Authors: Berjis Kamal Abbasi and Sara Batool
The post-war liberal international economic order has established by the United States with the spirit to promote capitalism, market economy and democracy. The capitalist system and market economy is organized by the multilateral institutions i.e. the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Both the international financial institutions are designed to foster global monetary cooperation, secure financial stability, facilitate international trade, promote high employment and sustainable economic growth, and reduce poverty around the globe. Since its inception, the international lender is playing the significant role in the management of balance of payments difficulties of its member countries. The IMF provides economic assistance, loans and policy guide lines to develop and developing countries to deal with their financial policies and to stabilize the international monetary system. Pakistan is also a part of liberal international system and heavily dependent on IMF and the World Bank to balance the imbalance of payments.
The International Monetary Fund was conceived in July 1944 and came into existence in December 1945. It has 189 members and they contribute to a pool through a quota system. Countries suffering from a BoP crisis can draw from it, which is usually known as a bailout. The IMF mostly extend its helping hand to member countries in a case of BoP crisis. A country’s balance of payments tells you whether it save enough to pay for its imports, or whether the country produces enough economic output to pay for its growth. The BoP also means that the country is importing more than its exports and heavily relies on foreign direct investment or borrows money to make up the difference. It is widely acknowledge that a BoP crisis occurs when a country is unable to pay for imports or repay its external debt. Generally BoP crisis negatively impacts on local currency through declining steeply in value, which consequently began to add the value of external payments. The case of Pakistan is very interesting as the country has gone to IMF 21 times since its birth in August 1947. On December 8, 1958 the then military regime signed a one-year Standby Arrangement (SBA) but terminated it prematurely after nine months. Since then, Pakistan has availed 16 programs of IMF, yet the relationship has been far from smooth.
Pakistan has earned the reputation of a one-tranche nation – a veiled reference to the country’s track record of taking loans at critical times and then abandoning them prematurely, either because of a crisis of balance of payments or because further disbursements required tough policy actions. At present, Pakistani authorities and the IMF team have reached a staff-level agreement on economic policies that could be supported by a 39-month Extended Fund Arrangement (EFF) for about US$6 billion. This agreement is subject to the IMF management approval and approval by the Executive Board, subject to the timely implementation of prior actions and confirmation of international partners’ financial commitments. Before, discussing the deal, it is necessary to probe that Would Pakistan be able to implement the structural reforms proposed by the IMF and would it be last bailout package for Pakistan from IMF?
The economy of the majority-Muslim nation with a population of over 200 million has slid deeper into crisis since Imran Khan took over as Prime Minister last year. Burgeoning fiscal and current account deficits and a dip in revenues from tax collection are at the heart of the crisis. The authorities recognizes the need to address these challenges, as well as to tackle the large informality in the economy, the low spending in human capital, and poverty.PM Imran Khan initially appeared reluctant to approach the IMF for aid, fearing that it would impose stringent conditions on government policy. Instead, Kahn approached friendly nations to help Pakistan and secured billions of dollars from Saudi Arabia, UAE and China. But with inflation climbing to over 8%, the rupee was losing a third of its value over the past year, and foreign exchange reserves barely enough to cover two months of imports, which forced to turn to the IMF.
The IMF deal, with the austerity measures it will entail, will be a political blow to a Pakistani government that had promised to build out a new welfare state, The bailout announcement comes as discontent is already growing over measures Khan’s government has taken to fend off the crisis, including devaluing the rupee by some 30% since January 2018, sending inflation to five-years high. Khan came to power after winning a simple majority in last year’s parliamentary elections on promises to improve the country’s economy and provide jobs to people. But his critics say his government has so far not been able to honor his commitment to the masses. A government report published on Friday also noted that Pakistan’s growth rate is set to hit an eight-year low, with the country’s GDP rate likely to sink to 3.3% against a projected target of 6.2%. But some observers claim the IMF package will be beneficial to end the growing uncertainty and build investors’ confidence.
Pakistan is facing a challenging economic environment, with lackluster growth, elevated inflation, high indebtedness, and a weak external position. This reflects the legacy of uneven and pro-cyclical economic policies in recent years aiming to boost growth, but at the expense of rising vulnerabilities and lingering structural and institutional weaknesses. The State Bank of Pakistan will focus on reducing inflation, which disproportionately affects the poor, and safeguarding the financial stability. A market-determine exchange rate will help the functioning of the financial sector and contribute to a better resource allocation in the economy. The authorities are committed to strengthen the State Bank of Pakistan’s operational independence and mandate. The IMF sets tough conditions for bailout package for Pakistan. The IMF on Friday demanded the government to give State Bank authority to decide dollar rate and make National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA), Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA) independent. After months of difficult negotiations, under the deal, Pakistan would give up the central bank control of the currency to adopt a market-based exchange rate and take measures to improve the functioning of loss-making state-owned firms as well as curtail subsidies, among other things.
The deal will put an end to uncertainty and improve Pakistan’s financial situation. Even though it might have some negative impacts in the form of a rise in inflation, it will produce positive results in the long run. Since the past couple of years, the economy of Pakistan is passing through critical phase. Previous governments of President Asif Zardari and PM Nawaz Sharif took ad hoc decisions to boost the economic growth through borrowing from internal and external lenders. However, they put huge burden on already collapsing economy through offering subsidy to various state owned enterprises and increased public spending. The Pakistan International Airlines, Steel Mills, Railway and WAPDA are burdening national economy. Pakistan’s inability to collect taxes from huge financial magnets and deep rooted indirect financial market is another cause of economic crisis.
The present government is on fire due to economic crisis and high inflation. But it needs to take concrete steps for structural reforms. First and foremost is to end the subsidy and increase the tax collection through widening the tax net. The tax collection and subsidy termination will add generous figures into national exchequer. The government also needs to privatize the dead horses of Pakistan; i.e. Pakistan Railway, PIA, Steel Mills, WAPDA and many others. In the meantime, the government should start a comprehensive anti-corruption campaign and recover looted money, which can ease the economic problem. The government also can enlarge its revenue through inviting local and foreign investors in the Naya Pakistan Scheme. The minimum political influence and crackdown on black money mafia and Hawalla Hundi have potential to add billions of dollars in Pakistani economy. Last but not least, Pakistan require a brave and committed leadership to overcome its crumbling crisis. The successful implementation of structural reforms can turn present bailout package into lost, otherwise there will be many more to come.
Authors are Graduate Students of International Relations, at Women University of Azad Jammu & Kashmir, Bagh Pakistan
China’s Descending Rise
China is in a sustained economic slowdown. This is causing malignant unease among the political and economic leadership of the communist party in Beijing that governs China. Investing in China will be different, because:
“The country’s first sustained economic slowdown in a generation. China’s economic conditions have steadily worsened since the 2008 financial crisis. The country’s growth rate has fallen by half and is likely to plunge further in the years ahead, as debt, foreign protectionism, resource depletion, and rapid aging take their toll.”
Chinese social structures are under duress over their aging society. Formerly in the 1990s-early 2000s: “China had the greatest demographic dividend in history, with eight working-age adults for every citizen aged 65 or older.”
Once societies age, marital numbers decrease, and overall productivity plunges. China’s explosion of older citizens versus working-age will bring unique circumstances for global consumers. Factual evidence of slower productivity is evident throughout China, and will have to be considered for any financial or economic decision for decades ahead. The Chinese economic miracle bursting is largely due to aging demographics.
No one in western or eastern economic analysis circles or think tanks realistically saw this coming former President’s Deng Xiaoping opening of China. This was termed, “Socialism with Chinese characteristics (and/or) ‘socialist market economy,’” still ongoing. This slowdown will have deep ramifications for the global investment community, liberal order in place for over seventy-five years, and Chinese financial wealth that now spans the globe.
When countries age, and use reproductive rights to control populations, they become more assertive abroad, and repressive to its citizenry; this describes China’s social, political and economic philosophies that govern over a billion people. Since its one-child policy was enacted, Chinese economic productivity will plummet, “because it will lose 200 million workers and young consumers and gain 300 million seniors in the course of three decades.”
Suppressive economies have difficulty innovating, producing enough goods domestically, and integrating into world economic mechanisms that intends to distribute wealth globally. But this isn’t the first time these warnings have been made publicly.
Former Premier, Wen Jiabao gave a prescient declaration in March 2007 during the long march of economic progress when Mr. Jiabao had misgivings about China’s growth model by stating, “(Chinese growth had become) ‘unsteady, unbalanced, uncoordinated and unsustainable.” Recent numbers indicated China’s official GDP “has dropped from 15 percent to six percent – the slowest rate in 30 years.”
Expansionary Chinese growth hasn’t experience this level of downturn since the end of the Mao into post-Mao era. What this does for the Belt and Road Initiative that is paving the way for investments into Central Asia up to the Arctic Circle is uncertain? Deep investment difficulties could witness China stopping the flow of billions of infrastructure projects into countries and continents such as Africa desperate for growth.
Public figures from the Chinese government generally have the economy growing at six percent, but many analysts and economists peg the number(s) at “roughly half the official figure.” China’s GDP has consisted of bad debt that typical financial institutions and western governments will transfer from the state to public sector and ultimately costs passed onto consumers. For China’s wealth to increase when so much domestic wealth is spent on infrastructure projects to increase GDP these official numbers need context.
China has bridges, and cities full of empty office and apartment buildings, unused malls, and idle airports that do not increase economic productivity, and if that isn’t the case then infrastructure increasing economic measurements will decrease. Unproductive growth factors officially known are: “20 percent of homes are vacant, and ‘excess capacity’ in major industries tops 30 percent.” According to official Chinese estimates the government misallocated $6 trillion on “ineffective investment between 2009-14.” Debt now exceeds 300 percent of GDP.
What’s discovered is the amount of China’s GDP growth “has resulted from government’s pumping capital into the economy.” Private investments have trouble overtaking government stimulus spending, and Foreign Affairs ascertains “China’s economy may not be growing at all.”
Chinese economic growth – post-Mao – saw the country’s self-sufficiency in agriculture, energy, and water almost complete by the mid-2000s. Through economic malfeasance, population control, and resource decimation, “water has become scarce, and the country is importing more food and energy than any other nation.” Environmental degradation is destroying the basic necessities for every day survival.
This is where the world community and financial resources of east and west can meet needs, and grow interconnected, global economies. Energy is one of the biggest areas that China will engulf global energy supplies
The U.S. Energy Information Administration believes China will continue being the largest natural gas user in non-OECD Asia, and by 2050:
“Expects that China will consumer nearly three times as much natural gas as it did in 2018. China’s projected increase in natural gas consumption is greater than the combined growth of natural gas consumption in all other non-OECD Asian countries.”
Opportunities for liquid natural gas (LNG) facilities to be built globally, and in China to spur domestic and international economic activity are unlimited. As China goes, so goes Asia, and the world is now in the “Asian Century.” Investors, geopolitical strategists, and anyone concerned with global security should never believe it is wise to let China continue to falter economically and societally. Setting up investment mechanisms and diplomatic vehicles that benefit China, and the world community is a prudent choice.
When military choices defeat sound fiscal and monetary polices, the past 150 years have brought “nearly a dozen great powers experienced rapid economic growth followed by long slowdowns.” Normal, civilized behavior was pushed aside. What’s needed for Chinese economic growth is the free flow of information, managed wealth, consumer goods, and research/innovation.
Decades ahead, and current economic realities point to China being a great power that is under pressure, but still needs capital. A weak, unsecure China who isn’t satisfied with its place in the Asian hemisphere or global economic system isn’t good for continued prosperity. It would be smarter to engage and invest within China in the areas of energy, water, agriculture, and electricity where opportunities still abound.
Agribusiness: Africa’s New Investment Frontier
Authors: Mariam Yinusa and Edward Mabaya*
In the past decade, a stroll along the aisles of any African supermarket is revealing: there is a new wave of home-brewed brands that are fast becoming household names. Products like Dangote rice from Nigeria, Akabanga pepper oil from Rwanda and Tomoca coffee from Ethiopia attest to the gradual but persistent evolution towards greater agro-processing and value addition in the domestic agriculture sector.
Africa’s agribusiness sector is expected to reach $1 trillion by 2030, so there is certainly cause for optimism. Consumer demand for food in Africa is growing at an unprecedented rate. But what is fuelling this growth?
First, size matters. At a population of 1.2 billion people, Africa is currently the second most populous continent in the world, superseded only by Asia. According to United Nations projections, Africa’s population could reach 2 billion by 2030 and 2.5 billion by 2050. This means that one in five consumers globally will be African.
Second, quality counts. Sustained GDP growth rates in several countries across the continent have translated into rising incomes for some segments of the population. According to the African Development Bank’s African Economic Outlook Report, the middle-class population is expected is projected to reach 1.1 billion by 2060 which will make up 42% of the population. The average African middle-class consumer is becoming relatively more affluent, sophisticated and discerning in the food they choose to buy and eat. Concerns about price/quality trade-offs, convenience, nutritional content and food safety, amongst others, are central in their minds.
Third, concentration can be powerful. Although most growth poles are small to medium cities, megacities with populations of over 10 million inhabitants, such as Cairo, Lagos and Kinshasa, have gained increased prominence. These metropoles offer ripe opportunities for investment, as a result of the triad of high consumption, concentrated spending power, and agglomeration (i.e. lower and fixed distribution costs).
On the supply side, there is significant untapped potential. Over 60% of the world’s uncultivated arable land is in Africa.
Policy makers recognize the huge opportunities these trends present and are making concerted efforts to create and maintain an enabling business environment to attract both local and foreign investors. The African Development Bank is at the forefront of this coalition of the “ready” to transform African agriculture.
Under its Feed Africa Strategy, the Bank is supporting its regional member countries to address both demand and supply side constraints along agricultural value chains. Through initiatives like the Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT), the Bank is boosting historically low yields in priority commodities such as rice, maize and soybeans. In Sudan for example, the TAAT-supported heat-resistant wheat variety has increased wheat self-sufficiency from 24% in 2016 to 45% in the 2018-2019 farming season.
At the same time, Special Agro-Processing Zones (SAPZs) are attracting both hard and soft infrastructure and creating value addition to increased agricultural produce. Together with partners, including Korea-Exim Bank and the European Investment Bank, the African Development Bank has invested $120 million in SAPZs in Guinea, Ethiopia and Togo, which will significantly expand local agro-processing activities along numerous agricultural value chains.
Along with these key investments in Africa’s agricultural value chains, the continent is starting to consolidate its wins. A case in point is regional integration, exemplified by the recent ratification of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which has the potential to make Africa the largest free trade area in the world.
Agribusiness has already caught the eye of investors. Last year, it was one of the main attractions at the inaugural Africa Investment Forum conference, which is becoming the continent’s premier marketplace for global and pan-African business leaders, and an innovator in accelerating deals.
Agriculture was one of the nine sectors that attracted investor interest at the 2018 Africa Investment Forum. The sector held its own against big hitters like financial services, infrastructure, energy, and ICT. One such transaction was the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD) deal in which $600 million loan financing was mobilized from the African Development Bank and other investors to boost annual production of cocoa beans from 880,000 tons to 1.5 million tons. Within the next three years, the project is also expected to promote growth in the domestic cocoa value chain by increasing processing capacity two-fold from 220,000 tons to 450,000 tons per annum.
Africa’s expanding consumer base will undoubtedly lead to more spending on food and beverages on the continent. This should be enlightening for would-be investors in food processing and value addition ventures.
The front door to these opportunities is the Africa Investment Forum, scheduled for November 11-13 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
*Edward Mabaya, Principal Economist and Manager, respectively, in the Agribusiness Development Division of the African Development Bank.
Asian Reserve Managers Navigate Increasingly Complex Risks
Reserve asset management in Asian economies is becoming more and more complex.
There has been a marked shift in the reserve currency asset markets over the last year. Central bankers in developed markets have moved from policy normalization to an easing bias mainly due to macro-economic risks. This has resulted in a downward trend in yield curves of traditional reserve assets, and some asset markets have even sunk deeper into negative yield territory. The stock of negative yielding debt has doubled globally to $17 trillion as of August 2019 from $8 trillion as of December 2018.
The US Treasury market is one the last remaining positive yielding traditional reserve asset markets. Given this environment, reserve managers have ventured into “riskier” asset classes, including equities, exchange traded funds, corporate credits, and commodities for greater diversification and expected returns.
In fact, gold as a reserve asset has regained popularity. According to IMF data, central banks held 34,000 tons of gold as of Q1 2019, making it the third largest reserve asset in the world.
The current environment is marked by economic uncertainty as the effects of deepening trade tensions between the United States and the People’s Republic of China are being felt across Asia. Other risks—including the potential for a sharper slowdown in major advanced economies and rising geopolitical tensions in some other regions—have intensified investor anxiety and increased financial market volatility. This uncertainty has exacerbated the several challenges already faced by reserve asset managers in the previous years.
Foreign exchange reserves are a key component of the monetary and exchange rate policies in most countries. Developing economies have accumulated reserves at an impressive pace, after the global financial crisis of 2008 and 2009. Global holdings of reserves have grown at annualized rate of 4.8% since 2008 and now stand at $12.4 trillion. Asia has accounted for more than 55% of the total growth, mostly because of the trade dynamics in Asia and the importance policy makers place on reserve accumulation.
Traditionally, reserves are kept by emerging economies as a precautionary measure to build confidence in the currency, and as a stabilization mechanism against disorderly markets. However, reserve managers must now balance these with other motives as well. These include supporting the conduct of monetary policy; accumulating assets for intergenerational purposes; or influencing the exchange rate for export competitiveness.
Given the different motivations for holding reserves, the question of reserve adequacy and the associated cost of holding reserves assumes greater importance.
The growth of reserves has brought to the fore risk management issues like liquidity and concentration for the preservation of capital to be balanced with return considerations. Adequacy of reserves must be assessed against each objective and the portfolios segmented to address them.
Sovereign wealth funds, or SWFs, have grown as a structure to segment return objectives and provide the governance structure to achieve them. Globally, as of 2018, assets under management of SWFs have grown to $8 trillion. Governance standards around the management of SWFs have emerged as the Santiago principles set out a common global set of international standards regarding transparency, independence, and accountability for SWFs.
Reserve adequacy must consider assessments of developing risks through forward-looking scenario analysis. Such scenario analysis must consider the evolution of factors that drives reserve needs. However, each country is different. Advanced economies need different adequacy measures compared to emerging economies. The lessons from the global financial crisis has taught us that no country is immune from external or internal shocks. Reserves provide a valuable buffer in these stress events.
Reserve managers face a complex task in investing these resources. With emerging risks clouding the outlook for the global economy, balancing risks with return expectations and with the mandate to provide liquidity during market dislocations has become a more delicate predicament for them.
They must constantly monitor the operating environment as it can change quite dramatically in a short period of time with new challenges such as the emergence of new crytocurrencies. Challenges of reserve adequacy, asset concentration, and risk management will need to be assessed for sound and effective management of reserves. The role of reserve managers will assume even greater importance going forward.
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