Perhaps the only thing we know for sure now is that nobody knows what is coming.
Never before have we seen the wheels of the economy grind so comprehensively to a halt. The first working day after the lockdown in Sindh saw an announcement of a Rs1.25 trillion stimulus package for the economy, which makes it the largest such package ever announced in the country’s history.
The day before, the army spokesman — Lt. Gen Iftikhar Babar — described the virus as “the most serious threat we have faced in living memory.” The same day as the stimulus was unveiled, the State Bank announced a 1.5 percentage point cut in interest rates in an extraordinary monetary policy statement that was hastily organised out of schedule.
Nobody in the business and industrial community can remember a time like this. Not the sanctions following the nuclear detonations of 1998, or the earthquake of 2005 or the Great Financial Crisis of 2008 or the floods of 2010 carry many lessons to help us see and prepare for what might be coming. Key centres of decision-making in the federal and provincial government have an idea of what is coming — a tsunami of critically ill people landing up in public hospitals — but there are few models or projections to help us understand how far this will go.
The public health emergency that is brewing around the country is one thing. The lockdowns and the enormous cost that they will exact is another. Of course, there is no trade-off here, in the sense that we are not choosing between protecting lives or livelihoods. The two are linked and a pandemic is harder to control once it has crossed a certain threshold. Whatever their cost, the lockdowns are necessary to ensure that this public health emergency does not turn into an outright catastrophe.
THE COMING STORM
Between the lockdowns and the pandemic, where is the economy — already reeling from a recession — headed? At the epicentre of the coming storm will be the sheer number of critically ill people who will need varying levels of care, from quarantine to hospitalisation to intensive care. Though they are not making these numbers public, according to some sources within the decision-making centres, the provincial governments in Sindh and Punjab seem to be preparing to meet the needs of up to 80,000 such patients between four to eight weeks on. Whether they see this as the peak is not yet known.
Further out there will be the needs of the poor, or those who live just at or below the subsistence line in Pakistan. There are close to five million people identified in this group, whose particulars are available in the so-called National Socioeconomic Registry (NSER), which is the database that was the centre of the Benazir Income Support Programme.
After them there is the class of daily wagers. These are the mass of largely unskilled or low-skilled people who work in industry, services and agriculture, and rely on daily wages to meet their needs. Karachi industry circles estimate that up to four million daily wagers work in Karachi alone, whereas the government of Punjab is working with estimates of up to four million in the whole province. These people are most likely not part of the NSER database and do not show up in any formal sector employee or payrolls data either. These are some of the neediest people in times of lockdowns, yet they pose a big challenge when building a social protection programme for their income support needs because they are very difficult to locate.
In the stimulus package Rs50bn has been included specifically for this purpose, which is expenditure on top of what the provincial governments are already spending for the fight. Then comes the cost of income support and ration packs that have to be provided to the vulnerable sections, from the poor to the daily wagers and the unemployed. Even assuming Rs500 per day as the basic requirement for a household of 7, with 10 million deserving households, this means Rs5bn per day, or Rs150bn per month.
After them come the unemployed. These will include skilled workers, even lower management who might look like they live well (they will have an apartment and own a car), but have very little capacity to weather a few months without a paycheque.
These are some of the class of people who will also need help, to varying degrees, if the lockdowns are to persist for two months or more. If one looks only at the bottom two quintiles of our income population, there are close to 84 million people, living in 11 million households, according to some estimates. How many of these should the state have to look out for in the event of a prolonged lockdown?
Nobody knows how this ends. Will we succeed in defeating the virus, or will it simply work its way through the population and die or mutate into some less lethal form of its own accord? Will the summer temperatures impair its ability to transmit itself from one person to the next, to the point where it can no longer survive? Will a vaccine or a cure be found sooner than we think? Will cheap testing kits be developed soon enough that significantly boost our ability to fight this menace? Will there be a second, possibly third wave of infections like there was with the Spanish flu of 1918?
Nobody knows yet. But this analysis is based on the assumption that we are entering an intense and prolonged fight.
AN UNPRECEDENTED BLOW TO THE ECONOMY
If we are now in a prolonged fight, with no clear idea of how far we may have to lockdown the population to deny the virus any avenues for transmission, while we treat each infected person back to health, then the economy could end up taking a hit the likes of which it has never been called upon to take in the past. How might that work out?
Consider the question step by step.
First up is the direct cost of the treatment of the sick and protection of the frontline caregivers. In the stimulus package Rs50bn has been included specifically for this purpose, which is expenditure on top of what the provincial governments are already spending for the fight. Then comes the cost of income support and ration packs that have to be provided to the vulnerable sections, from the poor to the daily wagers and the unemployed. Even assuming Rs500 per day as the basic requirement for a household of 7, with 10 million deserving households, this means Rs5bn per day, or Rs150bn per month.
This is a lot of money, but it is still manageable for the state considering this is an emergency. The bigger challenge is developing the targeting technology to ensure that the right people are receiving these funds. At least three provinces have a team working on finding a way to do precisely this.
This may be the most urgent task before the state but it is far from the most expensive. If the total size of the stimulus package at Rs1.25 trillion is an indication, the government is gearing up for a very costly battle indeed. Costly enough to put an end altogether to the macroeconomic stabilisation that has been underway since July. The fight, it seems, will require us to spend all the fiscal buffers that have been built with so much pain and sacrifice over the past year.
Beyond the people, the state is now fielding increasingly restive voices from industry. Already reeling under crippling interest rates and collapsing demand, business enterprises that had seen their profits disappear since the adjustment began, now face the prospect of a mortal blow.
The biggest and most immediate impact of the lockdown is the halt in business operations. Out of 2,700 factories in Karachi SITE area — Pakistan’s largest industrial zone which accounts for almost 30 percent of the country’s exports according to the zone’s leadership — less than 50 were still operating on the first working day after the lockdown was announced. Those 50 were among the few that were considered essential services, primarily food and pharmaceuticals. All the rest were shut, with the workers sent home.
The port was still running but movement of cargo into and out of the gate was impaired because goods transporters could not be on the roads. Ships were berthed and dredging activity went on as normal. Containers were loaded and off-loaded, and customs processed Goods Declaration forms through the online system without requiring any physical presence, much to the relief of clearing agents. But labour was thin because many of them were stopped on their way to work and had a hard time explaining to the authorities that they were employees in an “essential services” industry. Trucks entering the province from upcountry were stopped at the provincial border, where a growing line waited for clearance to move, but nobody knew how to get this clearance and from whom.
How could law enforcement personnel determine which truck was carrying goods belonging to an “essential service” and which one is not? Is packaging material an “essential item”? What if it is necessary to package a food item in, such as ghee or edible oil?
The biggest and most immediate impact of the lockdown is the halt in business operations. Out of 2,700 factories in Karachi SITE area, less than 50 were still operating on the first working day after the lockdown was announced.
If the lockdowns are prolonged, the state will come under increasing pressure as more and more industries seek to have themselves declared as “essential services”. If food and pharmaceuticals are essential, then so are their vendors and suppliers of critical components and transporters. If a pharmaceutical firm needs to replace a spare part in a machine, then is transporting that spare part from one part of the country to another through a lockdown to be considered an “essential service” or not? How about manufacture or supply of that spare part?
Others will step forward saying that they may not be in the food or medicine business, but their products are essential in other ways.
All this happened on the first working day after the lockdown was announced. Soap manufacturers, for instance, demanded they should be counted under essential services since washing of hands on a regular basis was an essential part of the fight against the virus. What will people wash their hands with once the supplies of soap in the market run out?
Edible oil manufacturers found that, though they had permission to continue their operation, there was one vendor who supplied packaging material to them all, whose product was essential to their operation. Sure enough, that vendor also applied to the provincial government for permission to continue operations.
Textile exporters said they had orders in the pipeline which would be cancelled if delivery were not made, and valuable foreign exchange would be foregone for the country, so the federal government weighed in on the provincial chief minister to allow these exporters to complete their orders. Permission was granted.
But where does this loop end? Some argued that producing sheets for hospitals was an essential service. Others said supplying yarn and sizing services to a hospital bedsheet provider is an essential service. The fact is that, in a modern economy, even if it is as rudimentary as Pakistan’s, carving out some sectors for continuity of operations while shutting down others is simply not possible for a long period of time. Food can be described as an essential service and agriculture will be allowed to continue. But what about fertiliser distribution or pesticides?
DEALING WITH THE LOSSES
Another faultline will open once the question of absorbing the losses arising from the lockdowns has to be faced. Industry is already demanding support in return for their compliance with the lockdown terms, which include a provision that no lay-offs will be effected during this period. With the passage of time massive losses will accumulate in the form of deficits with the state, cash flows drying up with private business, and mounting requests for deferred payments and perhaps a moratorium on debt servicing on the banks.
These losses will trigger a contest where the three main constituents of our political economy — the state, big business and the citizenry — will vie to push the cost on to each other. Each will mobilise their narratives. The state will say “we are fighting the virus.” Industry will say “we are running our payrolls even though our plants are shut.” The exporters will add “we are bringing in valuable foreign exchange” — an argument that will ring all the louder because other inflows would have suffered and foreign debt servicing will remain in place.
There is one group that will come to this contest without a story, without a narrative of their own, and for this reason they will be vulnerable. That group is the banks. There is little to no public service function that creditors can claim they are performing, while their borrowers will loudly remind everyone that the banks made money all last year as the economy sank and manufacturers were weighed down by crippling interest payments as the State Bank hiked rates. They will point out that the banks made windfall profits even as the state and private manufacturers found their interest expenditure skyrocketing.
“You have made your money,” they will tell the banks, “even as we bled. Now it is time to give back because the country faces an emergency.” The banks will see mounting calls for deferments of debt service payments, some of which have already begun.
In the stimulus package announced by the Prime Minister on Tuesday, one of the promises was to arrange deferred debt service payments for manufacturers. It is not clear how the state intends to arrange for this, but in some measure, the contest has begun already.
In the months to come, this contest will escalate and the frenzied search for the resources with which to pay for the fight, as well as the expenses of carrying the people through it, will fuel a political economy that will consume increasing amounts of the state’s energy. With industry in lockdown, power consumption will fall dramatically, and as power capacity sits idle, some will wonder why the state should continue to pay capacity charges.
“Yes, it is in their contracts,” they will acknowledge. “But don’t these private power producers know that the country is faced with an emergency and needs every penny of its resources for the fight?” The stock market will continue its fall and brokers might try to mount an effort for another bailout, like they did last summer. It would be catastrophic if in the midst of this fight, the government were to acquiesce to their demand. Last summer, they acquiesced even though the state had begun its journey on a gruelling stabilisation effort that required massive sacrifice from the citizenry.
As the fight intensifies and the demand for resources rises, this contest might start to loosen some of the moorings of our financial system that have been held in place with iron bolts for decades. No government has asked for a moratorium on its domestic debt service obligations thus far, for example. But this time the government might ask for exactly that, for example, on the penalty interest charges on the circular debt or some other. The option to print money to pay its bills is always available for a government when dealing with local currency debt, but there are reasons why they might seek to shake down their creditors first before resorting to printing of money, if the need for resources intensifies.
This loosening has also already begun, with the extraordinary monetary policy statement announcing a rate cut of 1.5 percent on the first working day of the lockdown. I cannot remember the last time such an event occurred. The fact that it happened only days after the State Bank had already announced its monetary policy — in which steadfastly it refused to deviate from the orthodoxy of the textbook and did not lower interest rates even though inflation was falling, and the virus threat had already landed on Pakistan’s soil — only shows that serious arm twisting has already begun. More arms stand to be twisted because creditors’ interests are usually the first to be tossed overboard when the ship of state hits an iceberg or is attacked by pirates.
There is another faultline that may also get activated as this contest gets underway. This is the faultline within the state. The centre has already asked the provinces to bear some of the burden for the enhancements in the spending on BISP, whose beneficiaries will now receive an additional Rs1000 for the next four months as part of their entitlement. But the provinces are building their own social protection programmes and will seek a burden sharing with the centre themselves. Most likely they will arrive at an arrangement, since there is very little appetite for a fight among the elites who run the federal and provincial governments.
But provincial governments, that are also likely to feel the thirst for resources to wage the fight, cannot print money or seek any renegotiation with their creditors. They might seek an adjustment in the surpluses they are obliged to run under the National Finance Commission award. If so, this could end up meaning a significant renegotiation of the Fund programme, which is coming up for review in the next International Monetary Fund (IMF) board meeting in early April.
The timing is also critical in all this. If the fight peaks around mid- to late April, as the provincial governments expect, then the budget will be made in its aftermath. The aftermath is also likely to bring a severe recession, a scarred populace with no further appetite for absorbing economic pain for stabilisation, and continued requirements to spend in order to jump-start a traumatised economy.
Somewhere along this timeline, the government is likely to ask the IMF for a renegotiation of many of the terms of the programme. It will need to print money in massive quantities, break its budget deficit ceiling, slash interest rates and taxes.
It is unlikely that the Fund will simply refuse, since it will be clear from the beginning that Pakistan has no choice but to undertake these severe actions. But it is equally unlikely that Pakistan will find the resources from abroad to stabilise its economy without pain. That is unless ‘friendly countries’ like China and Saudi Arabia once again come to the rescue. Such a rescue will be required at that point, but who has the appetite, and how far they are willing to underwrite Pakistan’s return to normalcy, will remain to be discovered. A lot will hang in the balance as that question is explored.
THE DAYS AHEAD
Unless the economy sees massive supply disruptions, enough to hit food shipments, it is likely that March and April will see price deflation much faster than expected. Inflation was already on a downward and accelerating trajectory but, with industry closed and private consumption focused primarily on essential items and healthcare expenditures, prices are likely to see a sharp fall. This will create the space for sharp interest rate cuts, as well as large printing of money if necessary to pay for the continuously rising bill that the fight will present.
The IMF will need to be persuaded that these steps are necessary, and if printing of money is going to destabilise prices once again, the leadership could make the decision that they will worry about retiring that overhang once the fight is over.
Nobody in the business and industrial community can remember a time like this. Not the sanctions following the nuclear detonations of 1998, or the earthquake of 2005 or the Great Financial Crisis of 2008 or the floods of 2010 carry many lessons to help us see and prepare for what might be coming.
An extraordinary moment has now opened up. Business as usual will not work. It will take every ounce of creative energy and close coordination to wage this fight. The government has missed its chance to contain the pathogen at an early stage, when it was pouring into the country through travellers arriving from foreign lands. It failed to wage a campaign of awareness about the dangers posed by the virus and how best the citizenry could protect itself. It then failed to take decisive steps to order social distancing and lockdowns when they were most called for.
The result was the second and third tiers of the state’s leadership had to take up the fight. The provincial chief ministers, chief justices of the Sindh and Islamabad High Courts, individual MNAs, the Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health and others worked in their respective domains to build some sort of a bulwark against the entry and spread of the virus. But now it is here, and it has spread, and a battle on a wide front has become inevitable. This battle will take resources, and the search for these resources will define a lot of the state’s behavior through it all.
Stronger Contractionary Monetary Policy Needed to Achieve ‘Stabilizing Expectations’ for China
The escalation to war in Ukraine and the series of sanctions against Russia by Europe and the United States has acerbated the volatility of the global financial and energy markets. The increased geopolitical risks have also had a serious impact on the global economy. International institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank have issued warnings one after another that China’s economy will face new challenges as energy supply and demand fluctuate and supply chain distortions intensify. This change in the situation has already affected
China’s domestic capital market. Recently, the common stock market (A-shares) has been volatile, reflecting investors’ gloomy outlook on the capital market and China’s economy. According to the theory of behavioral economics, changes in expectations will affect future economic activity.
This is not only an issue of economic confidence but it also affects the behavior of residents and enterprises in the future on economic activities such as consumption and investment, which will have a substantial impact on the micro and macroeconomy. ANBOUND researchers believe that China will need to adjust and respond to macroeconomic policies, especially to promote further easing of monetary policy in taming market concerns and provide substantial support for “steady growth”.
At The Two Sessions this year, the government’s Work Report put forward the goal of achieving economic growth of 5.5% this year, and at the same time emphasized increasing macro-policy to support the economy. According to the current market reaction, some scholars and research institutions believe that the economic growth target of 5.5% has fallen significantly compared to last year’s economic growth rate of 8.1%.
However, due to the chaos brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, the average growth rate in the past two years was only 5.1%. Therefore, when the impact of the pandemic is removed and the economy returns to “normal”, it is challenging to achieve the economic growth target of 5.5% this year. The further formation of endogenous power is needed and it also requires macro-policy support to stabilize demand.
Some researchers have mentioned that the current target of 5.5% has a positive effect on enhancing market confidence and expectations, but to achieve the economic growth target, the main path is to build infrastructure to support the economy and wait for the real estate market to stabilize.
It is anticipated that the pandemic control measures might be reduced, allowing consumption to rebound. However, the market emphasis point remains primarily dependent on whether the real estate market is improving, and there is little “enthusiasm” about the expansion infrastructure. Under this situation, the “stabilizing expectation” effects of positive fiscal policy are still limited. Judging from the latest CPI and PPI data, the consumer price level continues to be depressing while the production price level has risen.
This represented the fact that the development of China’s domestic consumer demand and investment needs is continually diminished, while the pressure on business expenses from PPI stays constant. Coupled with the recent continuous fluctuations in the A-share market, various situations show that changes in market expectations still reflect the contradictions on the demand side.
This means that China’s overall economic growth will still be a process of “drilling the bottom”. Although fiscal spending will expand this year, in terms of China’s current economic size, its intensity is still in the “steady” category, and the support and coordination of monetary policy are still needed to unleash the effectiveness of the easing policy.
At the same time, ANBOUND also pointed out that the Russia-Ukraine crisis has further worsened the international geopolitical environment and increased the uncertainty of the global economy. Changes in the current economic situation show that the market still has an urgent need for macroeconomic policies, especially monetary policy support. Therefore, researchers at ANBOUND believe that it is still necessary to further ease monetary policy at present to help the economy achieving a “soft landing” as soon as possible by releasing policy space.
Since the fourth quarter last year, monetary policy has turned to ease and has provided substantial support for economic stability through comprehensive reduce moderately the Required Reserve Ratio (RRR) and interest rate.
However, following China’s Spring Festival, the rate of this continual easing decreased and market liquidity was recycled. On the one hand, the market needs to digest the impact of the easing policy and improve the effectiveness of the policy; on the other hand, it is also a signal for the policy to remain stable, to avoid misleading the market causing “waterfall”.
However, in terms of the forward-looking, precise, and sustainable monetary policy, considering the new situation and changes in market expectations, monetary policy needs to be adjusted promptly, seize the time window, and further reduce market interest rates to stabilize short-term market expectations and prevent panic in the capital market that would cause chain reaction.
Judging from the current changes in the capital market, the RMB exchange rate still shows a strong tendency to appreciate despite the intensified international geopolitical risks and the rebound of the U.S. dollar index. This may be the case though the Federal Reserve may end its balance sheet reduction and start raising interest rates in March. Appropriately lowering the interest rate level will not have a significant impact on the RMB exchange rate under the turbulent international situation.
Promoting further easing of the currency will help release the pressure of RMB appreciation and increase the profitability of Chinese export enterprises. Increasing currency liquidity and reducing financing costs are also beneficial to the domestic capital market, helping to stabilize asset prices and improve corporate profitability.
With the stability of China’s economic fundamentals, the stable income of its domestic capital market will remain attractive to international capital. Under such circumstances, the impact of changes in the international policy environment on China is still manageable.
Most crucially, by releasing signals to consolidate the macroeconomy through monetary policy changes, the capital market and economic principals can turn their bearish expectations around. According to China’s existing conditions and stages, this will be the crucial key.
China moves closer to Russia, but wary on Ukraine
China and Russia set off alarms in the West this month with the most robust declaration of their friendship in decades but Beijing has signalled it would not back Vladimir Putin if he sent troops in to invade Ukraine.
The February 4 joint statement by the neighbours included unprecedented support from Beijing for Moscow’s opposition to the expansion of NATO, and came as Washington and its allies were warning of full-scale Russian military action against Kyiv.
It was “quite a quantum shift from what has been a steady intensification, elevation of the content of Russia-China declarations over the last 20 years”, former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd said during an online discussion co-hosted by the Atlantic Council think tank and the Asia Society.
“It is China becoming a global security actor in a way that I personally have not seen before.”
China’s unusually direct position on NATO and support for Moscow’s “reasonable” security concerns have, however, placed it on a diplomatic tightrope, forcing it to balance its close Russia ties with major economic interests in Europe.
With more than 150,000 troops massed on the border with Ukraine, Russia has demanded guarantees that Kyiv will never be allowed to join NATO — a position in stark contrast to China’s long-standing stated foreign policy red line: no interference in other countries’ internal affairs.
When asked if there was a contradiction, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told the Munich Security Conference via video link Saturday that the sovereignty of all nations should be respected.
“Ukraine is no exception,” he said.
That position was tested in just two days.
Russian President Putin on Monday recognised two “republics” in Ukraine held by pro-Moscow separatist rebels, and ordered the deployment of troops there.
The United States and its allies blasted Russia for violating the sovereignty of Ukraine at an emergency UN Security Council meeting, but China was circumspect, urging restraint by “all sides”.
Putin has “denied the territorial independence and sovereignty — indeed, the very existence — of Ukraine”, Ivo Daalder, former US ambassador to NATO, wrote on Twitter.
“Both were core… (tenets) of China’s approach to the crisis. Putin has blown both to bits.”
This is not the first time China has had to strike a delicate balance between its interests and a major international escalation by its strategic partner Russia.
When Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014, China did not join Russia’s veto of a UN Security Council resolution on the issue, instead abstaining and mainly offering economic support.
Eight years later, experts say there are again limits to what Beijing can — or wants to — do for Moscow.
Among the key factors are trade and financial links with Europe. Overt backing of any Russian belligerence could also threaten the major investment deal Beijing is trying to seal with the bloc.
Further, some analysts say China may not want to escalate already high tensions with the United States.
“The Ukraine crisis… carries significant risk of the bottom falling out of (China’s) relationships with the EU and the US,” wrote Bill Bishop in the Sinocism China Newsletter.
“I do not believe that Xi and his team want to see Russia invade Ukraine, as they understand the risks from the expected reaction to any invasion.”
Others said that, with its support for Moscow’s concerns about NATO, Beijing may be looking to its own future security interests.
By implicitly siding with Moscow, Beijing gains “considerable diplomatic leverage” and “presumes that Russia will act likewise when China finds itself in a critical security situation”, Richard Ghiasy, an expert at the Hague Centre for Strategic Studies, told AFP.
Despite Beijing’s guarded language on Ukraine, observers say the China-Russia joint announcement is still a stark challenge to the United States and its allies beyond the current crisis.
The statement contained challenges to the definitions of democracy and human rights, which Moscow and Beijing have been accused of violating by the West for years.
This prompted scathing criticism in Europe, with some accusing two authoritarian regimes of trying to redefine universal concepts to suit their agenda.
“It’s an act of defiance,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said at the Munich Security Conference on Sunday.
Oil breaks $90/bbl for the first time since 2014 on Russia tensions
NEW YORK: Oil touched $90 a barrel for the first time in seven years on Wednesday, supported by tight supply and rising political tensions in Russia that raised concerns about further disruption in an already-tight market.
Brent crude rose $2.02, or 2.3%, to $90.22 by 11:21 a.m. EST (1621 GMT), the first time the global benchmark has broken $90 since October 2014. US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude was up $2.09, or 2.4%, to $87.69.
US President Joe Biden said on Tuesday he would consider personal sanctions on President Vladimir Putin if Russia invades Ukraine. On Monday, Yemen’s Houthi movement launched a missile attack on a United Arab Emirates base.
“World inventories have continued to decline as producers have struggled to restore production to pre-pandemic levels,” said Andrew Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates in Houston. “Mix that in with geopolitical tensions between the United States and Russia over Ukraine and prices have continued their march upward.”
The tensions have only added to worries about the various factors contributing to an already tight market. OPEC+ is having trouble meeting monthly production targets as it restores supply to markets after drastic cuts in 2020, and the United States is more than a million barrels short of its record level of daily output.
At the same time, demand remains strong, suggesting that inventories may continue to decline.
“Historically, markets led higher by tightening product and crude inventories are difficult to solve absent a demand destruction event or an injection of supply. Neither appear on the horizon, currently,” wrote Michael Tran, commodity strategist at RBC Capital Markets, in a note.
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies, known as OPEC+, meets on Feb. 2 to consider another output increase.
Inventories in the United States rose in the most recent week, with crude stocks up by 2.4 million barrels, against expectations for a modest decline in stocks. Gasoline inventories rose to their highest levels in almost a year – a needed salve for the market.
US refined product supplied – a measure of demand – surged again, putting the four-week moving average at 21.2 million barrels per day, ahead of pre-pandemic trends. The increases have been led by consumption of distillates like diesel, as gasoline use has fallen off modestly in recent weeks.
Investors across the markets are awaiting the coming policy update from the US Federal Reserve at 2 p.m. EST. The Fed is expected to signal plans to raise interest rates in March as it focuses on fighting inflation.
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