SBP Fights Rate Cut Temptation But At What Cost?

The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) finds itself in a balancing act as it contends with the demands of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) while addressing domestic concerns.

With discussions underway for the next bailout plan, Pakistan managed to extend the last review of its $3 billion standby arrangement to iron out details with the IMF.

In what looks like wooing rather than pure market adjustment, the SBP kept its benchmark interest fixed at 22 percent and showed that it is still cautious not to display its independence in shaping the economy.

But this time the bank had company. It kept things unsavory but still competitive without a hint of relaxation in import controls, confidence in foreign exchange reserves, and external debt outlook which could have raised concerns among members of the IMF Mission, given Pakistan’s history of fiscal mismanagement.

The analogy of a wealthy individual seeking debt restructuring while lavishly spending on luxury vehicles underscores the delicate balance the country faces. The Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) finds itself with limited options.

The SBP Governor has stressed the importance of maintaining significantly positive real interest rates and a declining inflation trajectory, although decisions are made on a short-term basis and lending rates at auctions of treasury bills of late suggest the central bank wouldn’t have done anything wrong if it cut the benchmark rate to 21 percent.

SBP will resume the auction of treasury bills tomorrow (20 March).

In the immediate future, inflationary pressures from factors such as PKR depreciation, electricity/gas tariff bombs, and more taxes under IMF agreements leave little room for monetary easing this fiscal year, the next one included.

The path to lower interest rates hinges on robust export growth and attracting foreign investment through value-added sources like freelancing, other IT services, and remittances from overseas Pakistanis. Until then, a tighter monetary policy will continue to persist.

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