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Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment
Foreign portfolio investment halted its decline and increased in the last three months of 2019 and into early 2020 as investor confidence increased due to improvement in Pakistan’s current account deficit, relatively high interest rates, and the initiation of Pakistan’s most recent IMF program, according to the SBP. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, indicators had pointed to improved inflows of foreign investment. The full impact of COVID-19 on foreign portfolio investment remains to be seen.
Pakistan’s three stock exchanges (Lahore, Islamabad, and Karachi) merged to form the Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSE) in January 2016. As a member of the Federation of Euro-Asian Stock Exchanges and the South Asian Federation of Exchanges, PSE is also an affiliated member of the World Federation of Exchanges and the International Organization of Securities Commissions. Per the Foreign Exchange Regulations, foreign investors can invest in shares and securities listed on the PSE and can repatriate profits, dividends, or disinvestment proceeds. The investor must open a Special Convertible Rupee Account with any bank in Pakistan in order to make portfolio investments. In 2017, the government modified the capital gains tax and imposed 15 percent on stocks held for less than 12 months, 12.5 percent on stocks held for more than 12 but less than 24 months, and 7.5 percent on stocks held for more than 24 months. The 2012 Capital Gains Tax Ordinance appointed the National Clearing Company of Pakistan Limited to compute, determine, collect, and deposit the capital gains tax.
The free flow of financial resources for domestic and foreign investors is supported by financial sector policies, with the SBP and SECP providing regulatory oversight of financial and capital markets. Interest rates depend on the reverse repo rate (also called the policy rate). Interest rates reached a high of 13.25 percent in July 2019 but by May 2020 had decreased to eight percent.
Pakistan has adopted and adheres to international accounting and reporting standards – including IMF Article VIII, with comprehensive disclosure requirements for companies and financial sector entities.
Foreign-controlled manufacturing, semi-manufacturing (i.e. goods that require additional processing before marketing), and non-manufacturing concerns are allowed to borrow from the domestic banking system without regulated limits. Banks are required to ensure that total exposure to any domestic or foreign entity should not exceed 25 percent of banks’ equity with effect from December 2013. Foreign-controlled (minimum 51 percent equity stake) semi-manufacturing concerns (i.e., those producing goods that require additional processing for consumer marketing) are permitted to borrow up to 75 percent of paid-up capital, including reserves. For non-manufacturing concerns, local borrowing caps are set at 50 percent of paid-up capital. While there are no restrictions on private sector access to credit instruments, few alternative instruments are available beyond commercial bank lending. Pakistan’s domestic corporate bond, commercial paper and derivative markets remain in the early stages of development.
Money and Banking System
The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) is the central bank of Pakistan.
According to the most recent statistics published by the SBP, only 23 percent of the adult population uses formal banking channels to conduct financial transactions while 24 percent are informally served by the banking sector; women are financially excluded at higher rates than men. The remaining 53 percent of the adult population do not utilize formal financial services.
Pakistan’s financial sector has been recognized by international banks and lenders for performing well in recent years. According to the latest review of the banking sector conducted by SBP in December 2018, improving asset quality, stable liquidity, robust solvency and slow pick-up in private sector advances were noted. The asset base of the banking sector expanded by 11.7 percent during 2019. The five largest banks, one of which is state-owned, control 50.4 percent of all banking sector assets. The risk profile of the banking sector remained satisfactory and moderation in profitability and asset quality improved as non-performing loans as a percentage of total loans (infection ratio) was recorded at 8.6 percent at the end of December 2019. In 2019, total assets of the banking industry were estimated at USD 140.1 billion. As of December 2019, net non-performing bank loans totaled approximately USD 900.3 million – 1.7 percent of net total loans.
The penetration of foreign banks in Pakistan is low, having minimal contribution to the local banking industry and the overall economy. According to a study conducted by the World Bank Group in 2018, the share of foreign bank assets to GDP stood at 3.5 percent while private credit by deposit to GDP stood at 15.4 percent. Foreign banks operating in Pakistan include Standard Chartered Bank, Deutsche Bank, Samba Bank, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, Bank of Tokyo, and the newly established Bank of China. International banks are primarily involved in two types of international activities: cross-border flows, and foreign participation in domestic banking systems through brick-and-mortar operations. SBP requires that foreign banks hold at minimum $300 million in capital reserves at their Pakistan flagship location, and maintain at least an eight percent capital adequacy ratio. In addition, foreign banks are required to maintain the following minimum capital requirements, which vary based on the number of branches they are operating:
1 to 5 branches: USD 28 million in assigned capital;
6 to 50 branches: USD 56 million in assigned capital;
Over 50 branches: USD 94 million in assigned capital.
Foreigners require proof of residency – a work visa, company sponsorship letter, and valid passport – to establish a bank account in Pakistan. There are no other restrictions to prevent foreigners from opening and operating a bank account