First half: Trade deficit widens 34% as exports fail to pick up pace


Pakistan’s trade deficit widened 34% to .1 billion in the first half of fiscal year 2014-15 on the back of a fall in exports and a persistent double-digit growth in imports, indicating slim chances of building foreign currency reserves through non-debt creating instruments.

The July-December trade gap also beat the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) expectations that had projected a deficit of .5 billion for the period. In the first six months of previous fiscal year, the deficit stood at .05 billion.

Exports contracted 4.3% in July-December this fiscal year, totalling .07 billion, showed figures released by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) on Friday. The receipts were 4 million less than the exports made in the same period of previous year.

Contrary to the decline in exports, the import bill rose to .2 billion, an increase of .53 billion or 11.7% over imports in the first half of previous year. The IMF had projected that imports would rise to .7 billion in the first half, an assessment that stood lower by .5 billion.

The weakening exports reflect the impact of domestic energy crisis and a slowing global economy, factors that have reduced the country’s chances of building foreign currency reserves through non-debt creating instruments.

The IMF has suggested that the State Bank of Pakistan’s (SBP) gross official reserves should grow to .16 billion by the end of the fiscal year in June. For the first half, it had estimated gross SBP reserves at .95 billion, which was also missed by the central bank. On January 2, the reserves stood at .47 billion.

The government has so far been able to add to the reserves by raising an expensive billion from international debt markets, getting a .5-billion grant from Saudi Arabia and seeking IMF loans.

The widening trade deficit indicates that the current account deficit – the gap between external receipts and payments – will be far higher than the budgeted .8 billion or 1.1% of gross domestic product, suggests an economist working with a government agency.

Independent analysts point out the government has started facing difficulties in attracting foreign loans and the higher trade deficit will eat up some of the foreign currency reserves of the SBP.

The national planners have projected a 5.8% growth in exports and a 6.2% rise in imports in the current fiscal year. Imports are expected to reach .2 billion whereas exports are likely to hit .99 billion, with a trade deficit of .2 billion.

Contrary to these projections, the IMF sees only a 1% increase in exports and a 6% growth in imports.

December statistics

The trade figures for December also portray a similar picture. In the month, the deficit soared 31% to .7 billion year-on-year, according to the PBS.

Against .26 billion worth of exports in December 2013, the receipts were .15 billion in December 2014, a contraction of 4.7%. However, imports grew to .85 billion, higher by 8.4% over imports in the same month of previous fiscal year.

Month-on-month changes

The trade deficit widened slightly by 2.4% in December over November because of around 10% growth in exports and 6.3% rise in imports, showed the PBS data.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 10th, 2015.

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Demand falls: After a reasonable pick, Wagon R loses the thrust


There is a desperate need for an economical car and the market feels it. This is the reason why Pak Suzuki’s Wagon R managed a reasonable response in the first couple of months after its launch. However, a little over eight months, the model has become a chink in the company’s armour.

Its production has continuously declined with the company’s spokesperson attributing the rise in import of smaller used cars as a market grabber in the segment.

“We believe the sharp decline in Wagon R sales is the result of the increased import of small used cars in the country,” Pak Suzuki spokesperson said firmly. “Our plans, investments have all been disrupted by the import of used cars.

“We have been requesting the government to control the import of used cars. Otherwise, the local industry will continue to feel the brunt,” he said.

“We feel that we have not been taken into confidence on the new auto policy. We expected that the government will take all stakeholders on board just like the first auto policy which was presented by the previous government,” he added. Since the discontinuation of Suzuki Alto and Daihatsu Cuore on June 30, 2012, Wagon R was the first locally assembled car in the 1,000cc-or-below engine category.

The car, a much-awaited model, was expected to ignite interest among majority buyers who have been waiting for a vehicle in the smaller engine segment.

Wagon R sales from April to June 2014 jumped sharply to 2,208 units. However, July 2014 onwards, its sales plunged severely. From 714 units in July, production dropped to 579 in August, 427 units in September, 88 in October, and to a meagre 17 in November.

“We agree with the management of Pak Suzuki that the sudden drop in the sales of Wagon R is a direct result of used imported cars,” a leading automobile’s part maker told The Express Tribune on the condition of anonymity. “Unfortunately, this plunge in sales can create serious problems for the company.”

“Local auto parts makers are the victim of disagreements between two major players: the government and the carmakers. Since the auto parts makers are dependent on the local car making industry, they want to see growth in the sales of locally manufactured cars,” he argued.

According to the company spokesperson, Pak Suzuki has recently revised the prices of all its models including Wagon R. In its cheapest variant, the price was revised downwards by Rs50,000 to Rs849,000 (-5.6%). In the other variant, prices were slashed Rs90,000, bringing one down to Rs959,000 (-8.56%) and another to Rs999,000 (-8.25%).

“While the favorable rupee parity with Japanese yen played a role in reduction in prices, we believe depressed sales of Wagon-R prompted cut in prices by the management,” JS Research reported in its recent report. Despite the current dismal situation, some analysts are still upbeat about Wagon R.

“It is true that Wagon R sales have unexpectedly dropped in the last four months, but this is not at all a lost case for Pak Suzuki,” Global Research analyst Imran Ahmed Patel told The Express Tribune.

Every model takes time to gain the acceptability of customers. Suzuki Swift also saw this same problem when it was launched but then it regained its lost ground gradually. “There is a demand for Wagon R but since it is a different car, its sales will gradually pick up pace in the next year,” said Patel.

The recent price cut in Wagon R prices will also play an important role in higher sales in coming months, he added.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 8th, 2015.

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India pick three spinners for World Cup

MUMBAI: India’s selectors on Tuesday chose three frontline spinners to help Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s men defend the World Cup title in Australia and New Zealand from next month.

Off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin was joined by left-armers Ravindra Jadeja and young Akshar Patel in a 15-man squad announced in Mumbai for the showpiece event from February 14 to March 29.

Jadeja was selected despite being treated for a shoulder injury that forced him out of the ongoing Test series in Australia. Patel, 20, has claimed 14 wickets in nine one-day internationals so far.

“Jadeja is doing wonderfully well in his recovery process and we are hopeful he will be fit in 10 days time,” Indian cricket board secretary Sanjay Patel told reporters.

The squad includes just four players – Dhoni, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina and Ashwin – who were part of the winning team in 2011.

The selectors ignored Yuvraj Singh, the man of the tournament in 2011, who was not in the preliminary 30-man squad, but came into reckoning with centuries in three consecutive first-class matches.

Teams are allowed to select players from outside their preliminary pool, but the 33-year-old Singh’s absence from the one-day team over the past year due to poor form went against him.

The nucleus of the squad is the same which helped India win the Champions Trophy one-day tournament in England in 2013.

There was no place for opening batsman Murali Vijay, one of the few Indian players to emerge with credit from the Australia Test series with 402 runs in the first three matches at an average of 67.00.

Vijay, 30, played the last of his 14 one-day internationals in July 2013.

Rohit Sharma, who hit one-day cricket’s highest score of 264 against Sri Lanka last November, will open the batting with left-hander Shikhar Dhawan, despite both faring poorly in the Tests.

The squad includes seven batsmen, three spinners and five seamers in Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav and all-rounder Stuart Binny.

The same players, along with two extra new-ball bowlers Dhawal Kulkarni and Mohit Sharma, will take part in the one-day tri-series with England and Australia starting on January 16.

India are drawn in pool B of the World Cup alongside Pakistan, South Africa, West Indies, United Arab Emirates, Ireland and Zimbabwe. The top four in the pool will advance to the quarter-finals.

Dhoni’s men begin their campaign with a mouth-watering clash against arch-rivals Pakistan in Adelaide on February 15.


Mahendra Singh Dhoni (captain), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Akshar Patel, Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Stuart Binny.

Coach: Duncan Fletcher

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Energy trade: After scrapping of tender, LNG politics pick up pace


The politics related to liquefied natural gas (LNG) import have again intensified after Pakistan State Oil (PSO) cancelled an import tender in which top global companies like British Petroleum and Shell could have taken part.

Similarly, many tenders were scrapped in the past, but this time experts were hoping for clinching a deal following encouraging response from renowned companies. But the same old episode has been repeated again.

Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and Petroleum and Natural Resources Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi left for Qatar, which could be a major source of LNG supply, soon after the PSO tender was cancelled.

This has sparked speculation that the government has already planned to strike an import deal with Doha in a government-to-government contract through one of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s close cronies, who has been residing in the Gulf Arab state for a long time.

During the previous government of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), some ministers had reportedly alleged that the man had blocked a gas deal between Pakistan and Qatar. Despite signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the two countries, Doha at that time did not push ahead with the gas export programme.

Speaking at a public rally, Awami Muslim League President Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed has also accused the PML-N government of favouring some blue-eyed boys in Qatar through a state-to-state LNG contract with Qatar Gas. He said the government was going to strike the LNG deal with Qatar through one of premier’s cronies, Saifur Rehman, who is residing in Doha.

He also pointed out that the government seemed to be in a hurry as it had assigned the special task of finalising an agreement to Pakistan’s ambassador-designate to Qatar.

These speculations seem to be spreading after the chief minister of Punjab went to Doha and met top officials. Then the minister of petroleum joined him.

This suggests two important things. First, the chief minister has a key role in reaching an LNG deal with Qatar and second, the government has made up its mind for an agreement with Qatar and PSO’s tender was mere eyewash.

However, with these developments, Pakistan is going to lose the opportunity of importing LNG at a competitive price. Now, the ball is in Doha’s court and it can demand a price of its choice.

During the previous PPP government, Qatar had revised downwards the LNG price offer to .437 per million British thermal units (mmbtu), a 0.5% discount over the previous price of .002. This would have led to savings of billion over the 20-year lifetime of the project.

If all charges are included, LNG supplies from Qatar will cost .521 per mmbtu and Pakistan will have to spend 0 million on developing infrastructure for handling imports.

Another tender

Separately, in response to a tender floated by Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC) for an LNG integrated project, Pakistan Gas Port had offered a bid of .7074 per mmbtu while Global Energy International quoted a price of .16 per mmbtu.

According to officials, if the government had awarded the contract to the lowest bidder, the price would have stood at per mmbtu following a sharp fall in oil prices in the world market. These prices were even lower than the revised price quoted by Qatar.

The PPP government had also shelved the Mashal LNG import project for which the price was quoted at per mmbtu.

Consultant’s view

Now, a consultant of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) has suggested that Pakistan should enter into a short-term LNG contract for two years because of declining gas prices. However, Qatar is seeking a 15-year contract.

According to the consultant, the declining trend in gas price will continue for the next six years and the LNG price is likely to come down to per mmbtu.

Let’s see how the government responds to this suggestion. Whether it will go for reaping the benefits of tumbling gas prices for the sake of consumers or strike a long-term agreement at high prices to serve vested interests, only time will tell.

The writer is a staff correspondent

Published in The Express Tribune, December 8th,  2014.

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Need to pick up pace: Pakistan lags behind in internet speed, shows world index

KARACHI: Pakistan’s telecom industry moved to the advanced third-generation (3G) and Long Term Evolution (LTE) or 4G mobile networks – at least on papers – more than six months ago and the operators had been upgrading their networks for even longer, but the country is nowhere close to the global average of mobile broadband (download) speed.

With an average download speed of 3.49 megabits per second (Mbps), Pakistan ranks 95th in a global index of 115 countries, far below the index’s global average of 10.92 Mbps, reveals Ookla’s Net Index for the month of December 2014.

The fixed line or WiMax operators, too, do not present a good picture, earning the country a low 171st position among 195 countries in the category of broadband or internet service providers (ISPs), according to the report.

Famous for its flagship product, Ookla is a global broadband testing giant based in the United States. A publication of Oookla, Net Index conducts real-time speed tests of network performance for both internet service providers and mobile broadband carriers across the world. The index calculates these values by aggregating hundreds of thousands of recent survey and test results from their major tool, Ookla Speedtest.

The networks of Warid Telecom, China Mobile Pakistan (Zong), Telenor Pakistan, Mobilink and Ufone showed speeds of 5.19 Mbps, 4.99 Mbps, 3.12 Mbps, 2.63 Mbps and 1.44 Mbps respectively, according to Net Index December, 2014

The index, however, doesn’t mention if each operator offered the same speed at all test locations. For example, Warid Telecom that appeared on top of the list has yet to start its LTE tests in Karachi, an indication that the tests were conducted for locations in Lahore, the operator’s stronghold.

Of the 43 locations covered by the index, Gulberg, Lahore Cantonment, Clifton and Akhtar Colony were among top six, each recording more than 4 Mbps of download speed for mobile Internet – the lowest speed, 1.7 Mbps, was recorded for Rahim Yar Khan.

The category of ISPs, too, showed lower speeds compared to the index’s global average.

The average broadband (download) speed for Pakistan was recorded at 3.3 Mbps for December 2014. Though it is the highest speed recorded by the ISPs in 2014, it remains well below the global average, 21.5 Mbps.

Among the top 20 internet service providers, Multinet showed the highest download speed of 10.88 Mbps followed by Transworld Associates and Cyber Internet Services that showed speeds of 10.35 Mbps and 5.45 Mbps respectively – the local broadband giant Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited, which has more than 80% market share, showed 3.63 Mbps of download speed on Ookla’s Speedtest.

The report shows Lahore, Karachi, Rawalpindi and Islamabad as the top four cities with download speeds of 3.55 Mbps, 3.5 Mbps, 3.03 Mbps and 2.98 Mbps respectively.

The quality of network has been an issue for the bulk of country’s internet users – about 23 million as per official statistics. With hopes to receive high-speed broadband, the internet-hungry consumers had waited eagerly, for years, for the launch of 3G services. But many still complain about the poor quality of service.

Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), the telecom sector’s regulator, has already upgraded its equipment and trained its staff for monitoring the quality of service (QoS) parameters for third-generation (3G) and 4G mobile services. However, it will launch field tests only after the cellular service providers finish the first phase of 3G rollout – the government, in the first phase, had asked the CMOs to complete the rollout of 3G services in big cities within nine months, from the date licences were awarded.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 6th,  2014.

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World AIDS Day: Speakers pick awareness campaigns as weapon of choice

PESHAWAR: Speakers at a day-long conference on World AIDS Day urged civil society, social welfare organisations and educational institutions to launch awareness campaigns on HIV/AIDS.

Addressing a seminar at Gandhara Medical College on Monday, health professionals termed awareness campaigns a must, saying myths about transmission of the disease needed to be addressed at the earliest.

“You can eat, work and shake hands with HIV/AIDS patients. However, if a doctor is reluctant to do so, what do you expect from an ordinary person?” questioned Unicef Program officer Dr Inamullah Khan during his address.

He said over 17,000 people are said to be HIV/AIDS positive in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), adding people from all walks of life including students, labours and professionals suffer from the disease.

Khan said the discrimination and stigma involved were the reasons why patients refuse to register for medical assistance. He added awareness campaigns need to be launched so that the misconceptions are addressed.

Also speaking on the occasion, K-P Director Health Services Dr Ali Muhammad said relevant officials should not think they have done their job by just holding seminars, walks or press talks against HIV/AIDS.

“Social welfare department, organisations and educational institutions should also come forward and join hands with the health department to curb the disease,” the director said. He added patients should be encouraged since hesitation to come forward leads to further complications.

He said a centre for medical assistance of HIV/AIDS patients will soon be established at Lady Reading Hospital. A walk was also later held in connection with HIV/AIDS.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 2nd, 2014.

Oil and gas: Govt to pick heads of companies by Dec-end

ISLAMABAD: The government is all set to appoint permanent heads of state-owned oil and gas companies including oil marketing giant Pakistan State Oil (PSO) and major explorer Pakistan Petroleum Limited by the end of December this year.

Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources Secretary Abid Saeed stated this while briefing the Senate Standing Committee on Petroleum and Natural Resources here on Friday.

The remarks came in the face of repeated criticism of the government for delay in hiring the heads of vital oil and gas exploration, production and marketing companies.

Senator Mohammad Yousaf chaired the meeting, which was attended by Amjad Janjua, Acting Managing Director of PSO, high officials of the petroleum ministry, officials of the National Accountability Bureau, Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and Establishment Division.

FIA officials told the committee that they had received complaints from the Prime Minister’s Office in 2013 that four senior officials of PSO had allowed import of substandard furnace oil.

According to FIA Inspector Abdul Rauf Sheikh, 60,000 tons of furnace oil worth Rs4.5 billion was imported from Malaysia through vessel MT Balochistan, but its quality was found to be substandard.

Moreover, Rs650 million was spent by company officials on foreign trips and an oil supply contract was awarded to the Pakistan National Shipping Corporation without floating any tender.

The committee chairman asked the FIA officials why they permitted the import of poor-quality oil, which caused a loss of billions of rupees to the national kitty and why the quality was not checked at the time of purchase.

The FIA men argued that all imports were being made according to set rules and regulations and there was also nothing wrong with the oil when it was purchased. Some black sheep, according to them, changed the good-quality furnace oil with the substandard one during the journey and an investigation must be initiated to look into this point.

The committee directed the FIA to present all details of its findings as early as possible, but the investigating agency sought two-month time.

Briefing the panel members, NAB officials said at present three cases were being investigated against PSO officials, of which two were related to Sindh and one to Balochistan.

It is probing the sale and purchase of a plot in Karachi worth Rs28.5 million, theft of 2,258 tons of oil in Muzaffargarh district and oil supply to Afghanistan via Quetta and Chaman where some irregularities were reported.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 29th, 2014.

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