SBP raises policy rate to 13.75pc to arrest inflation

ISLAMABAD – The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) has increased the policy rate by 150 basis points to 13.75 percent in a bid to control the inflation rate.

“This action, together with much needed fiscal consolidation, should help moderate demand to a more sustainable pace while keeping inflation expectations anchored and containing risks to external stability,” said the SBP in its monetary policy statement issued here yesterday.

This was the second time since April when the central bank is increasing the interest rate. Earlier, on April 7, the SBP had raised the policy rate by 250 bps to 12.25 percent. Interest rate has now increased to 13.75 percent higher than pre-Covid pandemic. The policy was brought down rapidly from 13.25 percent to 7 percent during the beginning of the pandemic.

“External pressures remain elevated and the inflation outlook has deteriorated due to both home-grown and international factors. Domestically, an expansionary fiscal stance this year, exacerbated by the recent energy subsidy package, has fuelled demand and lingering policy uncertainty has compounded pressures on the exchange rate,” the SBP noted. Globally, inflation has intensified due to the Russia-Ukraine conflict and renewed supply disruptions caused by the new Covid wave in China. As a result, almost all central banks across the world are suddenly confronting multi-year high inflation and a challenging outlook.

The central bank has also warned about increase in inflation rate. “Headline inflation is likely to increase temporarily and may remain elevated throughout the next fiscal year”.

The MPC’s baseline outlook assumes continued engagement with the IMF, as well as reversal of fuel and electricity subsidies together with normalization of the petroleum development levy (PDL) and GST taxes on fuel during FY23. However, it is expected to fall to the 5-7 percent target range by the end of FY24, driven by fiscal consolidation, moderating growth, normalization of global commodity prices and beneficial base effects.

In addition to the policy rate increase, the interest rates on EFS and LTFF loans are also being raised. Going forward, to strengthen monetary policy transmission, these rates will be linked to the policy rate and will adjust automatically, while continuing to remain below the policy rate in order to incentivize exports. At the same time, the MPC emphasized the urgency of strong and equitable fiscal consolidation to complement today’s monetary tightening actions. This would help alleviate pressures on inflation, market rates and the external account.

According to the SBP, most demand indicators have remained strong since the last MPC — including sales of POL and automobiles, electricity generation, and sales tax on services — and growth in LSM accelerated in March. Both consumer and business confidence have also ticked up. With the output gap now positive, the economy would benefit from some cooling. On the back of monetary tightening and assumed fiscal consolidation, growth is expected to moderate to 3.5-4.5 percent in FY23.

The current account deficit continues to moderate. In April, it fell to $623 million, less than half the average for the current fiscal year, on the back of lower imports and record remittances. Based on PBS data, the trade deficit shrank by 24 percent relative to its peak last November. These developments are in line with SBP’s projected current account deficit of around 4 percent of GDP this year. Next year, the current account deficit is projected to narrow to around 3 percent of GDP as import growth continues to slow with moderating demand and the recent measures taken by the government to curtail non-essential imports, while exports and remittances remain resilient.

This narrowing of the current account deficit together with continued IMF support will ensure that Pakistan’s external financing needs during FY23 are more than fully met, with an almost equal share coming from rollovers by bilateral official creditors, new lending from multilateral creditors, and a combination of bond issuances, FDI and portfolio inflows. As a result, excessive pressure on the Rupee should attenuate and SBP’s FX reserves should resume their previous upward trajectory during the course of the next fiscal year.

Instead of the budgeted consolidation, the fiscal stance in FY22 is now expected to be expansionary. At 0.7 percent of GDP, the primary deficit during the first three quarters of the year compares unfavorably with the primary surplus of 0.8 percent of GDP during the same period last year. This slippage was driven by a sharp rise in non-interest expenditures, led by higher subsidies, grants and provincial development expenditures. The resulting demand pressures have coincided with the sharp rise in costs from the surge in global commodity prices, exacerbating inflationary pressures and the import bill. Timely action is needed to restore fiscal prudence, while providing adequate and targeted social protection to the most vulnerable. Such prudence enabled Pakistan’s public debt to decline from 75percent of GDP in FY19to 71 percent in 2021 despite the Covid shock, in sharp contrast to the average increase of around 10 percent of GDP across emerging markets over the same period.

Headline inflation rose from 12.7 percent (y/y) in March to 13.4 percent in April, driven by perishable food items and core inflation. The rise in core inflation reflects strong domestic demand and second-round effects of supply shocks. At the same time, measures of long-term inflation expectations have also ticked up. As electricity and fuel subsidies are reversed, inflation is likely to rise temporarily and may remain elevated through FY23 before declining sharply during FY24. This baseline outlook is subject to risks from the path of global commodity prices and the domestic fiscal policy stance. The MPC will continue to carefully monitor developments affecting medium-term prospects for inflation, financial stability, and growth.

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