Friday, January 12, 2007

The snow came here 

Yerevan is not normally a very snowy place, but there was about a
foot dropped on the city a few weeks ago and it has not melted. A
couple more inches came this morning. In older times I would have
thought this would close the airport but they seem to have made improvements.

As I came back from a meeting last night I saw not one but about six
Father Snows -- Santa Clauses -- out in Republic Square. There is a
huge tree in the middle of the square, and the national museum has
large 2007 numerals hanging between its pillars. The rest of the
city looks a little bewildered by winter, with very slow walkers
dealing with slippery sidewalks, but down here it's very
pleasant. You still see people vending pastries through open
windows, and the smell of fried meat-, cheese- and fruit-filled dough
is intoxicating in the cold. The shops have changed down here quite
a bit in the last two years since I was here, but the look on the
street has changed only to putting fur and high-heeled boots on the
females and even more hunched-over males.

I was fairly shocked to see the exchange rate versus the dollar has
appreciated 40% since my first visit in 2002. I used to think
Yerevan was a cheap tourist place for Westerners, but no
longer. Businessmen on the plane in that I spoke to asked me what
the heck the central bank was doing. "Targeting inflation," was my
answer. They think that the central bank can somehow increase
lending, but the problem is every time liquidity is injected into the
system the banks do almost anything other than lend it to businesses,
because those businesses are opaque. A western banker familiar with
Armenia told me that the statements given by businesses in loan
documentation were almost always full of holes and
misstatements. Not necessarily lies, but more "why would you want to
know that?"

More as I learn it later.