Story by Reuters
The rupee continued to fall to record lows on Friday, after the government agreed in principle to a $6 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The rupee, which lost 3.6 per cent on Thursday to close at 146.2 against the US dollar in the interbank market, dropped further on Friday, dealers said, selling at Rs149.50 in the interbank market and Rs150 in the open market.
The fall reflects the IMF’s condition for a “market-based exchange rate mechanism, which will see limited intervention by the central bank now,” said Saad Hashmi, chief economist and research director at Topline Securities in Karachi.
The stock market also declined on Friday, with the benchmark KSE-100 index shedding 804.5 points to close at 33,166.6, down 2.4 per cent.
The market opening at 33,971 remained today’s high, whereas the benchmark KSE-100 Index hit a day’s low at 33,006 points. As many as 63.3 million shares — worth Rs2.7 billion — of the benchmark index companies changed hands during the session.
According to a Topline Securities advisory, the fall in the index level is due to devaluation of rupee against dollar for last two working days, expected hike in policy rate in the next monetary policy meeting on Monday, and selling pressure from mutual funds [net selling of US$14m in 4 sessions].
While the exact conditions of a final IMF deal are still unknown, Sunday’s Staff-Level accord, which must still be approved by the Fund’s board in Washington, said a “market-determined” exchange rate would help the financial sector.
That pointed to less support from the State Bank of Pakistan, which at present underpins the rupee in a de facto managed float system.
Late on Thursday, the SBP issued a statement saying the sharp fall in the rupee “reflects demand and supply conditions in the foreign exchange market” and would help in correcting market imbalances.
However, the drop presents a political problem for the government, which came to power last year promising to build a new social welfare system and vowing not to seek what would be Pakistan’s 13th bailout since the 1980s.
With the economy facing a sharp slowdown in growth, the government is expected to have to raise taxes or impose heavy spending cuts to reduce its ballooning budget deficit at a time when household budgets are increasingly squeezed.
While many analysts see the rupee as overvalued and say the SBP has wasted billions defending it, a weaker currency is likely to fuel inflation, which is already over 8pc, with power and fuel prices hit especially hard.
Hashmi noted market talk that oil imports were already facing payment pressure.
The SBP, which is due to announce its latest interest rate decision on Monday, said late on Thursday that its foreign exchange reserves fell $138 million in the week ending May 10 to $8.846 billion, less than needed to cover three months of imports.
Photo by AFP