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ISLAMABAD: Investors should forget India and instead profit from the ‘quiet rise’ of Pakistan along with Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, Barron’s Asia said.
“Forget India. Investors looking for the next big thing should look to its South Asia neighbours instead — Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka,” America’s financial magazine in an article said.
According to the article, the three countries with a combined 390 million people represent what Morgan Stanley chief global strategist Ruchir Sharma calls “the quiet rise of South Asia” as opposed to India which has been “flattered by spasms of hype for years”.
While overshadowed by their larger neighbour, the trio is enjoying fast-paced growth, embracing much needed reforms, and look set to enjoy a demographic dividend over the long term. “A substantially higher economic growth rate than in many other economies globally, coupled with fantastic demographics that will continue supporting growth for many years ahead,” East Capital fund manager Adrian Pop tells Barron’s Asia.
The article mentions that Pakistan is the flag-bearer of the positive changes taking place in the South Asian nations. Since coming to power five years ago, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has got inflation under control, cut the budget deficit and reined in the current account deficit. But more importantly, terrorism finally appears to be on the backfoot given more assertive action by the army. Chinese investment has also poured in: $50 billion will be spent on new roads, transport links and energy projects.
“More power capacity is key for Pakistan to move to an even higher economic growth rate,” says Pop. That will benefit stocks in materials and energy.In December, the Pakistan Stock Exchange sold 40 percent of itself to a consortium of Chinese investors.
The Karachi stock index is up by about 50 percent since the start of last year, propelled by index compiler MSCI’s decision to bump up the country to emerging markets status. That will bring in hundreds of millions of dollars from passive funds into the Pakistani benchmark. The rally in stocks has arguably left the market looking a little pricey as the KSE 100 index trades at over 12 times earnings, its heftiest valuation since late 2009. That’s still about a 15 percent discount to the MSCI emerging markets index, however, plus Pakistani stocks yield an attractive 4 percent-plus dividend.
Bangladesh benefits from a growing working age population and rising labour costs elsewhere in Asia. Garment manufacturing for Western clothing companies has increasingly moved from China to places like Bangladesh, where wages are lower.
The article said in August it tipped downstream firm Pakistan State Oil (PSO.PK), which has since risen 10 percent. It’s worth hanging onto that stock, but we’d add upstream exploration player Oil & Gas Development (OGDC) to the mix too.
Shares in the Islamabad-based company have powered up 45 percent in the last year, and could rise by a further 30 percent.Oil & Gas Development will benefit from any further recovery in oil prices, which have roughly doubled since hitting their nadir last February.
Earnings per share should rise by 17 percent in full-year 2017 and 20 percent in full-year 2018. Oil & Gas Development trades at eight times forward earnings, which is toward the higher end of its historical valuation. That multiple is more compelling than exploration peer Pakistan Petroleum (PPL), however, which trades at 10 times next 12 months’ earnings.
About Lahore’s DG Khan Cement (DGKC), which is one of the country’s largest cement producers, with a capacity of more than four million tons a year. The stock also makes a good foundation for a Pakistan portfolio.
At the end of December, the countries jointly announced a $14 billion dam project close to DG Khan’s HQ in northern Pakistan. The dam will need about a million tons of cement.
Shares in the company have returned a solid 50 percent over the last year. DG Khan’s valuations looks a bit less stretched than that of rival Lucky Cement (LUCKY), which investors were told to pour into their portfolio over summer.
DG Khan trades at 10 times forward earnings, compared to Lucky’s 16 times. Its dividend yield of 2.6% is also bigger than its rival. Brokers think DG Khan can rise by as much as 25 percent.
Lowest market P/E in the region with the highest return.
Upgradation of Moody’s rating of the country.
Pakistan is the 26th largest economy according to PPP (Purchasing Power Parity), and the sixth largest populous country in the world with a burgeoning middle class, having 54% of the population below the age of 24 years. In news, Pakistan has been presented as the turbulent nation embroiled in militancy and political violence. However, the landscape of the country has been changing since the past two years, with an improving macroeconomic situation, steady political outlook and substantial improvement in law and order, and the upgradation of its bond ratings from Caa1 to B3, a stable outlook.
On 9th June 2015, the MSCI stated about a potential reclassification of the MSCI Pakistan Index into Emerging Markets from the current classification of Frontier Markets in its 2016 Annual Market Classification review. This categorization would trigger a large flow of emerging market funds to return to Pakistan as the MSCI Emerging Market Index is tracked by global funds worth $1.7 trillion, according to Bloomberg.
Further, in one of the lectures at the Aga Khan University, the Chief Investment Strategist of Morgan Stanley said that Pakistan’s rise is just a matter of time. This was due to the favorable demographics and the lower P/E of the stocks – performing better in terms of return – when compared to the markets of the developed world.
The KSE 100 Index, which tracks the top 100 companies out of the 557 listed on the stock exchange had a five-year US dollar CAGR of 25% (highest among its peers) and net profit margins 60% above the five-year average of the peer group whose margins are 10.2% lower than its five-year average. The Bourse has an average ROE of 19.2% against the peer average of 10.2%.
Pakistani stocks are cheaper when compared to their regional peers. Consider the following graph for further details:
As the above graph illustrates, Pakistani stocks have a lower P/E, P/B and higher dividend yield relative to its peers.
Pakistan has the potential to be a global turnaround story. I recently spent time in-country listening to a wide range of perspectives and I am convinced that U.S. policymakers and business leaders need to look at Pakistan beyond the security lens. Getting our relationship right will require deeper thinking and action on issues around trade and investment, education, and broader economic development. The United States ought to be Pakistan’s preferred partner given its 70-year relationship. But in order to participate in the upside of the Pakistan story, the United States will need to view Pakistan not as a problem to be solved but as a potential partner. There are several changes that suggest the United States should soon act on this opportunity.
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The Pakistan of today is similar to that of Colombia in the late 1990s. Back then, words like “drugs, gangs, and failed state” were freely associated with the Andean country. Today, Colombia has a free trade agreement with the United States, a stable 3.5 percent annual GDP growth, and security is vastly improved. Similarly, Western headlines on Pakistan today gloss over the progress on the security front, the increased political stability, and incremental progress on the economic front. In spite of this potential for Pakistan, it continues to suffer from a terrible country brand that has not caught up with realities on the ground.
Action Against the Taliban
Pakistan’s improving security dynamic is the first change to note. It is hard to understate the before-and-after effects of the Taliban’s horrendous December 2014 attack on a military-owned elementary school in Peshawar that killed 145 people, including 132 schoolchildren aged eight to eighteen. Almost immediately after the attack, the military responded in force by taking out 157 terrorists via air strikes and ground operations in the North Waziristan and Khyber tribal areas adjacent to Peshawar.
What has not sunk into international perceptions about the country is the tangible consensus among government, military, and Pakistani citizens against violent terrorists including the Pakistani Taliban and the alphabet soup of other terrorist groups in and around the country. Pakistan will continue to experience attacks by fringe groups, but policymakers and investors need to stop operating as if the Pakistani Taliban is at Islamabad’s doorstep.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is governing with a competent cabinet, a majority coalition, and is working in tandem with the military to deliver peace and security. Sharif was elected in Pakistan’s transition of power between democratically elected governments in April 2013 and so far, he has demonstrated enough of a commitment to democracy.
For much of last year, Sharif exercised restraint against an active opposition that led a crippling 162-day sit-in in front of the National Assembly to contest the 2013 election results. Instead of opting for an aggressive approach, Sharif wisely deferred to an independent election mission to verify the results, which recently ruled in favor of his party. The military, at the request of the Prime Minister, encouraged the crowds to disperse peacefully. The military’s decision not to use force against protesters – or the sitting prime minister – suggests that Pakistan could be on its way to further consolidating its fragile democracy.
Better Luck Around the Corridor
Chinese investment is another reason why the United States should reassess its Pakistan calculus. Since Xi Jinping first announced the $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in 2014, the project has quickly become the centerpiece of diplomatic relations between the two countries. CPEC will include highways, railways, and oil and gas pipelines – all constructed via Chinese companies.
The CPEC project aims to connect China and Pakistan, ending in Pakistan’s Gwadar Port on the Arabian Sea.
The CPEC project aims to connect China and Pakistan, with an outlet to Pakistan’s Gwadar Port on the Arabian Sea.
Even the possibility of the scheme’s partial achievement has injected optimism in a country starved for infrastructure and energy investment. The deal has also greatly incentivized the government to clamp down on terrorist groups. Economic success is by no means guaranteed especially given China’s checkered track record of investing in infrastructure projects abroad. Still, China’s bet on Pakistan could overshadow US contributions unless we rethink our mix of engagement.
Similar to its approach in Kazakhstan, China is interested in leveraging Pakistan – in the words of Dan Twining – as a “launching pad” for greater connectivity with energy producers in the Gulf and Middle East, as well as markets in the West. The good news is that Pakistani businesses still prefer the allure of technology transfer and innovation offered by U.S. companies. But make no mistake: for Pakistanis, Chinese investment is better than no investment.
Pakistan: The Next Colombia Success Story?
Continued from page 1
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A New Development Story
Pakistan has a population of 182.1 million people and is the 6th largest country in the world. Sixty percent of the population is of working age. By 2050, Pakistan’s total population will be nearly 300 million, making it roughly ten times the size of Afghanistan. Pakistan is also among the world’s fastest urbanizing countries with half its people projected to live in cities by 2050. Twenty years ago, Islamabad, a planned city much like Brasilia, had a population of 400,000; today, it has a population of around 3 million including the peri-urban areas. Many Pakistani cities are undergoing a similar urbanization process, and this will create massive demands on food, energy, water, and consumer goods.
At the same time, macroeconomic and structural reforms over the last several governments have narrowed the budget deficit and raised GDP growth to a stable 4.5 percent despite large energy deficits, and built foreign reserves up to over $17 billion. Low oil prices and the $14 billion in annual remittances the country receives from its 6 million-strong diaspora have also helped. There has been substantial progress in reducing poverty, which has fallen to 13.6 percent in 2011 from 35 percent in 2002; in rural areas, poverty has dropped from 40 to 15 percent during the same period. While there is some debate on the accuracy of these numbers, there has been clear progress. In May, Standard and Poor upgraded Pakistan’s credit rating from stable to positive.
Pakistan is the world’s 26th largest economy in terms of purchasing power parity. Its national economic growth plan, Vision2025, aims much higher. With 90 percent of the country employed through SMEs, Pakistan has one of the most entrepreneurial economies in the world. Complete foreign equity is permitted in the infrastructure and manufacturing sectors, helping drive FDI to $1.45 billion in 2013, a 76 percent increase over the previous year but still far too small for such a big country.
Next Steps for International Engagement
As Pakistan gradually improves on a number of fronts, so should its relationship with the United States. Clearly, Pakistan wants more than just traditional foreign aid. During my visit, a prominent Pakistani intellectual and influencer told me that “if the United States isn’t going to build stuff, then it shouldn’t don’t bother.” Given the smaller budget envelope for U.S. infrastructure projects (the largest infrastructure project built by the United States in the last decade is the new U.S. embassy), assistance should be geared towards facilitating infrastructure investment particularly in the water and energy sectors.
Specifically, the United States should encourage regulatory and policy reform and encourage greater US investment using specialized agencies including Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the U.S. Trade Development Agency and USAID’s Development Credit Authority. Negotiations for a U.S.-Pakistan Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) have stalled due to reservations on both sides, but a successfully concluded BIT would be a strong signal of certainty and stability for US based investors interested in deeper engagement in Pakistan. This might be a good topic for discussion when Prime Minister Sharif visits DC in October.
A high level Pakistani official told me of their need for at least Pakistani 10,000 PhDs from the US in the near future. The United States should find more ways to increase educational opportunities for Pakistani students especially in critical areas such as urban planning, public administration, agriculture, and STEM.
Currently, the U.S. relationship with the country has been limited to a risk mitigation paradigm. However, the changes outlined above warrant a reframing of the way countries such as the United States engage with Pakistan’s government and especially its private sector. Pakistan is on a hopeful path and with the right mix of assistance and private investment, the United States can participate in Pakistan’s upside and remain a strategic partner.
This article previously stated that projections indicate Pakistan’s population will approach 300 million by 2025. It has been edited to indicate this will occur by 2050.
Pakistan: The Next Colombia Success Story?
Flourishing Real estate Sector despite Stagnant GDP Growth Rates
Pakistan is facing issues of high inflation, stagnant growth and balance of payments crisis. These problems are interrelated to the reckless fiscal policy of its government which has led to excessive internal and external borrowing and increased debt liabilities. Moreover, Pakistan is in the grip of its worst energy crisis which is hammering its industrial output. During the last five years the GDP growth rate has remained stagnant around three percent and is far short of seven percent which is required to lift the country out of poverty and fully employ its labor force. However, IMF has agreed to extend a loan to Pakistan but in turn wants its government to promise to have an efficient and equitable tax system and end the ongoing corruption. The government is trying to achieve these objectives and has already levied higher taxes on the people.
Despite, the economic challenges the real estate market outlook remains positive. The real estate prices have reached record highs, especially in cities like Lahore and Islamabad where the security situation remains intact. Lamudi Pakistan reports the increase in prices of Bahria Town about 700% and in DHA Lahore about 250% in from the lowest hit in 2005. Moreover, Lamudi predicts the construction of residential and commercial projects to go up by 15% to 20%. In addition, investment from foreign companies will increase in the real estate sector by 10% to 15%. Thus, as it can be seen the impact of the political scenario is very minimal on the properties and equities market. Pakistan has a large informal sector where people tend to park their money in the real estate sector of Pakistan and given the stricter documentation of the formal market, people are choosing to invest in this zone.
Sentiments about our economy are less severe today compared to the 2008-2012 period. However, with the increase in confidence in the real estate sector and soaring urbanization, real estate growth rate is accelerating. The government should focus on stabilizing the economy as it would further improve the condition. Other opportunities for the government include development of large scale affordable housing projects and highway properties to establish industrial estates and lastly the review of collector rates to match with the existing market value of properties. All of this combined would surely take the real estate market to a whole new level!