Pakistan is expected to receive an inflow of up to $500 million in foreign portfolio investment should the MSCI reclassify it as an emerging market in its upcoming annual review in May, says Next Capital CEO Najam Ali.
MSCI is a leading provider of international investment decision support tools. Assets of more than $9.5 trillion are estimated to be benchmarked to MSCI indices worldwide.
Speaking to The Express Tribune last week, Ali said his conversations with foreign fund managers show Pakistan should expect “significantly better” investments after MSCI upgrades its status from Frontier Market (FM) to Emerging Market (EM).
Global institutional investors use different MSCI indices – such as frontier, emerging, China and US markets – to create balanced portfolios to generate maximum returns while keeping in view their overall risk appetite.
Ali’s comments follow several bouts of volatility on the Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSX) that were triggered by an unrelenting foreign sell-off.
In fact, foreign selling was one of the main reasons for the flat performance of the PSX in 2015, as the net outflow of foreign investment amounted to $317.3 million. In contrast, there was a net inflow of $382.5 million in 2014, resulting in a 33% rise in the benchmark index. Investors’ confidence in the stock market remains shaky, as most blue-chip shares continue to take a battering.
Pakistan was part of MSCI EM between 1994 and 2008. However, the temporary closure of the Karachi Stock Exchange in 2008 led MSCI to remove it from EM and classify it as a “standalone country index”. MSCI made Pakistan a part of FM in May 2009 and it has remained as such since then.
Currently, six Pakistani companies – Engro Corp, MCB Bank, Habib Bank, United Bank, OGDC and Fauji Fertilizers – meet the size and liquidity criteria of MSCI for EM. A company must have market capitalisation of $1.3 billion to be part of EM as opposed to $670 million for FM. Similarly, the EM requirement for minimum free float is $670 million as opposed to $52 million for FM.
Pakistan’s weight in the MSCI FM Index is 8.9%. Its weight in the MSCI EM Index will be approximately 0.17%. “Most FM funds will continue their investment in Pakistan as long as the improving macro theme is intact,” Ali said, adding that EM funds will also start investing in Pakistan post-reclassification. “If Pakistan’s macro story improves further, we can expect a significantly higher level of inflows.”
Qatar and UAE underwent an MSCI upgrade recently. Both markets witnessed “dramatically positive impacts” when their reclassification to MSCI EM was announced in May 2013, Ali said. “UAE saw a 40% re-rating in the price-to-earnings multiples between May 2013 and May 2014 while the re-rating in Qatar over the same period was 45%,” he added.
Currently 15 companies on the PSX have a market capitalisation of more than $1 billion. More companies will qualify for MSCI EM with better liquidity and free float, he added.
Time to buy
Ali said nothing in the Pakistani market should worry international investors. “Foreign funds are receiving redemption requests, which means they have to offload investments locally as well. But foreigners are selling only a handful of Pakistani stocks. Why should the rest of the market fall? It is time for locals to buy.”
He suggested that the finance minister should set up a market stability fund of Rs20 billion under the state-owned asset management company with the sole objective of absorbing any foreign selling. “It will restore investors’ confidence in the market. The economy is doing well, so should the stock market,” he said.
The writer is a staff correspondent
Published in The Express Tribune, January 25th, 2016.