences – it would have reduced the potential of the economy for many years and would have caused a long-term increase in unemployment. This is why it was necessary to support businesses and households, primarily through fiscal policy measures. That is why all the governments that had the required fiscal space decided to provide such support. At the same time, monetary policy was also loosened in an unprecedented manner – virtually all the central banks lowered their interest rates, in many cases pushing them down to near-zero levels. Many central banks also launched asset purchase programmes and other operations providing liquidity. The loosening of monetary policy was also particularly important in protecting the economy against the crisis.
Measures aimed at promoting the stability of the domestic financial system are one of the main areas of NBP’s activity. How effectively is the bank able to control these processes during the coronavirus pandemic and the turbulence on stock markets?
The impact of the pandemic on the banking sector must be considered both in the short and medium term. In the short term the key issue was to maintain continuous and unhindered access of the public and the economic entities to money settlements, including both cash and non-cash settlements, and to minimize the risk of liquidity problems in the banking sector. This phase is already behind us and I can say with satisfaction that we successfully tackled this challenge. As we all remember, the demand for cash increased in an unprecedented way – by about 60 billion PLN from the beginning of the year until today, that is, by more than 25 percent. But because we ensured an adequate supply of banknotes, this demand was met fully and in a timely manner.
NBP also ensured the adequate liquidity of banks, so that non-cash settlements could also be carried out smoothly – this was done through repo operations, a reduction in the required reserve ratio, and the purchase of bonds on the secondary market. Moreover, we enabled the banks to refinance loans to enterprises by introducing the so-called “bill discount credit.” In this way banks were granted the possibility of obtaining additional liquidity, which in itself had a psychological effect and contributed to a decrease in uncertainty. The liquidity position of the banks is very good anyway, so in practice they don’t need to use many of the instruments that we are offering.
One important challenge in the medium term will be to make sure that the banks are able to deal with the higher costs of credit risk and to continue lending to the economy. The Monetary Policy Council also took this aspect into account when it decided to cut interest rates by a total of 1.4 percentage points. The reduction of interest rates by NBP, along with other protective measures introduced by the public institutions, significantly reduced the threat to the situation of borrowers and is therefore conducive to a relative improvement in the loan repayment rates. The banks themselves don’t seem to fully appreciate this aspect of NBP’s decision to reduce the price of money. Instead they are focusing on the impact on their interest margins. I’m afraid that this is indicative of a short-sighted approach to these assessments. Over time, the importance of credit risk and the costs associated with it will grow, and thus the banks will gradually come to appreciate all the measures aimed at reducing these costs. As a result, they will ultimately see the net impact of the interest rate cuts on their situation as positive.
I would also like to remind that, as the Chairman of the Financial Stability Committee in its capacity as the macro-prudential supervision authority (KSF-M), I initiated the abolition of the so-called systemic risk buffer, amounting to 3 percent, which freed up about PLN 30 billion of capital for the banks. This is a huge safety cushion which can be used by the banks for the purpose of absorbing any potential losses and also for the purpose of lending to the economy. We also recommended the reduction of risk weights for certain loans to companies in order to stimulate lending. As a result, there are currently no capital constraints on lending.
As the central bank we have therefore reduced the risks to financial stability, both in terms of the capital and the liquidity of the banking sector, as well as in terms of the situation of borrowers, or more broadly, in terms of economic growth. These measures were taken in a quick and efficient manner and on a significant scale. We could say that now it’s time for banks to act, and I hope that they will not unduly restrict their lending to the real economy, while exercising the necessary caution.
It may not be very scientific, but it’s very existential – as the old saying goes, “charity begins at home”. I would therefore like to ask you whether our economy will survive the inevitable crisis?
The COVID-19 pandemic is certainly one of the biggest challenges that the world economy has faced in recent decades. Firstly, because we were dealing with a sudden shutdown of certain business activities in many economies at the same time. Secondly, it caused an unprecedented increase in uncertainty. Together with the introduced restrictions, this led to a sharp economic downturn. Finally, it was difficult to predict the further path of the pandemic and its impact on the behaviour of consumers and businesses.
Fortunately, Poland was well-prepared for the current challenges. Our economy is characterized by a high degree of flexibility and a strong entrepreneurial spirit, which is reflected, among others, in the ability of Polish companies to adapt to the changing conditions. Moreover, we are not as dependent on the tourism sector, as some European countries, and the structure of our economy is highly diversified. Our economy entered the pandemic with a relatively high rate of economic growth, but without significant macroeconomic imbalances. We had low unemployment, a foreign trade surplus, and the deficit of the public finance sector was small. As a result, the state was able to undertake decisive action, which limited the negative impact of the pandemic on the Polish economy. A large fiscal stimulus programme was introduced, aimed at supporting the financial situation of enterprises and protecting jobs. At the same time NBP loosened its monetary policy, which improved the financial situation of indebted entities and which supports the return to a path of economic growth.
Recent data show that the measures taken have been effective, and the worst is behind us. The relatively limited increase in unemployment, as well as the rebound in industrial production and retail sales suggest that the Polish economy is quickly making up for the incurred losses. Of course, the effects of the pandemic will be seen in the economy for some time to come, but I have no doubt that we will emerge from the pandemic shock in a much stronger condition than many other countries.
On the NBP website we also find the following provisions: “The President of NBP is appointed by the Sejm, at the request of the President of the Republic of Poland, for a term of six years. The NBP President is responsible for the organization and functioning of Narodowy Bank Polski.” One the one hand, there is the comfort of independence, but on the other hand, the scale of challenges is enormous…
Independence is assigned to the institution of the central bank, and not to an individual. As the president of NBP I’m fully aware of the challenges and the associated responsibility. I’ve been heading NBP since 2016, and before that I served as a member of the Monetary Policy Council. I was familiar with the functioning of NBP when it was headed by the late Sławomir S. Skrzypek. Heading such an important institution, anchored in the Constitution, requires humility. We also shouldn’t forget that NBP is the people who work at this institution for the benefit of the Polish state. These are all exceptional, high-class specialists and because of that it is easier for us to cope with the numerous challenges.
Let us conclude by going back to the Gospels and to Jesus’ Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14–30). This is a parable about a wealthy man who was going on a long journey and therefore gathered his servants and entrusted his property to them. Jesus’ criticism is directed at those who are lazy and unreliable. At the same time, He praises the courageous and the creative. Each of us is a servant, receiving generous gifts from God. Could you please encourage our readers to try and multiply their talents...?
This is one of the parables, which can be interpreted directly in the context of economics and banking. After all, the talents mentioned in the story are a currency, and the master entrusts his money before embarking on his journey in the belief that the money will not only be kept safe with them, but that they will generate an appropriate profit. We see this as an investment. This is true in the case of the first and the second servant. They multiplied the wealth of their master and they are rewarded for it. The third servant buried the money he received, and while he returned it to his master, it came without the expected profit. Unfortunately, he will be punished for these actions. So, what should he have done? Let us refer to the Gospel: “You should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned, I would have received it back with interest.” If we were to stick to this “financial” interpretation of the parable, we could conclude that one of the tasks of human beings is also to multiply their wealth, and even use banks. After all, the word “banker” is mentioned in the story. We cannot forget, however, that while the parable refers to concepts that are well understood by the listeners, and appeals to our imagination, the actual meaning behind Jesus’ words is much deeper. We should remember about the aforementioned concept of God’s economy, which is governed by a different set of rules.
The Parable of the Talents is often interpreted as an obligation for people to develop their skills. In a certain sense this influences the contemporary understanding of the word “talent” in the Polish language. In relation to banking, we should point to the broad context of ethics: the master’s trust towards his servants; the responsibility of the two servants for the entrusted money, and, as we assume, the proper management of this wealth; awareness of the objectives and mutual expectations. The two servants understood this well. The third one, referred to as “wicked and lazy” did not make any effort, and did not work on his skills.
And when it comes to a broader interpretation, I believe we should definitely strive to develop our talents. We live in a society based on knowledge, on skills perfected through continuous development. We must remember, however, that development is not limited to technology. Long-term, sustainable economic development is not possible without deep spiritual development, without conscious moral and ethical foundations. Narodowy Bank Polski, which I have been heading since 2016, puts great emphasis on increasing knowledge in the field of economics. We conduct many programmes supporting education in this area, we provide financial support for activities and projects dedicated to schools, as well as many institutions. You could say that we are trying to multiply the aforementioned talents both in the financial sense of the word and in the sense of developing skills. We base our activity on the belief that Poland will become stronger along with the increasing level of economic knowledge among Polish citizens.
Thank you for the conversation.
An interview was published in the quarterly “Apostoł Miłosierdzia Bożego” No 4 (108) 2020.
NBP mitigates the impact of the pandemic
The present situation is a challenge for all of us. I deeply believe that yet again Poles will prove that in difficult moments, they can engage and together take the right course of action. The responsible attitude of all those who have limited their social contacts and observe the administrative recommendations related to the pandemic allows us to hope that we will emerge stronger from this experience. Today, doctors and healthcare professionals are on the front line, protecting the health and life of Poles. Another significant group is the employees of enterprises thanks to whom we have supplies of food and other basic necessities. The silent heroes include those who are taking care of children or supporting the elderly and the disabled. Finally, respect is owed to all hard-working Poles struggling with many difficulties that a few weeks ago nobody could have foreseen.
The central bank is doing its job
Although some people may not notice it, Narodowy Bank Polski is also undertaking many activities aimed at mitigating the economic problems resulting from the pandemic. Firstly, we are ensuring the smooth operation of the payment system, which is the fundamental to the functioning of the economy at large. Secondly, we are supplying Poles with cash, for which there is more demand in times of uncertainty. Thirdly, we are implementing a radical loosening of monetary policy, which will reduce the risk of the pandemic and the ensuing global recession turning into an economic crisis and wiping out years of work invested in Poland’s economic success. Fourthly and finally, we protect the value of the Polish currency.
At present, there is a lot of uncertainty about the impact of the pandemic on economic activity worldwide and in Poland. Yet there is no doubt that in the short run it will cause a sharp simultaneous fall in GDP in many economies. This cost will be unavoidable, since without incurring it, we would face a much larger number of deaths and an overload of health care systems, something that many countries are now becoming painfully aware of. In effect, we would risk even greater economic losses in the longer run. Yet this does not mean that economic policy can just wait for further developments. On the contrary, it is necessary to undertake pre-emptive measures, alongside appropriately targeted measures to alleviate the adverse effects of the epidemic, prevent payment backlogs, company bankruptcies, employee lay-offs and a permanent reduction of production capacity. Finally, economic policy – and in particular, monetary policy – must avert the risk of deflation, which is detrimental to long-term economic growth and which is already looming on the horizon of the global economy.
Therefore, in many countries, as in Poland, fiscal programmes of considerable scale are being launched to maintain the liquidity of businesses, protect jobs and provide financial support to households that have lost their sources of income. These programmes are the domain of governments and fiscal policy, which must play a major role in mitigating the negative economic effects of the epidemic. At the same time, central banks are taking measures involving a loosening of monetary policy and increasing the liquidity of the banking sector.
Low rates, stable zloty
NBP was one of the first central banks in Europe to respond ahead of the expected deterioration in the economic situation, and started activities in support of the Polish economy as early as mid-March 2020. Very soon we became aware of the challenges that would arise in connection with the pandemic. We also knew that delaying these activities could only increase the losses and increase the need to take even more radical steps in the future.
This is why we promptly cut interest rates twice, by a total of 1 percentage point, which brought the NBP interest rate to a historically low level of 0.5%. This resulted in an immediate reduction in loan instalments and a few billion zloty saved by Polish households and firms.
It is worth noting that despite the interest rate cut, the zloty exchange rate has remained stable, and its slight weakening against the main currencies observed a few weeks ago was exclusively due to the rise in global risk aversion affecting virtually all currencies. Importantly, the improvement in the budgets of indebted households due to the interest rate cut will be long-lasting, unlike the 3-6 month suspension of loan repayments offered by most banks. This is because the latter does not mean its cancellation but only postpones the payment. The reduction in interest rates means lower instalments not only now, but also after the so-called loan holiday is over. This translates into lower operating costs for firms and lower yields on Treasury bonds, and hence savings on the cost of servicing the public debt. This expands the space for funding the governments’ activities aimed at combating the pandemic, including the cost of providing necessary products to the medical services.
Benefits from purchase of securities
NBP has launched a financial asset purchase programme, the first such programme since the beginning of the systemic transition. Over the last month we have been purchasing Treasury bonds in the secondary market as part of structural open market operations. This is entirely in line with the Monetary Policy Guidelines and the central bank’s mandate resulting from the European and national legal frameworks regarding central banks, including the Constitution and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. The purchase of securities is aimed at changing the long-term liquidity structure in the banking sector and preserving the liquidity of the secondary market for these securities. Furthermore, the asset purchases strengthen the impact of the NBP interest rate cuts on the economy. This is because they flatten the so-called yield curve, i.e. the range of Treasury bond yields, which, in the absence of the NBP intervention, would have come under high pressure due to a significant rise in the state’s borrowing needs and high uncertainty. Considering that the yield curve influences, directly or indirectly, the borrowing costs in all sectors – including the margins and interest in bank lending – the purchase of securities prevents the so-called procyclical tightening of financing conditions for all the agents in the economy, including households and firms. Let me make it clear – without the purchase of securities, notwithstanding the NBP interest rate cut, we would be facing a tightening of financing conditions affecting all those involved, which would deepen the decline in demand in the economy, perpetuate the downturn and ultimately lead to an excessive slowing of price growth.
However, let us remember that NBP may not finance public sector entities directly, take possession of their bonds in the primary market or grant them loans. That would contravene not only the Polish law and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, but would also cause loss of confidence in the Polish currency among investors and the general public. Therefore, while making purchases on the market, we must also strive to limit the financial risk and maintain the appropriate quality of the purchased assets.
Billions for the economy
To date, NBP has conducted four asset purchase operations on the secondary market (on 19, 23, 28 March and on 16 April 2020), as a result of which it has provided banks with liquidity amounting to nearly PLN 55bn. At the same time, on 17 March 2020 NBP reduced the required reserve ratio from 3.5% to 0.5%, allowing for another PLN 42bn of bank liquidity to be released at the end of the month. In sum, NBP’s activities have provided banks with close to PLN 100bn. It doesn’t end there, though, as the purchase of securities in the secondary market will continue, and the list of eligible securities is expanded from tender to tender. What is more, in line with the decision of the Monetary Policy Council of 8 April, the purchase will also expand to include bonds guaranteed by the State Treasury as well as Treasury bills.
In addition, under the basic open market operations, every week NBP issues NBP bills worth approx. PLN 80bn. These are surplus funds held on accounts with NBP above the required reserve level. Potentially, banks could use these funds to finance the economy. Another source of bank liquidity could be the use of the repo transactions launched on 16 March 2020. According to end-of-February data, the value of collateral on these operations in the banking system exceeds PLN 340bn.
Taking into account the key role of credit in financing business operations, NBP has launched a bill discount credit programme. Such loans are a favourable and very cheap source of refinancing bank loans extended to companies, thus supporting stable and cheap funding for the enterprise sector.
All in all, NBP has already provided banks with funds sufficient to support activities counteracting the effects of the epidemic, and a manifold expansion of the scale of this financing is still possible. Therefore there is no and there will be no shortage of liquidity to finance anti-crisis measures. Yet it is the task of the government and the public sector to make good use of these funds so that they make their way to honest businesses and households, e.g. all those who are facing economic hardship for reasons beyond their control.
The need to act together
NBP’s current activities are a massive investment which is designed to enable the Polish economy to return to normal operation as soon as possible after the pandemic, thus protecting us against its second-round effects, including an excessive slowdown in price growth and the risk of deflation. The investment will only be effective if it is complemented with simultaneous and adequate measures of all entities responsible for economic and financial policy, including the government and commercial banks.
The banking sector today cannot claim a lack of liquidity as an excuse, as the requirements in this area have also been relaxed. Owing to the interest rate cut and the increase in banking sector liquidity, coupled with large-scale bond purchases, the Polish government has space to finance anti-crisis measures safely and smoothly. Yet in order for this investment to be effective, it is of key importance that all the parties involved promptly launch appropriate activities on a sufficient scale. At the same time, of course, it is necessary to reduce the risk of abuse or diversion of taxpayers’ money to dishonest business people.
The text was first published in Dziennik Gazeta Prawna on 20 April 2020
The spreading coronavirus epidemic is primarily a threat to public health. Therefore, the government is right to take decisive and forward-looking measures to limit the spread of the virus and the risk of subsequent infections. It will be very wise of Poles to stay at home in the near future and radically limit direct contact with other people.
Of course, such measures will cause short-term economic disturbances, because it will be harder for some people to work, some companies will limit sales and the demand for their products will fall. We may also face problems with the so-called supply chain, especially if international transport is partly disrupted. However, such measures, although severe in the short term, will be beneficial in the long run, because they will limit losses in terms of people's health and lives, and thus will also benefit the economy.
We are aware that the situation of enterprises will worsen. This will especially hit transport and some services. We will also be adversely affected by a significant economic downturn in the external environment of our economy, especially in the euro area. Therefore, measures must be taken quickly to reduce the burden on enterprises and people who will be affected by declining income, because they will face a difficult situation, at least temporarily.
It is currently assumed that the impact of the spread of coronavirus on the economy will be temporary and the most severe in the first and second quarter of the year. However, these predictions are subject to considerable uncertainty, as it is difficult to determine how quickly the epidemic will come under control and at what cost.
The main channel through which the epidemic will impact the global and domestic economy is the decline in demand for transport and tourist services and recreation services and culture in the broad sense of the term. The activity of some companies may be restricted as a result of the forced quarantine of employees or the need to stay at home, for example, to look after children. Other channels through which coronavirus impacts the economies of particular countries are the deteriorating business sentiment resulting in reduced purchases of non-food products and the disruption of global supply chains and corporate investment.
Narodowy Bank Polski is carefully monitoring the situation and analysing the need for any measures to be taken. From an operational point of view the most important thing right now is the efficient functioning of the payment system and smooth supply of cash Both of these tasks are carried out smoothly. There is no risk of running out of cash. Currently, it is delivered to commercial banks on an ongoing basis, nationwide, without any delays or restrictions. Due to increased cash withdrawals, in some places, there may be temporary delays in the supply of cash from the logistic centres of commercial banks and cash-handling companies, but there is no question of permanent problems. At the same time, there are no disturbances in the operation of the payment system, which is functioning smoothly and effectively.
The central bank is also monitoring the developments in the economy and in the domestic financial market on an ongoing basis. Despite the turmoil in the global markets, the zloty remains stable and has depreciated only slightly. Similarly, the yields on Polish bonds are low. This is due to the solid foundations of the Polish economy, the absence of imbalances and the positive assessment of the Polish macroeconomic policy by investors.
The major central banks are currently easing their monetary policy by lowering interest rates and some also by providing liquidity to commercial banks and increasing asset purchases. In Poland, banks are not facing liquidity problems. However, NBP is monitoring the situation and if necessary, we are ready to take appropriate measures. In my opinion, the Monetary Policy Council should already support the economy now by lowering interest rates.
At the same time, banks should defer repayment of liabilities for borrowers experiencing a decline in income, which will certainly affect some of their clients. Lowering interest rates is an immediate and direct way to reduce debt costs. Therefore, this is relief for everyone in debt.
By changing interest rates we will not prevent disturbances in supply, nor will we boost demand in the economy in the short term, but we will reduce the burden arising from existing commitments and support the budgets of companies and households, as well as reduce the costs of servicing the public debt. The absence of such measures could exacerbate the problems that will certainly be caused by the spread of coronavirus and the deteriorating sentiment that has already been observed.
At the same time, the decline in demand for non-food goods and services and a sharp decline in commodity prices in the global markets will bring down inflation in the coming quarters below our current expectations. That is why I will suggest the Monetary Policy Council should lower NBP interest rates.
As in other countries, in the current conditions, however, the response from the fiscal policy is also a key measure. I am convinced that the goal of fiscal policy – as that of monetary policy – should be to mitigate the effects of economic losses due to the epidemic and the emergency measures undertaken to stop its spread.
13 March 2020