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Pakistan devalues rupee as it prepares to seek 13th IMF bailout

Pakistan devalued its currency while its stocks and bonds rose after the government said it would seek the nation's 13th International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout since the late 1980s in a bid to stabilise the economy.

[ISLAMABAD] Pakistan devalued its currency while its stocks and bonds rose after the government said it would seek the nation's 13th International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout since the late 1980s in a bid to stabilise the economy.

The South Asian nation's key stock measure snapped six days of losses to advance 1.6 per cent, the most in three weeks, at the close while its dollar-denominated bonds maturing in 2027 climbed the most since July 26 before paring gains. The rupee, a managed float, fell 7.5 per cent to 133.64 against the US dollar, the most in a single day since Bloomberg started tracking data from 2000. The move is speculated to have been pushed by authorities in response to the IMF's calls for a weaker exchange rate.

After consulting with "leading economists", Pakistan will formally approach the IMF for support and Finance Minister Asad Umar will hold talks with officials during the lender's annual meetings in Bali this week, the Finance Ministry said in a statement late Monday. Mr Umar told Bloomberg in August that the government may need more than US$12 billion.

Prime Minister Imran Khan, who came to power after July elections, is under pressure to generate external funding as the country faces the latest in a long line of financial blowouts. The IMF said last week that recent government efforts haven't been sufficient to stem a looming crisis.

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"The challenge for the current government is to ensure that fundamental economic structural reforms are carried out to ensure that this spiral of being in an IMF program every few years is broken once and for all," the Finance Ministry said. "To correct the underlying imbalances, fiscal and monetary actions needed to be undertaken without delay."

Foreign-currency reserves have plunged 40 per cent in 2018 to the lowest in almost four years, while the nation is running twin current-account and budget deficits of more than 5 per cent of gross domestic product. Authorities have devalued the rupee multiple times since December.

The currency's latest drop comes after the IMF repeatedly stated that the rupee was overvalued. "The currency move is definitely a devaluation," said Shahid Habib, chief executive officer at Arif Habib Ltd.

"The market knows the macroeconomic conditions and based on those, they are having their own expectations for the exchange rate," said Abid Qamar, a spokesman at Pakistan's central bank

The central bank has raised interest rates to the highest in three years to help shore up confidence in the economy.


"Going to the IMF was a matter of when, not if. For an economy that has become addicted to foreign loans and bailouts, the future is very much like the past," said Uzair Younus, a South Asia director at Washington-based consultancy Albright Stonebridge Group LLC. "Pakistan may very well find itself seeking another bailout in the next three to four years if it does not do structural reforms."

The government has deep problems to fix. Less than 1 per cent of the nation's more than 200 million people file tax returns and its exports, including textiles, lag the region. However, Pakistan has yet to formally approach the IMF, the lender's chief economist Maurice Obstfeld told reporters in Bali.

"We'll be listening very attentively when and if they come to us," Mr Obstfeld said. "The government expressed a desire to enact deep structural reforms that might break the cycle of Pakistan needing financial support from the fund frequently. That is a very good sign going forward."


Islamabad has also taken on projects valued at more than US$60 billion that include loans from China to bolster its decrepit infrastructure. Critics see that as part of a debt diplomacy trap by Beijing and question whether Pakistan will be ever be able to make the repayments.

Those vast debts have prompted worries from US secretary of state Mike Pompeo, who warned in July that he would be watching to see if Mr Khan's government uses IMF funds to pay off the opaque Chinese loans.

"Securing US approval on the IMF Executive Board will require Pakistan to strike a fine geopolitical balance between the Trump administration's concerns over China's growing economic engagement in Pakistan and the country's bilateral commitments," said Bilal Khan, a senior economist at Standard Chartered Plc.

Pakistan's economic outlook is also at risk from eroding gains in macroeconomic stability and growth may moderate to 4 per cent in 2019 and slow to about 3 per cent in the medium term, the IMF said on Tuesday.

"We will have to swallow this bitter pill," Pakistan's Maritime Affairs Minister Syed Ali Haider Zaidi told Bloomberg in Karachi on Tuesday. "We have looked at all our options."