After one year in office, Pakistan's economy remains government’s biggest challenge

In this file photo, a vendor arranges different types of rice, with their prices displayed, at his shop in a wholesale market in Karachi, Pakistan April 2, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 20 August 2019
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After one year in office, Pakistan's economy remains government’s biggest challenge

  • Pakistan’s stocks declined by 32 percent and its currency lost its value by 29 percent in a year
  • Economist say Pakistan has got major support from the Arab world due to its new political leadership

KARACHI: Pakistan’s ongoing economic turmoil has overshadowed the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party’s first anniversary celebrations, as analysts and traders point out that the country’s stock market has witnessed a decline of 32 percent, the national currency has lost its value by 29 percent and the bullion market price has escalated by 60 percent within the last one year.
Prime Minister Imran Khan assumed the country’s top political office on August 18, 2018, promising wide-ranging reforms and economic turnaround. However, his administration found itself struggling against tough economic challenges that included mounting current account and fiscal deficits.
The situation triggered tremendous uncertainty in the stock exchange, making it one of the worst performing markets in Asia. The bench mark KSE 100 index declined from 42,446 points on August 17, 2018, to 28,764 points on August 16, 2019, recording a staggering decline of 32 percent.
“The situation of the market became worse as it remained in the grip of negative sentiments in the backdrop of economic conditions fueled by current account deficit, interest rate hike, and currency devaluations,” Muhammad Faizan Munshey, head of foreign institutional sales at Next Capital, told Arab News.
The stock market on Monday rebounded and gained 798 points to close at 29,562. “The worst condition is almost over and the market is expected to rebound in the future as well,” he added.
Analyst believe that the country’s bourse has bottomed out and the prices are expected to rebound, provided that the growth drivers remain in place. “The government must focus on growth drivers, such as exports, job creation and tax collections, for economic recovery,” Samiullah Tariq, director research at Arif Habib Limited, told Arab News.
During the PTI’s first year in office, the country devalued its currency by almost 29 percent from Rs123.50 against a dollar to Rs159.10 in the interbank market.
Analyst believe the rupee devaluation was done to fulfil the conditions of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) before Islamabad could avail $6 billion bailout package. “There were two reasons cited for the rupee devaluation: the first was the IMF’s free-float requirement and the second was that the Pakistani rupee was overvalued and needed stabilization,” Zafar Paracha, general secretary of Exchange Companies Association of Pakistan, told Arab News.
Pakistan’s central bank governor in June this year tried to dispel the impression that the state bank was reluctant to intervene in the currency market due to the IMF conditions, saying that the country had “adopted a market-based exchange rate system.”
According to Paracha, however, the policy shift took place after the Pak rupee hit a high of 165 against the dollar, saying “it was only then that they [the State Bank and the IMF] realized that free float was not suitable for our market and decided to adopt the market-based exchange rate mechanism instead.”
He added that the lull in the currency market was due to Eid al-Adha related foreign currency inflows. “I don’t see any steps taken to stabilize the economy. Pakistan’s economy does not need ad hoc measures. The change of finance ministers also resulted in a complete shift in policies earlier this year. What the country requires at the moment, however, are carefully crafted stabilization policies that are kept in place for five to ten years.”
Much like the stock and currency markets, the bullion market also experienced volatility as the rate of gold hit Rs89,000 per tola – or approximately 12 grams – on Saturday before cooling down to Rs88,000 on Monday. This rate stood at Rs54,750 a year earlier.
Bullion traders expect the volatility to continue in the market, saying that there has also been a decline in the purchasing power of consumers. “We expect that gold would hit Rs100,000 in the foreseeable future,” Haji Haroon Rasheed Chand, president of All Sindh Saraf Jewelers Association, told Arab News.
Under the circumstances, senior economist say that the country will have to take tough measures with harsh economic and political implications. “Last year, around one million people lost their jobs, poverty increased because the prices of goods jacked up and the growth rate of our economy slowed down,” Dr Hafeez Pasha, former finance minister, told Arab News, adding that “hard times are going to end.”
“Due to our new leader, we have got major support from the Arab world,” he said. “The good thing is that our Arab friends supported the country when it was in dire need and we must thank them for what they have done for us.”
“We received $3 billion from Saudi Arabia and they also extended us the deferred oil payment facility that began in July this year. The United Arab Emirates also deposited $2 billion and Qatar extended $500 million as well,” he added.


Oil prices surge after attacks hit Saudi output

Updated 16 September 2019
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Oil prices surge after attacks hit Saudi output

  • The Houthi attacks hit two Aramco sites and effectively shut down six percent of the global oil supply
  • President Donald Trump said Sunday the US was ‘locked and loaded’ to respond to the attacks

HONG KONG: Oil prices saw a record surge Monday after attacks on two Saudi facilities slashed output in the world’s top producer by half, fueling fresh geopolitical fears as Donald Trump blamed Iran and raised the possibility of a military strike on the country.
Brent futures surged $12 in the first few minutes of business — the most in dollar terms since they were launched in 1988 and representing a jump of nearly 20 percent — while WTI jumped more than $8, or 15 percent.
Both contracts pared the gains but were both still more than 10 percent up.
The attack by Tehran-backed Houthi militia in neighboring Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is bogged down in a five-year war, hit two sites owned by state-run giant Aramco and effectively shut down six percent of the global oil supply.
Trump said Sunday the US was “locked and loaded” to respond to the attack, while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said: “The United States will work with our partners and allies to ensure that energy markets remain well supplied and Iran is held accountable for its aggression.”
Tehran denies the accusations but the news revived fears of a conflict in the tinderbox Middle East after a series of attacks on oil tankers earlier this year that were also blamed on Iran.
“Tensions in the Middle East are rising quickly, meaning this story will continue to reverberate this week even after the knee-jerk panic in oil markets this morning,” said Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst at OANDA.
Trump authorized the release of US supplies from its Strategic Petroleum Reserve, while Aramco said more than half of the five million barrels of production lost will be restored by tomorrow.
But the strikes raise concerns about the security of supplies from the world’s biggest producer.
Oil prices had dropped last week after news that Trump had fired his anti-Iran hawkish national security adviser John Bolton, which was seen as paving the way for an easing of tensions in the region.
“One thing we can say with confidence is that if part of the reason for last week’s fall in oil and improvement in geopolitical risk sentiment was the news of John Bolton’s sacking ... and thoughts this was a precursor to some form of rapprochement between Trump and Iran, then it is no longer valid,” said Ray Attrill at National Australia Bank.