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Fitch says Pakistan’s election outcome highlights risks to new IMF deal

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The close outcome of Pakistan’s election and resulting near-term political uncertainty may complicate the country’s efforts to secure a financing agreement with the IMF, to succeed the Stand-By Arrangement (SBA) expiring in March 2024, Fitch Ratings says.

The credit rating agency says that a “new deal” is key to the country’s credit profile, and we assume one will be achieved within a few months, but an extended negotiation or failure to secure it would increase external liquidity stress and raise the probability of default.

Pakistan’s external position has improved in recent months, with the State Bank of Pakistan reporting net foreign reserves of USD8.0 billion as of 9 February 2024, up from a low of USD2.9 billion on 3 February 2023. Nevertheless, this is low relative to projected external funding needs, which we expect will continue to exceed reserves for at least the next few years. We estimate Pakistan met less than half of its USD18 billion funding plan in the first two quarters of the fiscal year ending June 2024 (FY24), excluding routine rollovers of bilateral debt.

Pakistan’s vulnerable external position means that securing financing from multilateral and bilateral partners will be one of the most urgent issues on the agenda for the next government. This looks set to be a coalition of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party and Pakistan People’s Party, despite the strong performance by candidates associated with Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party in the election.

Negotiating a successor deal to the SBA and adhering to the policy commitments under it will be critical to most other external financing flows, not just from the IMF, and will strongly influence the country’s economic trajectory in the longer term.

Finalizing a new IMF deal is likely to be challenging. The current SBA is an interim package and Fitch believes any successor arrangement would come with tougher conditions, which may be resisted by entrenched vested interests in Pakistan. Nonetheless, we assume any resistance will be overcome, given the acute nature of the country’s economic challenges and the limited alternatives.

“Continued political instability could prolong any discussions with the IMF, delay assistance from other multilateral and bilateral partners, or hamper the implementation of reforms. We believe a government will assume office and engage with the IMF relatively quickly, but risks to political stability are likely to remain high. Public discontent could rise further if PTI remains sidelined – the election revealed continued strong public support for the party,” reads the statement issued by Fitch Ratings.

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