Pakistan rupee set to come under more pressure

Though government denies it, analysts believe national currency will be further devalued. (AFP)
Updated 27 May 2018

Pakistan rupee set to come under more pressure

  • Exchange companies are required to maintain record of all buy and sell transactions equivalent to $500
  • Dollar supply declines from $3m per day to only $1m as buyer and seller decline to share identification data

KARACHI: The Pakistan rupee could face further pressure this week, in the midst of the country’s chronic foreign currency shortage and speculation of a third currency devaluation, analysts said.
The currency, which has been exposed to rising external financing requirements and lower remittances, touched 119.05 rupees to the dollar on Friday, closing at 118.70 rupees to the dollar on Saturday in the open market.
“People think that in coming days the rupee would be further under pressure due to increasing demand for the dollar so they start buying anticipating a dollar shortage,” Zeeshan Afzal, executive director-research at Insight Securities, told Arab News.
“Perception and real need (demand) drives the currency exchange market in both ways,” he said.
The rupee has been impacted by Pakistan’s historic high current account deficit of $14 billion that has widened because of increasing imports, insufficient exports and workers’ remittances.
“In Ramadan, the inflow of remittances has declined, demand for dollar from those going for Umrah has increased,” Muzamil Aslam, senior economist and CEO of EFG-Hermes Pakistan told Arab News.
Ratings agency Moody’s Investors Service last week forecast that the rupee could weaken to 125 to the dollar by June of next year.
The country’s central bank has already let the currency decline by 10 percent against the dollar in the past six months via devaluations in December and March.
Demand for dollars usually comes from general public, investors and importers, said Afzal.
“As our imports are more than our exports and other foreign exchange inflows, the pressure on US dollar (reserves) keeps mounting,” he said.


Pakistan is also taking steps against money laundering as part of its international commitment to combat terror financing, ahead of a meeting of the Financial Action Task Force meeting in June, when Pakistan will be greylisted.
As part of the measures, State Bank of Pakistan recently directed currency exchange companies to maintain records of identification documents of customers for all foreign currency transactions worth $500 or more, in line with similar thresholds in other international jurisdictions.
“The move of State Bank of Pakistan is aimed at documenting the transactions in order to discourage terror financing,” said Afzal, who added that such requirements had little impact on exchange rates.
But foreign exchange dealers have claimed that lowering the transaction threshold for identification requirements from $2,500 to $500 has negatively impacted business.
“Our daily surplus supply of dollar was around $3 million per day until a week ago, when the central bank’s measures were not enforced,”,Malik Bostan, president of the Forex Association of Pakistan, told Arab News.
“Now the supply is now down to only $1 million per day as currency exchange business has shifted to unregistered dealers.”
“There are around 30,000 unlicensed currency dealers all over Pakistan,” he claimed, adding that the majority of buyers and sellers do not want to share their identification and choose to go to unregistered dealers.
“We have asked the central bank to come up with necessary laws to protect registered currency dealers,” Bostan said. 
“Despite facing adverse business situation we have assured our support to central bank to take whatever steps are needed to get the Pakistan off the grey list of FATF.”
He said that the pressure on the dollar was unusual in the month of Ramadan when dollar inflows typically rise.


Pakistan's current account deficit has reached a historic high of about $14 billion.

Malaysia reviews China infrastructure plans

Malaysia’s former PM Najib Razak (AFP)
Updated 18 June 2018

Malaysia reviews China infrastructure plans

  • Malaysia's scandal-mired former PM Najib Razak signed a string of deals for Beijing-funded projects, including a major rail link and a deep-sea port.
  • New Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has announced a planned high-speed rail link between Kuala Lumpur and neighboring Singapore will not go ahead as he seeks to reduce the country’s huge national debt.

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia has been a loyal partner in China’s globe-spanning infrastructure drive, but its new government is to review Beijing-backed projects, threatening key links in the much-vaunted initiative.

Kuala Lumpur’s previous regime, led by scandal-mired Najib Razak, had warm ties with China, and signed a string of deals for Beijing-funded projects, including a major rail link and a deep-sea port.

But the long-ruling coalition was unexpectedly voted out last month by an electorate alienated by allegations of corruption and rising living costs.

Critics have said that many agreements lacked transparency, fueling suspicions they were struck in exchange for help to pay off debts from the financial scandal which ultimately helped bring down Najib’s regime.

The new government, led by political heavyweight Mahathir Mohammed, has pledged to review Chinese deals seen as dubious, calling into question Malaysia’s status as one of Beijing’s most cooperative partners in its infrastructure push.

China launched its initiative to revive ancient Silk Road trading routes with a global network of ports, roads and railways — dubbed “One Belt, One Road” —  in 2013.

Malaysia and Beijing ally Cambodia were seen as bright spots in Southeast Asia, with projects in other countries often facing problems, from land acquisition to drawn-out negotiations with governments.

“Malaysia under Najib moved quickly to approve and implement projects,” Murray Hiebert, a senior associate from think-tank the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told AFP.

Chinese foreign direct investment into Malaysia stood at just 0.8 percent of total net FDI inflows in 2008, but that figure had risen to 14.4 percent by 2016, according to a study from Singapore’s ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.

However, Hiebert said it was “widely assumed” that Malaysia was striking quick deals with China in the hope of getting help to cover debts from sovereign wealth fund 1MDB.

Najib and his associates were accused of stealing huge sums of public money from the investment vehicle in a massive fraud. Public disgust at the allegations — denied by Najib and 1MDB — helped topple his government.

Malaysia’s first change of government in six decades has left Najib facing a potential jail term.

New Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has announced a planned high-speed rail link between Kuala Lumpur and neighboring Singapore will not go ahead as he seeks to reduce the country’s huge national debt.

The project was in its early stages and had not yet received any Chinese funding as part of “One Belt, One Road.” But Chinese companies were favorites to build part of the line, which would have constituted a link in a high-speed route from China’s Yunnan province to trading hub Singapore, along which Chinese goods could have been transported for export.

Work has already started in Malaysia on another line seen as part of that route, with Chinese funding — the $14-billion East Coast Rail Link, running from close to the Thai border to a port near Kuala Lumpur.

Mahathir has said that agreement is now being renegotiated.

Other Chinese-funded initiatives include a deep-sea port in Malacca, near important shipping routes, and an enormous industrial park.

It is not clear yet which projects will be amended but experts believe axing some will be positive.

Alex Holmes, Asia economist for Capital Economics, backed canceling some initiatives, citing “Malaysia’s weak fiscal position and that some of the projects are of dubious economic value.”

The Chinese foreign ministry did not respond to request for comment.


What is the "ne Belt, One Road" initiative?

The “One Belt, One Road” initiative, started in 2013, has come to define the economic agenda of President Xi Jinping. It aims to revive ancient Silk Road trading routes with a network of ports, roads and railways.