Pakistan’s central bank raised its policy rate for the fourth time this year and the 9th time since January 2018 but said it was finished raising rates in response to the fall in the rupee over the last 1-1/2 years and from now on interest rates would be set in response to the outlook for inflation.
The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) raised its policy rate by a further 100 basis points to 13.25 percent and has now raised it by 325 points this year following hikes in January, March and May.
Since January last year, when SBP began raising its rates, the central bank’s monetary policy committee (MPC) has raised the main interest rate by a total of 7.50 percentage points to curtail inflation from the fall in the exchange rate of the rupee, which pushed up import prices.
“With this decision on interest rates, the MPC is of the view that the adjustment related to interest rates and the exchange rate from previously accumulated imbalances has taken place,” SBP said.
The Pakistani rupee was trading at 159.3 to the U.S. dollar today, down 33.9 percent since December 2017, down 13.5 percent since the start of this year and down 7 percent since the previous policy meeting on May 20 when the key rate was raised 150 basis points.
The MPC said today’s rate hike took into account upside inflationary pressures from exchange rate depreciation since May 20, the likely rise in near-term inflation from higher utility prices and other budgetary measures for fiscal 2020 taken in the wake of the agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and downside pressures on inflation from softer demand.
“Going forward the MPC will be ready to take action depending on economic developments and data outruns,” with unanticipated increases in the inflation outlook possibly leading to “further modest tightening,” SBP said, adding:
In contrast, greater-than-expected softening in domestic demand and thus a lower inflation outlook would provide “grounds for easier monetary conditions.”
The central bank raised its forecast for average inflation in the 2020 fiscal year, which began July 1, to 11 – 12 percent, slightly lower than IMF’s forecast of 13.0 percent, but up from an average of 7.3 percent in 2018/19 when prices were boosted by the lagged impact of the lower rupee, government borrowings from the central bank, higher fuel and food prices.
In June Pakistan’s inflation rate eased to 8.9 percent from a 2019-high of 9.41 percent in March and 9.11 percent in May.
In fiscal 2021 SBP expects inflation to fall “considerably” as one-off effects diminish.
Following a staff-level agreement with the IMF in May on a 39-month, US$6.0 billion support package, the IMF board on July 3 approved the deal, making $1 billion immediately available and unlocking another $38 billion from Pakistan’s international partners to support its economic reform.
“A flexible, market-determined exchange rate and an adequately tight monetary policy will be key to correcting imbalances, rebuilding reserves, and keeping inflation low,” IMF said.
Strengthening the central bank’s autonomy and eliminating its financing of the budget deficit will help its lower inflation and improve financial stability, IMF added.
Last month Reza Baqir, who took over as SBP governor on May 4, described the exchange rate policy as a “market based exchange system” that follows supply and demand but the central bank would then intervene in the case of volatility.
Under earlier governments, Pakistan had followed a “strong rupee” policy and effectively fixed the rupee against the U.S. dollar at a rate that was too high with the result the central bank burned through its reserves to defend the rupee.
As of July 12, SBP’s foreign exchange reserves had risen to US$8.0 billion, partly due to the IMF’s first tranche, and are expected to rise further as international creditors release funds, including those related to the Saudi oil facility, and improved current account.
Pakistan’s economic growth has been slowing this year and SPB forecast 2019/19 gross domestic product growth of 3.3 percent, well below the government’s target of 6.2 percent.
Growth in the current fiscal year should improve to around 3.5 percent as the slowdown turns around in light of improved market sentiment, a rebound in agriculture and government incentives.
The State Bank of Pakistan released the following press release:
“1. At its meeting on 16th July 2019, the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) decided to raise the policy rate by 100 bps to 13.25 percent with effect from 17th July 2019. The decision takes into account upside inflationary pressures from exchange rate depreciation since the last MPC meeting on 20th May 2019 and the likely increase in near term inflation from the one-off impact of recent adjustments in utility prices and other measures in the FY20 budget. The decision also takes into account downside inflation pressures from softening demand indicators. Taking these factors into consideration, the MPC expects average inflation of 11 – 12 percent in FY20, higher than previously projected. Nevertheless, inflation is expected to fall considerably in FY21 as the one-off effect of some of the causes of the recent rise in inflation diminishes.
2. With this decision on interest rates, the MPC is of the view that the adjustment related to interest rates and the exchange rate from previously accumulated imbalances has taken place. Going forward the MPC will be ready to take action depending on economic developments and data outturns. Unanticipated increases in inflation that adversely affect the inflation outlook may lead to further modest tightening. On the other hand, a greater than expected softening in domestic demand and downward revision in projected inflation would provide grounds for easing monetary conditions.
3. In reaching this decision the MPC considered the key economic developments since the last MPC meeting on 20th May 2019, developments in the real, external and fiscal sectors, and the resulting outlook for monetary conditions and inflation.
Key developments since the last MPC
4. There have been three key developments since the last MPC meeting. First, the Government of Pakistan has passed a FY20 budget that seeks to credibly improve fiscal sustainability by focusing on revenue measures to widen the tax base. Adjustments in utility prices and other measures in the budget are expected to lead to a one-time considerable increase in prices in the first half of FY20. On the other hand, the government has also committed to cease borrowing from the State Bank that would qualitatively improve the inflation outlook. Second, the outlook for external financing has further strengthened with the disbursement of the first tranche associated with the IMF Extended Fund Facility, activation of the Saudi oil facility, and other commitments of support from multilateral and bilateral partners. The current account deficit has also continued to fall suggesting that external pressures continue to decline. On the other hand, the depreciation in the exchange rate since the last MPC has added to inflationary pressures. Finally, on the international front, the sentiment towards emerging markets has improved with greater expectations of a policy rate cut in the United States.
5. Domestic demand is estimated to moderate to about 3 percent in FY19 and GDP growth to 3.3 percent. While current high frequency indicators point to a slowing in economic activity, this is expected to turn around in the course of the year on the back of improved market sentiments in the context of IMF supported program, a rebound in the agriculture sector and the gradual impact of government incentives for export- oriented industries. Conditional upon the latest available information, SBP expect the real GDP growth of around 3.5 percent in FY20.
6. External conditions show continued steady improvement with a sizeable reduction in the current account deficit which fell by 29.3 percent to US$ 12.7 billion in Jul-May FY19 as compared to US$ 17.9 billion during the same period last year. This improvement was primarily driven by import compression and healthy growth in workers’ remittances. Export volumes have been growing even though export values have remained subdued due to a fall in unit prices as also experienced by competitor exporting countries. Future developments in export performance will also depend on growth rates of our trading partners and progress in alleviating domestic structural impediments.
8. Led by substantial shortfall in revenue collection, higher than budgeted interest payments and security related expenditures, both the overall fiscal and primary deficits deteriorated in FY19. The FY20 budget seeks to credibly reverse the recent trend of fiscal deterioration by addressing long-standing weaknesses in the taxation system and to enhance documentation of economic activities. On the back of an ambitious target for tax collection and tight control over expenditures, the budget envisaged a sizable reduction in primary deficit.This fiscal consolidation would support SBP’s stabilization policies already in place.
9. From a monetary policy perspective, the government’s strong commitment to end its borrowing from theSBP, and the implementation of liability management operation to restructure the outstanding debt held by SBP, would positively contribute towards monetary policy transmission while credibly anchor markets’inflation expectations going forward.
Monetary and inflation outlook
10. Reflecting the impact of stabilization measures, private sector credit (PSC) growth has started to decelerate. PSC expanded 11.4 percent during 1st Jul – 28th Jun FY19 as compared to 14.8 percent during the same period last year. The deceleration in credit was more pronounced in real terms as the increase in PSC was largely driven by higher input prices, which in turn increased the working capital needs of the businesses. This, together with higher budgetary borrowing led to a sharp increase in the net domestic assets (NDA) of the banking system. In aggregate, broad money supply (M2) grew by 12.2 percent during 1st Jul – 28th Jun FY19 as compared to 10 percent during the comparable period last year. Going forward, the composition of money supply is expected to change as NFA of the banking system is projected to improve, while the growth in NDA is likely to show substantial moderation.
11. Inflation rose considerably to 7.3 percent in FY19 due to higher government borrowing from SBP, lagged impact of exchange rate depreciations, hike in domestic fuel prices, and rising food prices. CPI inflation was 8.9 percent in June 2019 and is expected to rise in the near term due to the one-off impact of adjustment in utilities prices and other measures in the FY2020 budget. These pressures are expected to recede in the second half of the fiscal year and the MPC expects inflation to average 11 – 12 percent in FY20. The MPC is of the view that real interest rates implied by these inflation projections and today’s policy rate decision are at appropriate levels considering the cyclical weakening of aggregate demand.”
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