COVID-19, interest rate cuts trigger hot money outflow of $2.1 bn from Pakistan

This undated file photo shows premises of the State Bank of Pakistan. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 03 April 2020

COVID-19, interest rate cuts trigger hot money outflow of $2.1 bn from Pakistan

  • Central banks days foreign investors withdrew $1.74 bn in March alone
  • The outflows were largely driven by overseas investors from the US, UK and UAE

KARACHI: Pakistan’s capital market witnessed massive outflow of hot money during the outgoing month of March as foreign investors divested $1.74 billion in the government’s short term papers following the coronavirus pandemic, indicate the statistics gathered by the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP).
The combined outflow of foreign funds invested in treasury bills and equities amounted to $1.86 billion in March 2020 with no inflows recorded during the last two days.
“The flight of capital of around $83 billion from various emerging markets has been witnessed in recent days after the coronavirus pandemic, and Pakistan is not unique in that sense,” Asad Rizvi, senior currency analysts and chief executive of the Currency Market Associates, told Arab News.
“The investors want to save assets and they have not reinvested in Pakistan in these uncertain times. That is why the country is experiencing the outflow of funds,” Rizvi said, adding that the rupee was also under pressure due to the country’s low reserves.
Pakistan’s debt market became a hot destination for foreign investors after its central bank jacked up the key policy rate to 13.25 percent in July 2019 and the interest rate on treasury bills surged to 13.66 percent.
Since then, the country attracted $4.13 billion in its debt and equity markets, with major flows coming in T-Bills that, according to the SBP Special Convertible Rupee Account (SCRA) record, amounted to $3.4 billion until April 01, 2020.
During the period, however, the cumulative outflow of funds was recorded at $2.98 billion, including $2.1 billion invested in treasury bills, which constituted about 70 percent of the total investment inflows.
The outflows were largely driven by the overseas investors from the United States, United Kingdom and United Arab Emirates.
Some analysts also attribute the hot money outflow to the 2.25 percent interest rate cut by the country’s central bank in March 2020.
“The investors were addicted to the higher interest rate and when the central bank slashed it they started withdrawing the hot money. In the current situation, they [investor] think the central bank may further cut down the rate. This also explains why the country is experiencing accelerated outflows,” Zafar Moti , CEO of Zafar Moti Capital Securities, commented.
The outflows have spurred the demand for dollar in the interbank market where Pakistan’s national currency has dropped to Rs 167, a historic low against greenback, that mainly owes to the country’s weak reserves.
“During the week ended March 27, 2020, the SBP reserves decreased by $804 million to $11.18 billion. This decline is attributed primarily to the government’s external debt payments that amount to $441 million, and other official payments,” said the SBP statement on Thursday.
Pakistan’s foreign liquid reserves have stood at $17.39 billion, both held by the central bank and commercial bank, according to the SBP.


Pakistan’s industrialists hope for tax cuts, relief measures in budget

Updated 06 June 2020

Pakistan’s industrialists hope for tax cuts, relief measures in budget

  • Business community demands reduction in rates and number of existing taxes for the revival of sluggish economy
  • Economists believe revenue collection and locust control will pose major challenges to the government

KARACHI: As Pakistan focuses on stimulating growth and creating jobs in the upcoming federal budget, the country’s business community called for slashing taxes and introducing relief measures to bring the economy out of its sluggish mode while economists predicted that revenue collection would continue to constitute a major challenge for the government.
Pakistan is expected to present its income and expenditure plan for the next fiscal year (FY2020-21) in the coming week, with a focus to spur the economic growth without imposing new taxes.
“The focus of the upcoming budget is to stimulate growth and create jobs. The focus of the [$8 billion] stimulus package is toward providing support to business, in particular [small and medium enterprises] through payroll loans at subsidized rates, deferral of principal and interest payments for one year and quick disbursement of all as refunds to business,” Dr. Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, Adviser to Prime Minister on Finance and Revenue, told Arab News last week in an exclusive interview.
He also categorically denied that there would be new taxes in the upcoming budget.
Pakistan’s business community expects that the government will come up with a relief package for the revival of the country’s economy to avoid its further weakening amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have proposed that the government should give relief to industries across the board like the one given to the construction industry because it is vital for the revival of the economy,” Agha Shahab Ahmed Khan, President of the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI), told Arab News. “The reforms and recovery will automatically follow.”
Industrialists say the government must focus on the means of creating wealth by adopting appropriate measures and offering suitable incentives such as the ones witnessed in other countries. “If there is no wealth creation, there will be no wealth distribution. This may also lead to social disruption in the country,” the KCCI president said, adding: “We have suggested that sales tax should be brought down to a single digit from 17 percent to spur business activities.”
Industrialists also hope that apart from revising the tax rates, the number of taxes will also be reduced by the government. “We expect that the number of taxes will reduce as part of the ease of doing business initiative under the current circumstances. In Punjab, the government has imposed about 130 different taxes,” Almas Hyder, an industrialist and former president of the Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), told Arab News.
“The government must expedite the refund process,” she continued, adding: “I say this because this has impacted the cash flow of companies.”
Muhammad Ahmed, President of the Islamabad Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ICCI), concurred with Hyder, saying: “There is no doubt that refunds are being paid, but income tax refunds have not been issued. We should be given permission to adjust that money with the government in the shape of customs duties or sales tax.”
The ICCI president called for measures to make the upcoming budget business-friendly in the prevailing environment.
“The budget should be business-friendly since that will help us make the economy flourish. If new businesses cannot be set up, at least the existing ones that have suffered setbacks should be allowed to survive and sustain in these difficult times,” he added.
As business community demands relief in the upcoming budget, the country’s economists predict that the government is likely to face major revenue constraints due to a decline in the collection rate within the current economic framework. “If you have no income, you will not be able to make expenditures,” Dr. Abdul Qayyum Suleri, member of the government’s Economic Advisory Council (EAC), told Arab News.
“The second major challenge the government is facing is the locust attack which is going to cost the country about Rs 1 trillion in the worst case scenario. If the damage is contained, the loss will be about Rs 250 billion,” he added.
However, Dr. Khaqan Najeeb, who was part of the budget-making process last year since he worked as an adviser with the finance ministry, suggested that the next budget could be crafted with a different approach, keeping in mind resource generation through tax compliance, deficit reduction by curtailing expenditures, and deficit financing by shifting to non-debt creating instruments.
“Shifting the financing of budget to non-debt creating instruments is the only way to flatten the curve on debt build-up. Divestment, past recoveries, collecting dividends from state-owned companies, arrears of taxes and energy, all can contribute in financing the deficit. This can restore the public’s flagging faith in the integrity of the policymakers to break the debt cycle,” he added.
Dr. Suleri said that apart from debt servicing, defense and administrative costs and development expenditure’s additional resources would be required to fund the health sector and locust control operations.
“Pakistan will need about $15 billion of additional borrowing amid remittance, foreign investment and export decline,” he noted while observing: “Two sectors – energy and loss making public sector enterprises – will be under pressure since the International Monetary Fund may object to budget allocations. Increase in salaries and pensions may fall into this category.”
Economists expect that few ongoing development projects will be financed while major share of funds is likely to be diverted to the health sector in the current situation.