Pakistan’s central bank, State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) has recently released its Annual Report for the financial year ended 30th June 2016. The Report is full of praises of the economic managers for achieving targets under prevailing difficult circumstances. However, it also highlights the serious problems facing the country. The bottom line is that unless right structural reforms are undertaken the country may once again plunge deeper in serious crises, worst being balance of payment crisis. I would talk about praises later as I consider it my ardent duty to first highlight the problems facing the country.
Notwithstanding these positive macroeconomic stability gains, the Report highlights some challenges as well. Firstly, the current level of private investments and savings in the country needs acceleration to keep pace with required investible resources. Secondly, structural issues in the export industry need to be resolved. Thirdly, the reliance of the tax system on stop-gap measures is creating distortions in the economy. Finally, the country needs to spend more on social sector development to address social issues.
The Report, considers Pakistan to be well positioned to address these challenges. It anticipates all-important support coming from a stable macroeconomic environment and growing investments in CPEC-related projects. These would help improve the existing infrastructure and power supplies to businesses. Some analysts don’t agree with this rationalization.
The Report recognizes the positive impact of improved macroeconomic environment, better energy supplies, and subsiding security concerns. The central bank believes that in addition to CPEC, economic activity would benefit from pro-growth policies. It specifically says that the current policy rate, at a historic low of 5.75 percent has made funding easier for businesses and consumers. Similarly, growing development spending, despite a planned reduction in budget deficit, would continue to support infrastructure-related industries. One also tends to disagree with this because bulk of the deposits are being invested by commercial banks in government securities rather than extended to private sector.
The Report further explains that though some macroeconomic indicators were short of targets, they still posted better performance over the last year. For instance, real GDP growth of 4.7 percent during FY16 was below its target, but nevertheless higher than the growth achieved a year earlier. Meanwhile, the accumulation of the country’s foreign exchange reserves reached an all-time high level at end FY16; the exchange rate remained stable; and CPI inflation fell to only 2.9 percent during the year. Similarly, fiscal consolidation remained on track, and the budget deficit was reduced to 4.6 percent of GDP – the lowest since FY07. All this is not due to any good policies adopted by the government but lower international prices of crude oil.
The government envisages a GDP growth of 5.7 percent for FY17. The current account deficit is likely to stay in the range of 0.5 – 1.5 percent of GDP during the current financial year. The Report draws attention to the IMF program’s contribution in restoring macroeconomic stability and confidence of international creditors. Crucially, it maintains that the reform process – related to energy-sector, loss-making PSEs (like PSM, PIA), and business-friendly regulations – must continue after the IMF program’s completion.
Finally, the Report reiterates that without private sector participation, it will be hard to achieve a higher and sustainable growth that is built on the pillars of entrepreneurship, innovation and competitiveness.
The detailed Report is available at SBP website www.sbp.org.pk