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Government to Address Inflation and Low Domestic Productivity

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Adviser to Prime Minister on Finance & Revenue Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh has said the government is taking steps to tackle inflation and enhance domestic productivity through greater spending on the social safety net, improving cash transfer programme, ensuring greater ease of doing business and providing subsidized loans, electricity and gas to the exporters.

“The government has worked very hard to pull the economy out of the ICU as it was in 2018, and the stage is now set for greater stabilization and enhanced domestic productivity that would help overcome inflation, boost businesses and create more employment opportunities,” he said while talking to Ambassador of France Dr.

Marc Barety who called on the Adviser at Finance Division today. Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh said that the government was focusing on revitalising the agriculture sector and several mega projects had been approved for improving irrigation management, watercourses and construction of water storage facilities at the farm level. These projects are also aimed at productivity enhancement of various crops, oilseeds enhancement, cage culture development, shrimp farming cluster development and water conservation in arid areas.

He said the government had doubled the social safety budget from Rs 100 billion to Rs 190 billion while it had also recently revamped its cash transfer programme by replacing nearly 800,000 people with more deserving people. The government had also recently launched a special food package at a cost of Rs 7 billion to provide essential food items at reduced rates through the utility stores to the poor segment of population adversely affected by the food inflation.

On the macro front, he said the government had brought down the current account deficit from 20 billion dollars to 13 billion dollars and it would be further reduced to 8 billion dollars this year. Similarly, exports which had remained stagnant for almost five years had shown an upward trend. He said the revenue collection had jumped by 16 per cent and foreign direct investment had gone up by 280 per cent growth in the current financial year.

Similarly, Pakistan’s exchange rate had begun to stabilize due to enhanced external flows while Pakistan Stock Exchange had been declared by Bloomberg as the best performing market in the world. France Ambassador to Pakistan Dr Marc Barety said he was impressed with the good work done by the government in Pakistan to introduce institutional reforms and achieve stability and growth. He said both France and Pakistan enjoyed an excellent relationship and hoped this relationship would further deepen in coming days through greater economic collaborations and business partnerships.

Development

Gov’t releases Rs 533.33 billion for various development projects so far

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Islamabad: The federal government has so far authorized release of Rs 533.33 billion for various ongoing and new social sector uplift projects under its Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) 2019-20, as against the total allocation of Rs 701 billion.

Under its development programme, the government has released an amount of Rs 230.3 billion for federal ministries, Rs 175.65 billion for corporations and Rs 43.46 billion for special areas, according to a latest data released by Ministry of Planning, Development and Reform.

Out of these allocations, the government released Rs 38.5 billion for security enhancement in the country for which the government had allocated Rs 53 billion during the year 2019-20.

An amount of Rs 81.37 billion has also been released for the blocks managed by finance division under the government’s 10 years development programme.

Similarly, for Higher Education Commission, the government released an amount of Rs 27.07 billion out of its total allocation of Rs 29 billion while Rs 301.47 million were released for Pakistan Nuclear Energy Authority for which the government had allocated Rs 301.48 million in the development budget.

For National Highway Authority, the government released Rs154.94 billion. Under annual development agenda, the government also released Rs 10.7 billion for Railways Division out of total allocation of Rs16 billion, Rs 7.7 billion for Interior Division, and Rs 8.38 billion for National Health Services, Regulations, and Coordination Division.

Revenue Division received Rs 4.3 billion whereas the Cabinet Division also received Rs 30.18 billion for which an amount of Rs 39.986 billion has been allocated for the year 2019-20.

The government also released Rs 26.9 billion for Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) block and other projects out of its allocations of Rs 27.26 billion and Rs 16.54 billion for Gilgit Baltistan (Block and other projects).

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Covid-19

World Bank Predicts Sharpest Decline of Remittances in Recent History

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Global remittances are projected to decline sharply by about 20 percent in 2020 due to the economic crisis induced by the COVID-19 pandemic and shutdown. The projected fall, which would be the sharpest decline in recent history, is largely due to a fall in the wages and employment of migrant workers, who tend to be more vulnerable to loss of employment and wages during an economic crisis in a host country. Remittances to low and middle-income countries (LMICs) are projected to fall by 19.7 percent to $445 billion, representing a loss of a crucial financing lifeline for many vulnerable households.

Studies show that remittances alleviate poverty in lower- and middle-income countries, improve nutritional outcomes, are associated with higher spending on education, and reduce child labor in disadvantaged households. A fall in remittances affect families’ ability to spend on these areas as more of their finances will be directed to solve food shortages and immediate livelihoods needs.

Remittances are a vital source of income for developing countries. The ongoing economic recession caused by COVID-19 is taking a severe toll on the ability to send money home and makes it all the more vital that we shorten the time to recovery for advanced economies,” said World Bank Group President David Malpass. “Remittances help families afford food, healthcare, and basic needs. As the World Bank Group implements fast, broad action to support countries, we are working to keep remittance channels open and safeguard the poorest communities’ access to these most basic needs.”

The World Bank is assisting member states in monitoring the flow of remittances through various channels, the costs and convenience of sending money, and regulations to protect financial integrity that affect remittance flows. It is working with the G20 countries and the global community to reduce remittance costs and improve financial inclusion for the poor.

Remittance flows are expected to fall across all World Bank Group regions, most notably in Europe and Central Asia (27.5 percent), followed by Sub-Saharan Africa (23.1 percent), South Asia (22.1 percent), the Middle East and North Africa (19.6 percent), Latin America and the Caribbean (19.3 percent), and East Asia and the Pacific (13 percent).

The large decline in remittances flows in 2020 comes after remittances to LMICs reached a record $554 billion in 2019. Even with the decline, remittance flows are expected to become even more important as a source of external financing for LMICs as the fall in foreign direct investment is expected to be larger (more than 35 percent). In 2019, remittance flows to LMICs became larger than FDI, an important milestone for monitoring resource flows to developing countries.

In 2021, the World Bank estimates that remittances to LMICs will recover and rise by 5.6 percent to $470 billion. The outlook for remittance remains as uncertain as the impact of COVID-19 on the outlook for global growth and on the measures to restrain the spread of the disease. In the past, remittances have been counter-cyclical, where workers send more money home in times of crisis and hardship back home. This time, however, the pandemic has affected all countries, creating additional uncertainties.

Effective social protection systems are crucial to safeguarding the poor and vulnerable during this crisis in both developing countries as well as advanced countries. In host countries, social protection interventions should also support migrant populations,” said Michal Rutkowski, Global Director of the Social Protection and Jobs Global Practice at the World Bank.

The global average cost of sending $200 remains high at 6.8 percent in the first quarter of 2020, only slightly below the previous year. Sub-Saharan Africa continued to have the highest average cost, at about 9 percent, yet intra-regional migrants in Sub-Saharan Africa comprise over two-thirds of all international migration from the region.

Quick actions that make it easier to send and receive remittances can provide much-needed support to the lives of migrants and their families. These include treating remittance services as essential and making them more accessible to migrants,” said Dilip Ratha, lead author of the Brief and head of KNOMAD.


Regional Remittance Trends

Remittance flows to the East Asia and Pacific region grew by 2.6 percent to $147 billion in 2019, about 4.3 percentage points lower than the growth rate in 2018. In 2020, remittance flows are expected to decline by 13 percent. The slowdown is expected to be driven by declining inflows from the United States, the largest source of remittances to the region. Several remittance-dependent countries such as those in the Pacific Islands could see households at risk as remittance incomes decline over this period. A recovery of 7.5 percent growth for the region is anticipated in 2021. Remittance costs: The average cost of sending $200 to the East Asia and Pacific region dropped to 7.13 percent in the first quarter of 2020, compared to the same quarter in 2019. The five lowest cost corridors in the region averaged 2.6 percent while the five highest cost corridors averaged 15.4 percent as of 2019 Q4.

Remittances to countries in Europe and Central Asia remained strong in 2019, growing by about 6 percent to $65 billion in 2019. Ukraine remained the largest recipient of remittances in the region, receiving a record high of nearly $16 billion in 2019. Smaller remittance-dependent economies in the region, such as Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, particularly benefited from rebound of economic activity in Russia. In 2020, remittances are estimated to fall by about 28 percent due to the combined effect of the global coronavirus pandemic and lower oil prices. 

Remittance costs: The average cost of sending $200 to the ECA region declined modestly to 6.48 percent in the first quarter of 2020 from 6.67 percent a year earlier. The differences in costs across corridors in the region are substantial; the highest costs for sending remittances were from Turkey to Bulgaria, while the lowest costs for sending remittances were from Russia to Azerbaijan.

Remittances flows into Latin America and the Caribbean grew 7.4 percent to $96 billion in 2019. Growth in inflows was uneven across countries in the region. Brazil, Guatemala and Honduras saw a rise in remittances of more than 12 percent in 2019. Colombia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Panama had an increase of more than 6 percent, while remittances to Bolivia and Paraguay declined by 3.8 percent and 2.2 percent, respectively.

In 2020, remittance flows to the region is estimated to fall by 19.3 percent. Remittance costs: The average cost of sending $200 to the region was 5.97 percent in the first quarter of 2020. Amid the COVID-19 crisis, the costs of transferring remittances to the region could increase due to operational challenges being faced by remittance service providers (closures of agents and offices, access to cash, foreign exchange, security) and compliance with AML/CFT regulations.

Remittances to the Middle East and North Africa region are projected to fall by 19.6 percent to $47 billion in 2020, following the 2.6 percent growth seen in 2019. The anticipated decline is attributable to the global slowdown as well as the impact of lower oil prices in GCC countries. Remittances from the euro area would also be impacted by the area’s pre-COVID-19 economic slowdown and the depreciation of the euro against the U.S. dollar.

In 2021, remittances to the region is expected to recover, albeit at a slow pace of around 1.6 percent due to projected moderate growth in the euro area and weak GCC outflows. Remittance costs: The cost of sending $200 to the region was 7 percent, largely unchanged from the previous year. Costs vary greatly across corridors. The cost of sending money from high-income OECD countries to Lebanon continues to be in the double digits. Sending money from GCC countries to Egypt and Jordan costs between 3 percent to 5 percent in some corridors. The Saudi Arabia to Syria corridor has experienced a dramatic fall in costs as the civil war in Syria has receded.

Remittances to South Asia are projected to decline by 22 percent to $109 billion in 2020, following the growth of 6.1 percent in 2019. The deceleration in remittances to the South Asian region in 2020 is driven by the global economic slowdown due to the coronavirus outbreak as well as oil price declines. The economic slowdown is likely to directly affect remittance outflows from the United States, the United Kingdom, and EU countries to South Asia.

Falling oil prices will affect remittance outflows from GCC countries and Malaysia. Remittance costs: South Asia had the lowest average remittance costs of any region, at 4.95 percent. Some of the lowest-cost corridors had costs below the 3 percent SDG target. This is probably due to high volumes, competitive markets, and deployment of technology. But costs are well over 10 percent in the highest-cost corridors due to low volumes, little competition, and regulatory concerns. Banking regulations related to AML/CFT raise the risk profile of remittance service providers and thereby increase costs for some receiving countries such as Afghanistan and sending countries such as Pakistan.

Remittances to Sub-Saharan Africa registered a small decline of 0.5 percent to $48 billion in 2019. Due to the COVID-19 crisis, remittance flows to the region are expected to decline by 23.1 percent to reach $37 billion in 2020, while a recovery of 4 percent is expected in 2021. The anticipated decline can be attributed to a combination of factors driven by the coronavirus outbreak in key destinations where African migrants reside including in the EU area, the United States, the Middle East, and China.

These large economies host a large share of Sub-Saharan African migrants and combined, are a source of close to a quarter of total remittances sent to the region. In addition to the pandemic’s impact, many countries in the Eastern Africa region are experiencing a severe outbreak of desert locusts attacking crops and threatening the food supply for people in the region. 

Remittance costs: Sending $200 remittances to the region cost 8.9 percent on average in the first quarter of 2020, a modest decrease compared with the average cost of 9.25 percent a year before. The most expensive corridors are observed mainly in the Southern African region, with costs as high as 20 percent. At the other end of the spectrum, the less expensive corridors had average costs of less than 3.6 percent.

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Development

When stock markets are at odds with the economists

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For those who believe financial markets are completely divorced from economic reality, the past few weeks have thrown up some conclusive proof for their case.

Just a couple of examples illustrate the point. Deutsche Bank has published a survey of the US jobs market showing that over the past four weeks, some 25 million jobs were lost in America as the pandemic-ravaged economy ground to a halt. That is more than have been created since the end of the global financial crisis in 2009.

Another example: Goldman Sachs has calculated that the world’s developed economies — the US, Europe and Japan — will shrink by as much as 35 percent in the current quarter compared to the first three months of the year, which were not exactly buoyant anyway. That is four times the previous record set for economic contraction during the global financial crisis.

Against the background of these figures — cataclysmic by any normal economic standards — the financial markets have been quixotic. The S&P Index, the Wall Street benchmark, last month suffered its biggest one-day fall in more than three decades, in a period of almost consistent declines.

Then, towards the end of the month, the index roared ahead again, with three consecutive days of big rises after the US Congress launched its financial “bazooka” in the form of a $2 trillion support package. President Donald Trump, who lives and breathes by the stock indices, was able to proclaim another triumph.

The S&P is still well off the exuberant levels of mid-February, which was the apex of the Trump bull run, but at least the downward plummet has been halted. Goldman Sachs, the same bank that came out with those awful economic statistics, recently said that stocks were unlikely to go any further, partly because of the “do what it takes” attitude of the Trump administration and Congress.

Goldman’s other reason for some optimism was that the virus curves were beginning to flatten out in some parts of the world, and more economic policymakers — not least Trump — were beginning to talk about when they might hope to open up their economies. The prospect of a complete economic collapse was “precluded,” Goldman said.

Others pointed to flaws in both arguments. Having fired the big bazooka, the US authorities have little ammunition left to counter a second financial market threat, perhaps from the ballooning market in corporate debt, or some other aspect of the shadow-banking system.

The truly frightening historical perspective comes on calculating when shares finally recovered to pre-Black Monday levels. It was not until 1955, one economic great depression and one world war later.

______Frank Kane

While there have been some encouraging signs that the pandemic is starting to level out, especially in Asia and some European countries, there are huge parts of the world — India, Africa, South America — where there is no or insufficient evidence to make such a call. Large swathes of the global economy could be affected for many months to come.

For financial markets, there is a more immediate danger: Corporate profits for the first half of the year will be catastrophic. Many companies have just gone through the worst quarter of their existence, and profits will be non-existent.

Equity markets still pay great attention to the “price-earnings ratio” which values the shares according to a multiple of the earnings per share. It will be mathematically impossible to determine this when there is no “earnings” value to compute.

Stock markets may comfort themselves by looking to the future, in the hope of a sharp V-shaped recovery towards the end of the year.

But if they look to the past, the perspective is much scarier. In 1929, in the Great Crash — which some experts believe is a more accurate model for our current predicament than the 2008 crisis — shares crashed famously on Black Monday. But they continued falling for another two years, despite lots of little upward blips along the way. The final bottom was not reached until 1932.

The truly frightening historical perspective comes on calculating when shares finally recovered to pre-Black Monday levels. It was not until 1955, one economic great depression and one world war later.

  • Frank Kane is an award-winning business journalist based in Dubai. Twitter: @frankkanedubai
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