SBP leaves interest rate unchanged at 7%

Decision taken to support economic activities that are at risk due to Covid-19

Salman Siddiqui November 24, 2020
State Bank of Pakistan. PHOTO: FILE

In line with market expectations, Pakistan’s central bank kept the benchmark interest rate unchanged at 7% for the next two months to support economic activities which were at risk of losing growth momentum due to a spike in Covid-19 cases.

The economic recovery has gradually come back on track in line with expectations for growth of slightly above 2% in the ongoing fiscal yearand business sentiment has improved further.

“Nevertheless, there are risks to the outlook,” the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) said in its bi-monthly Monetary Policy Statement (MPS) issued on Monday.

While it could take some time to fully implement worldwide, “there has been recent encouraging news on vaccine development,” it said.

Besides, the lagged effect of the significant fiscal, monetary and credit stimulus injection during the pandemic should continue to shore up growth in coming quarters.

The central bank revises the benchmark interest rate to control inflation and let economic activities expand.

Given the broadly unchanged outlook for growth and inflation, the monetary policy committee (MPC) of the central bank viewed “the existing stance of monetary policy as appropriate to support the nascent recovery while keeping inflation expectations well anchored and maintaining financial stability.”

Though inflation reading remained elevated at 9% in the last two months (September and October), the bank strongly believed that the reading would stay within its projection of 7-9% during the ongoing full fiscal year.

Inflation returned to higher levels in the past couple of months mainly due to increase in food prices as agricultural production remained low compared to domestic demand. “These supply-side pressures are likely to be temporary,” it said.

The central bank observed that economic activities had gained momentum in the middle of the pandemic. Recent data suggests that a further strengthening and broadening of the recovery was observed since July, led by construction and manufacturing.

Sales of fast moving consumer goods (FMCGs) rebounded in the first quarter (July-September) of FY21, average sales volume of petroleum oil products and automobiles surpassed pre-Covid levels of FY20 and cement sales were at an all-time high. Large-scale manufacturing (LSM) continued to rebound, expanding 4.8% in the first quarter compared to a contraction of 5.5% in the same quarter of last year. Nine out of 15 major manufacturing sectors showed gains, including textile, food and beverages, petroleum products, paper and board, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, cement, fertiliser and rubber products.

“The recovery was being supported by the stimulus provided by the government, the round of policy rate cuts and the SBP’s timely measures to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 pandemic. These measures included principal extension and loan restructuring, payroll financing and Temporary Economic Refinance Facility (TERF) which injected liquidity, reduced layoffs and provided incentives for investment,” the MPC noted during the meeting.

In agriculture, the impact of the expected decline in cotton production was likely to be offset by growth in other major crops and higher wheat production due to rise in support prices and recently announced subsidies on fertilisers and pesticides, it said.

While social distancing continues to weigh more heavily on certain parts of the services sector, wholesale and retail trade and transportation are expected to benefit from the knock-on impact of the ongoing pickup in construction, manufacturing and agriculture, the statement added.

External sector

The sizable current account surplus of $1.2 billion in first four months (July-October) against a deficit of $1.4 billion in the same period of last year and improving outlook and sentiment for the economy supported a 3.5% appreciation in the rupee since the last MPC (in September) and further strengthened external buffers, with SBP’s foreign exchange reserves increasing to $12.9 billion, their highest level since February 2018.

“Based on the performance, the outlook for the external sector has improved further and the current account deficit for FY21 is now projected to be below 2% of GDP (gross domestic product),” it said.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 24th, 2020.

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