Amid lack of clarity over dates for the visit of the International Monetary Fund, Pakistan is set to make a $500 million debt repayment to a Chinese commercial bank–the second in the past seven days –which may push reserves below $4 billion without any new injection.
The country is scheduled to make the repayment in the next 72 hours – holding onto hopes that, after the Lunar Year holidays, those Chinese financial institutions to which Pakistan made repayments last year will start disbursing loans.
Sources in the Ministry of Finance told The Express Tribune that the government will return the $500 million loan to the Chinese commercial bank, while another loan – of $300 million – given by the same bank is maturing in the fourth week of February.
Meanwhile, the Economic Affairs Ministry was showing that the entire payment – of $800 million – to the said bank is due next month, indicating some inconsistencies in data recording between the two ministries.
Over this past weekend, Pakistan made a payment of roughly $328 million guaranteed Chinese debt that the country had taken to set up power plants. Pakistan had requested China to roll-over this guaranteed debt, but China did not immediately agree.
After paying back the Chinese guaranteed debt, the foreign exchange reserves slipped to around $4.1 billion, and may fall close to $3.5 billion by the end of this week, if no immediate injection is received, said the sources.
A senior functionary of the finance ministry said that, at this point, the repayment will be made out of the gross foreign exchange reserves.
On Thursday, Pakistan had invited the IMF to send a mission to Islamabad this week, in a bid to revive the derailed bailout programme. There were, however, no official words expressed by any side about whether the IMF mission will be visiting or not.
Resident representative of the IMF, Esther Perez, did not respond to a request for comment on whether the IMF had taken a decision on Pakistan’s request.
While addressing a press conference in Karachi, the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) Governor, Jameel Ahmad, also did not give a firm reply and said that the talks for the ninth review will be held “very soon”.
The diplomatic and central bank sources said that two Chinese commercial banks may reimburse two loans worth $500 million and $700 million that Pakistan had repaid a couple of months ago. The processing of the $500 million loan was at an advanced stage. The draft of the $700 million loan agreement has also been received they added.
With the risk of default increasing every day, former finance minister Miftah Ismail has repeatedly stated that the country may default in the absence of the IMF programme.
Meanwhile, the rupee kept gradually shedding its value and closed over Rs230.15 to a dollar on Monday – a figure that has become symbolic as the dollar is not available at this rate in the open market. The gap between the inter-bank rate and the black-market rate has become as wide as Rs25 to Rs30 per dollar.
The SBP governor hoped that when the IMF review is complete, and the inflows come in, the market sentiment will improve and the gap in the different rates being offered will end.
At this juncture, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar on Monday left for Qatar to seek the Gulf nation’s interest in a strategic sale, offloading stakes of state-owned enterprises to raise funds. Pakistani authorities, however, have not yet been able to determine a price for any of the entities – despite ongoing negotiations with Qatar and the UAE since April last year.
While giving a breakdown of the country’s financing requirements, the SBP governor said that of the $23 billion loans to be repaid, Pakistan has already paid back $15 billion – these include the $6 billion loans rolled over.
“We have to repay $8 billion in the remaining five months of the current fiscal year. Of this, we have an understanding of $3 billion being rolled over under a bilateral facility with a country,” said Ahmad.
The SBP governor also added that Pakistan expects a bilateral commercial loan of $2.2 billion to go from its accounts and be returned. This $3 billion is to be repaid over the next five months, Ahmad said.
So far, the Chinese and non-Chinese commercial banks have stayed away from extending loans to Pakistan due to the adverse impact of the country’s junk credit rating on the balance sheets.
The government expects that it will be able to get fresh foreign commercial loans worth $1.5 billion in the current fiscal year, an assessment that may not be true without the IMF programme’s revival. Foreign commercial banks are now demanding an interest rate much higher than 10%, which the government cannot politically afford.
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