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All eyes on budget 2022-23 as Pakistan struggles to revive economy

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  • Pakistan braces itself for budget 2022-23 to be presented before National Assembly at 4pm.
  • It will be presented by Finance Minister Miftah Ismail.
  • This is being dubbed by economists as “one of the toughest budgets in Pakistan’s history”.

ISLAMABAD: All eyes are on the Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif-led government as it sets out to present its first budget while the country races against the clock to resume disbursements under a $6 billion International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan programme.

The government will present the budget for next fiscal year 2022-23 in Parliament today, with special focus on fiscal consolidation to contain a budget deficit.

Minister for Finance Miftah Ismail will present it before the National Assembly at 4pm. It is being dubbed by economists as “one of the toughest budgets in Pakistan’s history”.

Despite official claims that the budget will restore stability to Pakistan’s economic outlook, the downside risk is difficult to ignore.

In the run-up to Pakistan’s new fiscal year beginning next month (July), independent economists have begun to forecast inflation of up to 20% over the next 12 months, at least in many key areas. This is clearly a staggering increase from the expected inflation of more than 13% in the fiscal year ending this month.

The upcoming increase will be primarily driven by a recent price increase of about one-third in domestic fuel prices, a 45% increase in gas tariffs, and a 40% to 50% increase in the cost of electricity.

Together, Pakistan’s increasingly expensive energy mix will inevitably force middle and low-income households to tighten their belts as never before. The spillover is set to be felt in increasingly expensive essential services such as healthcare and education — just two key ingredients in the life of any mainstream family. Pakistanis are about to face one of the hardest times in recent history, and no amount of sugarcoating will help.

The heavy cost of a return to normalised relations with the IMF following such unpalatable measures may appear to some as a bitter pill not worth swallowing. However, it is the inevitable bitter pill that Pakistan must swallow to save it from short-term economic ruin. The next IMF disbursement of US $1 billion on its own seems far too modest by comparison to the painful measures about to be inflicted on millions of households. But the value of a restored relationship with the Washington-based lender will come through Islamabad’s heading successfully towards accessing other sources of loans. On Thursday, finance minister Miftah Ismail used his pre-budget news conference to announce an imminent increase likely in Pakistan’s existing foreign currency reserves by about 25 per cent to US$12 billion in the next few days, on the back of a Chinese loan of US$2.4 billion.

Yet, the budget will present Pakistan with two recurring challenges—the matter of meeting tax collection targets and narrowing the divide between exports and imports, to protect the country against another balance of payments crisis. On both of these counts, a restored relationship with the IMF provides a few assurances that Pakistan will successfully oversee sweeping reforms to make a difference. For prime minister Shehbaz Sharif, leading a government that is not too far from the next elections, hardly helps.

Already, the twin combinations of sharply rising inflation and energy shortages displayed in daily lives through the dreadful reality of frequent loadshedding have hardly helped to block official credentials from heading southwards.

In the coming months, Pakistan’s continuing economic challenges will likely deepen the pressure on the Sharif government to maintain recent curbs on imports, to narrow the international trade gap. This will inevitably become the outcome of a situation where Pakistan’s space to pump up its exports will remain limited. As long as oil prices stay high and there is no sign of them going down to more affordable levels, import limits will also be a hard problem to solve.

Pakistan’s economic pain will likely remain in place, and possibly even get aggravated, in the presence of high interest rates. Many independent economists say that if inflation keeps going up, the State Bank of Pakistan will be forced to raise its interest rates even more.

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s continuously rising political pressure for the foreseeable future is set to undermine the country’s economic journey. Former prime minister Imran Khan’s continuing clamour for parliamentary elections ahead of summer 2023, will likely keep the country’s overall atmosphere on the boil. Even if the Sharif government stays in place until next year, Khan’s actions will make it less likely that it will be stable, which will hurt the economy.

When finance minister Miftah Ismail rises in parliament on Friday to present the budget, he may well find comfort in delivering his speech uninterrupted in the absence of opposition members. Yet, beyond a relatively smooth delivery of the budget speech, the road ahead is set to be tougher than any seen ever before in recent times.

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Pakistani stocks are rising, and the KSE-100 breaks the 69,000 barrier.

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The benchmark KSE-100 Index increased 1.76 percent on Monday, passing beyond the 69,000 barrier for the first time in its history. This maintained Pakistani stock market’s record-breaking run, as investors remained upbeat about potential rate cuts by the central bank.

The most recent advances also follow Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s iftar dinner given by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Makkah, at a time when Riyadh is anticipated to announce an approximately $1 billion investment in Reko Diq, one of the world’s greatest reserves of copper and gold.

After reaching a high of 69,720.03, the KSE-100 Index concluded at 69,619.98 with a net gain of 1,203.20 points by the time trading was closed for the day. This was due to international investors, both individual and institutional, making purchases.

The meeting between Shehbaz and the Saudi crown prince, also referred to as MBS, may open doors for investment in a variety of industries, including mining, energy, and agriculture.

With record-high energy and interest rates driving up the cost of conducting business to an unaffordable level, investors are clamoring for foreign investment to prop up the economy.

Any improvement in this area would not only contribute to the rupee’s appreciation but also increase the value of cheap equities due to the anticipated purchasing frenzy, as buyers will not pass up the chance to purchase at the reduced prices.

However, there is a big question mark over the heightened expectations that the State Bank of Pakistan will begin reducing interest rates following the consumer price index (CPI) showing a steady fall in inflation over the past three months, particularly the greater than anticipated decline in March.

The reason is that, given Islamabad’s desperation to secure another package from the Washington-based lender, there is an impending hike in gasoline costs in addition to power and gas charges. This move will further sustain the inflationary pressure under the IMF criteria.

Meanwhile, the most recent US data has reduced expectations for potential rate reduction by the Federal Reserve, which is driving up the price of gold as speculative purchasing occurs.

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The price of gold is still rising in Pakistan.

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24 carat gold’s per tola pricing increased by Rs 600 on Monday, when it was sold for Rs 245,700 as opposed to Rs 245,100 the day before.

Ten grams of 24 carat gold cost Rs 514 more than the selling price of Rs 210,648; ten grams of 22 carat gold cost Rs 193,094 instead of Rs 192,622, according to the All Sindh Sarafa Jewellers Association.

Silver prices per tola and per ten grams stayed at Rs 2,650 and Rs 2271.94, respectively.

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According to the Association, the price of gold went up $5 to $2,355 on the global market from $2,350.

24 carat gold saw a rise in prices per tola on April 6 of Rs 4,900. It was sold on Saturday for Rs 245,100 as opposed to Rs 240,200 the day before.

The price of 10 grams of 24 carat gold went up by Rs4,200, and it was sold for Rs210,134 as opposed to Rs205,932. The price of 10 grams of 22 carat gold went up to Rs192,622 from Rs 188,772, according to the All Sindh Sarafa Jewellers Association.

Silver prices per tola and per ten grams stayed at Rs 2,650 and Rs 2271.94, respectively.

According to the Association, the price of gold went up $44 to $2,350 on the global market from $2,306.

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PIA privatization: “Investors from Saudi Arabia and Qatar are briefed by Pakistan.”

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According to information provided, investors in the aviation industry in Qatar, Abu Dhabi, and Saudi Arabia were approached and given a briefing on the privatization of PIA.

According to additional sources, investors received information about “profitable” investments in the international lines operated by FIA and PIA.

Since National Airline’s debts and losses were transferred to the withholding firm prior to privatization, all of them have been paid off.

According to the sources, every obstacle to the PIA’s privatization has been removed.

It is important to note that, as the government moves on with its privatization plan, up to three Gulf nations—the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar—have expressed interest in purchasing the financially troubled Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), according to sources.

Previously, purchasers were asked to submit proposals by May 3 for the privatization of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA).

The Pakistani government intends to sell 51 percent of the national flag carrier’s shares; the remaining 49 percent will be owned by the government. The government’s goal is to privatize solely the PIA’s aviation department.

According to the officials, the business that purchases the 51 percent of the shares would continue to hold administrative authority over PIA.

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