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Recently, a lot of discussion has been on why local currency debt restructuring is viable and possible. However, in response to the recent articles, I would like to explore deeper into some of the key points raised and provide an alternative perspective on the challenges and opportunities facing our nation’s economy.

Also read: Pakistan’s ex finance chief Miftah warns against any kind of debt restructuring

In Pakistan’s complex economic landscape, the real challenges seem to emerge from the external accounts, painting a vivid picture of the fragile balancing act the nation faces.

Before exploring into the particulars of local debt restructuring, it’s crucial to take control of the external account.

The falling value of the Pakistani Rupee (PKR) has led to frustrating inflation, leaving policymakers grappling for solutions.

Simultaneously, the public trust in the Pakistani Rupee (PKR) recently hit an all-time low. To combat this inflationary menace, interest rates have been cranked up, but it’s becoming increasingly apparent that this may not be the most fruitful path to tread.

The truth is, controlling inflation solely through interest rate management might be parallel to chasing shadows. Even if we embark on the journey of debt restructuring without first taming the external imbalances, we might soon find ourselves facing the same daunting challenge, waiting just around the corner, in the making for its chance to resurface.

Pakistan’s current account deficit clocks in at $809mn in July, highest since October 2022

It’s a tightrope walk on the economic stage, where mastering the external front is the first step to securing a stable and prosperous future.

While many writers appropriately highlight the delicate balancing act that Pakistan must navigate, it is essential to consider a broader context that encompasses both short-term challenges and long-term strategies for sustained growth. However, before going for local debt restructuring, the government should consider few crucial questions?

What happens if the government decides to reprofile or restructure local debt? Will banks be okay with it? The answer is a straightforward ‘No’.

Secondly, now imagine this: does the government stop borrowing money when it does this? Does it no longer need funds to cover its expenses? Once again, the answer is a clear ‘No’.

The government still requires funds, as it did previously. However, the adjustments being made could disrupt the financial and economic landscape, like a bump in an otherwise smooth journey. In the present scenario, a give-and-take approach, where both parties negotiate and aim to reach an agreement on debt restructuring, would be ideal.

What will be the cyclical impact of local debt restructuring?

In a country like Pakistan, where financial and capital markets are significantly influenced by sentiments and public perception, it’s important to consider the potential consequences of depositors withdrawing their funds due to concerns about the ailing financial health of a bank.

In such a scenario, banks could find themselves facing substantial liquidity challenges, especially if they are compelled to offload devalued securities to fulfill their financial commitments. Recent global examples have vividly demonstrated just how daunting and far-reaching the consequences of a bank run can be, impacting not only the banks themselves but also the broader banking and financial ecosystem.

Furthermore, this situation has the potential to escalate, and the entire banking sector could be placed at risk.

After government interventions, both corporate entities and individual borrowers may also seek debt reductions or ‘haircuts’ as a means to minimise their financial setbacks. This could further strain the financial stability of the banking industry and have far-reaching implications for the broader economy.

Investors in government securities are currently experiencing a reduction in yields, which can be viewed as a form of financial adjustment, particularly when compared with the prevailing inflation rate. Additionally, small-scale savers contend with a more significant impact as the returns they receive are further diminished, primarily due to the substantial Net Interest Margins (NIMs) maintained by banks.

Consequently, any reduction in the rates of return on government securities would likely have adverse repercussions on the savings rate within the economy. This is a concern, especially considering that the nation’s savings rate already lags behind that of its regional counterparts.

Debt restructuring does indeed involve various options, but it’s crucial to consider each case individually.

Treasury Bills

In the current high-interest-rate scenario, banks are exhibiting reluctance towards lending to corporate entities. This is primarily attributed to the fear of encountering a high number of Non-Performing Loans (NPLs) and their preference for investing money in risk-free government securities.

Banks opt for government securities due to the government’s constant borrowing needs, even at a higher cost. However, a constraint arises when these banks hit the maximum investment limit in government securities.

As an alternative, a separate arrangement was structured for banks to participate in the Treasury Bill (T-Bill) auction. It’s no secret that commercial banks engage in Treasury Bill auctions through borrowed funds, facilitated by mechanisms like Open Market Operations (OMO).

Currently, the OMO mechanism stands at 9.5 trillion (including Islamic OMO). The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) ensures liquidity provision to commercial banks, enabling them to partake in auctions by offering specific spreads.

To elaborate, let’s consider an OMO as an example. The SBP injected funds for a duration of 77 days at a rate of 22.06%. In contrast, banks participated in the 3-month auction at a weighted average rate of 22.88%, with a spread of 82 basis points (bps). It’s important to note that commercial banks’ borrowing from the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) serves as a source of income for both the central bank and the Government of Pakistan (GOP). The revenue generated from this practice contributes to the overall economic dynamics.

Furthermore, on a net basis, commercial banks also contribute taxes on the income derived from T-bills, thereby adding to the GOP’s income stream. This structured financial interplay illustrates that while the spread might appear as 82 bps, its actual after-tax impact is closer to approximately 40-45 bps, reflecting a subtler picture of the financial landscape. Essentially, the only remaining option is to increase the taxes to bolster the revenue of Government of Pakistan.

Pakistan Investment Bonds

Let’s now dig into a discussion about Pakistan Investment Bonds (PIBs), considering both Fixed and Floater options separately.

Firstly, let’s address the option of resetting the yield on Fixed rate PIBs. This strategy could have severe implications, especially for smaller and mid-sized banks. It can lead to a direct hit on banks’ balance sheets. The value of these securities would decrease, causing further mark-to-market losses and potentially impacting their capital adequacy ratios and putting their survival at risk. This concern arises because banks are already grappling with significant mark-to-market losses on their Fixed-PIB inventories.

Nevertheless, concerning floating rate securities, the government has the option to renegotiate spreads, reprofile maturities, and impose higher taxes on interest income.

Government of Pakistan Ijarah Sukuk

The GOP Ijarah Sukuk possess a relatively secure position, given the absence of short-term government instruments available for restructuring and reprofiling.

Additionally, the Islamic market is also financing its Ijarah holdings through Shariah-Compliant Open Market Operations (OMO), with the current OMO size at PKR 493 billion. Furthermore, the floating-rate Ijarah Sukuk have been issued at relatively a lower spread compared to conventional instruments. In the past, Fixed Ijarah Sukuk were issued at a weighted average coupon rate of 13.79%. However, the present weighted average yield across all instruments is somewhere close to 17%, indicating that Islamic Banks are already grappling with significant price losses.

It’s crucial to note that the Islamic market is in an early stage of development, and any restructuring actions could potentially erode confidence among depositors and investors. The market’s relative immaturity compared to conventional markets amplifies the impact of any such measures on investor sentiment.

Alternative solutions:

Pakistan is grappling with cost-push inflation, a situation where rising costs of production drive up overall prices.

In this context, implementing further increases in interest rates could have negative consequences. If the sole borrower within the system is the government, then simply raising interest rates may not be the optimal solution.

On the other hand, reducing the effective interest rate on local currency debt by 400-basis-point (bps) translates into a debt saving of PKR 1.3 trillion over a year. Increasing interest rates has also not proven effective in aiding Pakistan’s efforts to reduce the currency in circulation, nor has it succeeded in enticing and redirecting money back into the official financial channels which is the main cause of inflation in Pakistan.

Let’s explore the viable options for debt restructuring:

Super Tax on Income generated through Treasury Bills and Floating rate securities

One potential avenue to boost revenue is by considering a super tax or higher tax on income generated from investments in Government Securities (T-Bills and floating rate PIBs & Ijarah Sukuk). This approach could contribute to enhanced government income and tax targets. To address this challenge more effectively, a multifaceted strategy is required that considers not only interest rates but also broader economic dynamics.

Reprofiling and Restructuring of PIBs

However, there is a potential scenario where restructuring might be feasible: specifically, through coupon resetting of floating rate PIBs because the spreads are on the higher side over and above weighted average 6 months T-Bill rate.

Alongside this, another strategy could involve recalling existing floating rate PIB at par and converting it into fixed PIBs for 1, 3 and 5 years respectively as per their original maturities. Furthermore, extending the maturities of Fixed PIBs by another 3 or 5 years at a mutually agreed coupon rate. This extension could potentially offer some relief to the government’s financial situation.

Reduction of Minimum Deposit Rate (MDR)

Supporting banks during a debt restructuring program is essential to maintain financial stability. In this regard, the SBP can allow banks to revised the MDR downward from current negative 50 basis points to 400 bps below the prevailing SBP Floor Rate.

The successful execution of the economic revival plan relies fundamentally on securing the commitment and cooperation of all key stakeholders. In the midst of various challenges facing the country, the populace is seeking clarity and transparency to bolster their confidence in the economic future.

It’s evident that addressing the current economic scenario cannot be achieved solely through monetary policy adjustments. Instead, a comprehensive approach involving fiscal consolidation and the implementation of clear, measurable actions is imperative to rectify fiscal imbalances and regain economic stability.

The article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Business Recorder or its owners

Faizan Saleem

The writer is SVP- Head of Shariah Compliant Income Portfolios at Al-Meezan Investments

Comments

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Dr. Ali Sep 12, 2023 01:11am
I like the article and agree that fiscal imbalances should be addressed first before exploring the local debt restructuring chapter.
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Saad Idrees Sep 12, 2023 09:44am
Although I find your essay to be extremely helpful and informative, I have a different opinion regarding interest expenses. First, we can reduce PDL on diesel prices, control cost-push inflation, which is primarily caused by the food sector, particularly non-perishable goods, and restrict action on middlemen's windfall profit actions (most recently taking action on Dollar hoardings). Second, we can solve the GMO problem for protein sources and control the cost-push inflation that is primarily caused by the food sector. If we can keep inflation under control, we can choose to lower the rate while keeping the real interest rate on a long-term trajectory.
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Faizan Saleem Sep 12, 2023 10:04am
@Dr. Ali, thank you.
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Nihal Sep 13, 2023 12:20am
I think Islamic banks should have the highest tax rates. It’s gaining market shares and these extraordinary growth in deposits along with extraordinary margins should have windfall taxes. Perhaps 25% higher than conventional banking.
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Mr. Khan Sep 22, 2023 09:46pm
Pakistan should reduce the interest rates or at least hold the rates . I agree no point in increasing interest rates.
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Akbar sultan Sep 22, 2023 11:05pm
Good analysis.
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