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Pakistan on the brink of default, again

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Pakistan’s time is running out. For decades, the country has run a system that needs near-constant external assistance. The system doesn’t deliver prosperity outside a tiny elite. Real incomes are, at best, stagnate. We barely export or save. If there is a strategy, it is waiting for someone to invade Afghanistan to extract geopolitical rents from them.

Underlying these decades-long challenges is a fundamentally changing society. For one: over the next 28 years, Pakistan will add about 132 million more people above its current population size. Pakistanis also now live increasingly in urban areas which reshapes how people interact with each other – opening new avenues for collective action and greater demand for public services. Add to this increased access to technology. The country is changing even if the economic system that governs them remains the same.

The changing dynamics demand sustained economic growth to improve lives, but our current system doesn’t allow growth. Whenever the economic growth rate exceeds 4-odd%, Pakistan’s import bill skyrockets pushing the country into a balance of payments crisis. This is a fundamental constraint in Pakistan’s growth model: nothing short of a complete break from the current trajectory will work.

Today, Pakistan is on the brink again. While a sovereign default is unlikely, what is clear is that Pakistan’s survival once again depends solely on the generosity of its few allies. This generosity might be eventually forthcoming allowing us to kick the bucket down the road for a few months – but then what? What happens a few months from now when once again we need more money to pay for imports or service our debt?

We need a radical break. There must be an immediate realization that the current economic system neither delivers growth for its citizens nor is stable enough to be maintained. Critically: even those who benefit from the current economic system, must realize that the system isn’t sustainable – even for growing their wealth. A different pathway requires a pro-growth coalition that pushes for reforms that can make real gains in Pakistan’s productive capacity.

What should such a reform agenda prioritize? I suggest three actions. First: Pakistan must discourage the capital stuck in real estate. Putting a large chunk of domestic savings into real estate takes capital away from sectors that can contribute towards exports (plots can’t be exported, alas). A great way to do this is by levying an annual tax on urban land. Not only would this raise revenue for public services but help allocate capital towards tradable sectors.

Second: We need deliberate and significant efforts to improve female labour market participation. Currently, only two out of 10 adult women are in the labour market; this is below countries of similar income levels. One way to do so is by investing in urban transport systems that would disproportionately benefit women as they face the highest mobility barriers.

Third: Pakistan should reduce policy-induced market distortions that are often in place to benefit vested interests. One example are the import duties that incentivize firms to sell domestically rather than attempt to innovate and compete abroad (a recent report by the World Bank calculates that a 10% import duty ups the profitability of selling domestically as opposed to exporting by 40%). By making the market a level playing field, we can incentivize firms to innovate and compete globally.

Pakistan is on a path to the abyss. In 1990, a child born in Pakistan would expect to live longer than a child born in India or Bangladesh. Today, that has been completely reversed. You’re better off being born in Dhaka or Chennai, than Lahore. This trajectory will continue if we don’t do something differently. Time is running out.

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In a first for history, PSX crosses the 77,000 milestone.

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At 77,213.31, the benchmark KSE-100 hit an all-time high, up 1,005.15, or 1.32%, from the previous close of 76,208.16.

The government’s readiness to seal an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) following the budget was cited by analysts as the reason for the upward trend.

Experts anticipate that in an attempt to bolster its position for a fresh bailout agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the budget for the fiscal year ending in June 2025 would set aggressive fiscal goals.

Budget for Pakistan, 2024–2025
Pakistan’s budget for the fiscal year 2024–25, with a total expenditure of Rs18.877 trillion, was presented on Wednesday by Minister of Finance and Revenue Muhammad Aurangzeb.

The Finance Minister, Muhammad Aurangzeb, outlined the budget highlights. He stated that the GDP growth target for the fiscal year 2024–25 is set at 3.6 percent, while the inflation rate is anticipated to stay at 12 percent.

He stated that while the primary surplus is anticipated to be 1.0 percent of GDP during the review period, the budget deficit to GDP is forecast to be 6.9 percent over the period under review.

According to the minister, tax income collection increased by 38% in the current fiscal year, and the province will receive Rs7,438 billion. The Federal Board of income expects to earn Rs12,970 billion in revenue for the upcoming fiscal year.

In contrast to the federal government’s projected net income of Rs9,119 billion, he stated that the federation’s non-tax revenue projections are set at Rs3,587 billion.

The federal government’s total outlays are projected to be Rs18,877 billion, with interest payments accounting for the remaining Rs9,775 billion.

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Pakistan currently has $14.38 billion in foreign exchange reserves.

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Pakistan’s commercial banks’ reserves, which stood at $5.28 billion at the conclusion of the week ending on June 7, rose by US$174 million, according to a central bank statement.

Reserving US$6.2 million less, the SBP now has US$9.10 billion in reserves. The causes for the decline in the reserves it had were not disclosed by the central bank.

The SBP released a statement that stated, “SBP reserves decreased by US$ 6 million to US$ 9,103.3 million during the week ended on 07-June-2024.”

The State Bank of Pakistan’s (SBP) foreign exchange reserves were reduced by US$ 63 million as a result of repaying external debt, with the reserves standing at US$ 9.093 billion as of earlier on June 6.

The central bank spokesperson said in a statement that as of the week that concluded on May 31, the nation’s total liquid foreign reserves were $14.31 billion.

In terms of net foreign reserves, commercial banks have US$ 5.22 billion of the overall foreign reserves, according to the SBP.

SBP reserves dropped by US$ 63 million to US$ 9,093.7 million during the week that ended on May 24, 2024, according to the announcement.

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In the local market, the price of gold plummets to Rs240,700/tola.

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Gold with a 24-karat purity level has dropped by Rs1200/tola on the local market.

Each tola of 24-karat gold is now selling for Rs240,700, with a further drop of Rs1029 bringing the price of 10 kilos of gold to Rs206,361. These figures are courtesy of the All Sarafa and Jewelers Association.

Meanwhile, after a $2 decline on the global market, one ounce of gold will be valued $2315.

A tola of gold was worth Rs 600 more on Wednesday.

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