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SBP gears up to ‘revise’ interest rates in off-cycle review on March 2

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  • No MPC meeting held to date since last month, says SBP.
  • Market expects SBP to raise benchmark interest rates.
  • Government agreed to hike interest rate from 17% to 19%.

The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) on Tuesday “preponed” its Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) meeting on March 2 — which was initially scheduled to meet for March 16 — in another attempt to increase the pace of efforts to secure the much-awaited International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) tranche. 

The SBP announced on its official Twitter handle that “the forthcoming meeting of the Monetary Policy Committee has been preponed and now it will be held on Thursday, March 02, 2023,” the central bank announced on its Twitter handle.

The SBP’s chief spokesperson Abid Qamar had said earlier that, following the meeting last month, no MPC meeting had been held to date.

The MPC was established under the SBP’s Amendment Act, which is empowered to take a decision keeping in view the macroeconomic fundamentals.

The market expects the SBP to raise benchmark interest rates as the rise in treasury yields in the last auction hinted towards market weighing-in concerns on the economic front with the investors continuing to take note of rising inflation around the world as well as in Pakistan, Arif Habib Limited stated in a commentary released earlier.

Moreover, sources had told Geo News last week thatthe coalition government had agreed to hike the interest rate from the existing level of 17% to 19% under one of the major conditions put forth by the Fund to revive the loan programme.

However, analysts believed that the SBP needed to bring forward the MPC meeting date as the ministry of finance cannot afford failure in the next T-bill auction.

It is to be highlighted that the Fund and the central bank had held a round of discussions about the possibility of further tightening of monetary policy and building up foreign exchange reserves by the end of June 2023.

The IMF had also asked the SBP for hiking the policy rate by 300 to 400 basis points in order to move towards the interest rate from a negative to a positive trajectory.

The cash-strapped country is undertaking key measures to secure IMF funding, including raising taxes, removing blanket subsidies, and artificial curbs on the exchange rate. While the government expects a deal with IMF soon, media reports say that the agency expects the policy rate to be increased.

Off-cycle rate reviews are not uncommon in Pakistan, though.

Adnan Sheikh, Assistant Vice President of Research at Pak Kuwait Investment Company, said that a rate hike is imminent.

Fahad Rauf, Head of Research at Ismail Iqbal Securities, said that the IMF has given a target to at least keep rates higher than core inflation.

“Pakistan has two core inflation readings i.e., urban (15.4% for Jan-23) and rural (19.4%) and no national core number is released. If the SBP tries to bring rates above rural core inflation, it requires a rate hike of 200-300 bps,” he said.

Mohammad Ayub Khuhro, a fund manager at a local fund, said that recent economic data on government finances suggest that it was running low on its cash balances held with the central bank.

“This is why the government went ahead with picking up their desired targets despite a signalling effect it would send to the markets,” Khuhro said.

“The government has effectively bypassed the central bank in order to fulfil IMF conditions by accepting a higher cut-off,” he added.

Business

An increase in tax was made on restaurant card payments.

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After 15 years, the SRB reduced the service tax that 58 hotels and restaurants in Karachi could have charged on debit and credit card purchases to 15%. This action is a part of the Sindh budget, which was designed to make eating out less expensive for customers.

Prior to this, Sindh’s tax on credit and debit card purchases was lowered from 15% to 8%.

Officials from the SRB have further stated that the service was made available for input adjustment of restaurant tax payments. With this step, businesses will be able to efficiently handle their tax responsibilities and the tax process would be made simpler.

Only a few eateries have been given authority to remove the lower tax rate, even though this tax facility has been reversed.

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The KSE-100 Index rises following a sharp decline in the previous session.

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The government is considering filing a treason case under Article 6 against PTI founder Imran Khan, former president Arif Alvi, and former deputy speaker Qasim Suri. On Tuesday, the KSE-100 Index was up more than 1.3% during early trading, following a day of roughly a 2 percent loss due to growing political unrest and the potential banning of the party.

However, the benchmark index of the Pakistan Stock Exchange was trading at 79,074.63 by 11:49 a.m., having gained 535.45 points, or 0.68 percent, after reaching an intraday high of 79,578.04.

Market analysts said that political tensions were the primary cause of the KSE-100’s earlier Monday decline of 1578.71 points, or 1.97 percent.

They did point out, though, that a correction was a reasonable reaction to the protracted upswing that allowed the benchmark mark index to reach 81,839.86 on July 18.

As a result of interest rate cuts and the possibility of another IMF program, the Pakistan Stock Exchange has gained 22.97 percent so far this year. The cycle began on June 10 with a 1.5 percent decrease in borrowing costs.

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In interbank trade, the US dollar crushes the Pakistani rupee.

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During interbank trade on Tuesday, the US dollar’s value increased by 15 paisas, reaching Rs 278.45.

It is important to remember that Fitch Business Monitor International expressed concern about the possibility that Pakistan’s economic stability may be jeopardized by the ongoing political unrest.

The fragile situation of Pakistan’s economic recovery was emphasized by Fitch in its most recent Pakistan Country Risk Report, which also noted that economic activity has been impeded by urban protests.

(PTI),In spite of multiple successful judicial appeals, the founder of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) is expected to stay behind bars, the article notes, underscoring the fragile political environment.

With no urgent plans for new elections, this scenario suggests that the coalition administration will remain in office for the next 18 months.

Fitch also described an eventuality in which the government could change and be replaced by a technocratic administration. This suggests that the government of Pakistan would carry out the reforms demanded by the IMF, contributing to the 3.2% GDP growth expected in 2024–2025.

The policy rate has stabilized above projections, while the research predicted it may reach 16 percent this fiscal year and 14 percent the following year.

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