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KARACHI: A Reuters poll found that the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) is expected to hold its key interest rate at a record 22% for the seventh straight policy meeting on Monday as Pakistan gears up for an International Monetary Fund (IMF) board approval and talks on a longer-term programme.

Monday’s policy decision will be followed by the IMF Executive Board meeting to discuss the approval of $1.1 billion in funding for Pakistan, which is the last tranche of a $3 billion Stand-By Arrangement with the IMF.

To cut or not to cut: SBP might opt for caution in monetary policy

The median estimate in a Reuters poll of 14 analysts predicts the SBP will hold rates steady.

Four analysts are forecasting a 100-basis-point (bps) cut, while two expect a 50-bps cut on Monday.

Eight respondents expect a rate cut before Pakistan signs a new bailout with the IMF. There is another MPC meeting on 10 June 2024, which is possibly before Pakistan gets another IMF programme.

Monetary Policy Committee: SBP issues advance calendar for meetings in January-June 2024

The South Asian nation is seeking a new long-term, larger loan. Pakistan’s Finance Minister, Muhammad Aurangzeb, has said Islamabad will begin talks with the fund next month, and could secure a staff-level agreement on the new program by early July.

Pakistan’s key rate was last raised in June to fight persistent inflationary pressures and to meet one of the conditions set by the IMF for securing the bailout.

Pakistan’s Consumer Price Index (CPI) for March rose 20.7% from the year before, slowing down partly due to the “base effect”, touching a record high of 38% in May 2023.

At an event, prominent Pakistani businessman Arif Habib said that he expects April’s CPI figure to hover around 17.5%.

Monetary Policy Committee to meet on Monday: SBP

Tahir Abbas, head of research at brokerage house Arif Habib Limited (AHL), said the central bank is unlikely to cut rates before getting a new IMF programme.

“The monetary policy will also consider the inflationary outcome of tensions in the middle east and its impact of fuel prices, along with the Fed’s delay in monetary easing,” he added.

“Expect a symbolic reduction in the current quarter (till June), with aggressive cuts to follow in the September quarter as the government has to roll over approximately 6.7 trillion rupees of maturing domestic treasury bills in the last quarter of the calendar year,” said Mustafa Pasha, CIO of Lakson Investments.

He added that by then there will be greater clarity on inflation and FX inflows.

“Historically the SBP has cut rates in the 1st year of an IMF programme and we expect the policy rate to settle around 17% by December.”

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