Thursday, May 14, 2015

Has PM Modi Turned Indian Economy Around?

Things are not looking so rosy at home for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he continues his world tour with the latest stop in Beijing, China.


Is Modi government's honeymoon already over on its first anniversary at the helm? Has the Indian economy really turned around? Is it really growing faster than China? Are Indian businesses doing better under the new government? Are investors more excited about India's prospects? Has Indian currency recovered to levels before its collapse in 2013? Is India any cleaner than it was last year? To answer these questions, let's look at some data:

1. Revision of GDP methodology by India's Central Statistical Office (CSO) to show it is growing faster than China has drawn serious skepticism, even derision by serious economists around the world. While India's boosters in the West are not only buying but applauding the new figures, Indian policy professionals at the nation's Central Bank and the Finance ministry are having a very hard time believing the new and improved GDP brought to the world by Indian government. Dissenters include Morgan Stanley's Ruchir Sharma, an Indian-American, who has called the new numbers a "bad joke" aimed at a "wholesale rewriting of history".

2. India's exports are continuing to drop. The trade data shows a sharper slowdown (21%) in exports than in imports (13%,  due to lower oil prices) for March, 2015.  Exports are down another 13.96% in April 2015. There is an overall decline in both for the year too, according to Seeking Alpha.

3. Large scale manufacturing in India continues to disappoint. Growth slowed in April 2015, according to HSBC India Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) data. At 51.3 in April, down from 52.1 in March, the headline PMI points to slowing demand.

4. Mumbai stocks are among the worst performing in emerging markets. FII (foreign institutional investments) net outflows gave been of the order of Indian Rs 125 billion (about US$ 2 billion) over the past month. The stock market index has seen the biggest correction of 10 per cent in a short time, according to India's First Post.

5. In spite of Prime Minister Modi's high-profile campaign to improve hygiene,  India has been ranked near the bottom on access to clean water and sanitation. India has ranked 92 on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene  (WASH) Index developed by The Water Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Gillings School of Global Public Health in the US, far below Pakistan which ranked near the top in 5th position.

India's Economic Times has recently reported results of a survey of top CEOs.  Majority of them say that demand is depressed. "The bonhomie and cheer that greeted the arrival of the Modi government is replaced by a sombre mood and a grim acknowledgement of the realities of doing business in India," reports ET, as it captures the sentiment of the CEOs. The largest engineering conglomerate L and T has said some of its plants are idle as demand for capital goods is very weak. The Aditya Birla Group had deferred its revenue target of $65 billion by 3 years, to 2018.

A recent piece titled "Why India is Not A Buy in Current Environment" published by Seeking Alpha summarizes the current Indian situation as follows:

"While there are some who consider India to be the best emerging market and recommend it as such, my own assessment is different. Whether it's relatively high valuations, weak fundamentals with persistent deficits, government bonds under pressure, weakening currency, rebounding oil prices, declining confidence in the government and so on, India is facing a ton of headwinds going forward. Far too many to be a number one pick among emerging markets."

Modi government has to turn some of its election promises into action. Mr. Modi cannot rely on the benefit of the doubt because his honeymoon period is now over. He will be judged on what he is able to accomplish.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Can India Survive Without Western Money Inflows?

Modi's Pakistan Policy

India's Soaring Twin Deficits

Xi Jinping's Pakistan Visit

How Strategic Are China-Pakistan Ties?

India Pakistan Economic Comparison in 2014

Pakistan's KSE-100 Outperforms India's Sensex

India's IT Exports Highly Exaggerated



Monday, May 11, 2015

Pakistan 2.0: Technology Drives Productivity, Economy

Introduction of green revolution technologies drove Pakistan's rapid GDP growth in 1960s and 1970s when it was essentially an agricultural economy. The decade of 1980s saw livestock revolution that helped increase farm productivity. Will rapid absorption of information and communication technology (ICT) do the same in coming decades?

Abundance of historical data on educational attainment shows that young Pakistanis are more literate and better educated than their parents and grandparents. And recent data confirms that they are rapidly embracing new technologies. Technology, particularly ICT, is increasingly visible among consumers, industries and public sector.  As a result, Pakistan today stands at the threshold of soaring productivity and rising standards of living over the next several decades. The basic requirements for it to materialize are maintenance of peace and security and  increasing investments in education, health care, energy and infrastructure.

3G, 4G Mobile Broadband Rollout:

The launch of 3G and 4G networks has accelerated the growth of Internet users in Pakistan. More than a million subscribers are signing up every month since the 3G and 4G rollout in the country last year. These new users are generating more and more data traffic requiring rapid increases in available bandwidth.



Pakistan ended March 2015 with over 12.07 million 3G/4G subscribers, up from 10.34 million in February, according to data from Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA). Telenor led the 3G/4G market with over 3.53 million subscribers, followed by CMPak (2.95 million 3G/4G subscribers), Mobilink (2.86 million 3G subscribers), and Ufone (2.66 million 3G subscribers). Warid had 66,140 LTE network subscribers at 31 March.

Thousands of kilometers long fiber network is currently in place to deal with the growing domestic bandwidth demand. Several projects are underway to grow this network further.

Consumer Applications:

Young entrepreneurs are developing and launching mobile apps for everything from sports and entertainment to education, ride-sharing and e-commerce.

Pepper.pk has topped BlackBerry’s Appworld with their game Ninja Fruit Bash, TenPearls won Nokia and ATT Innovators 2011 contest through their game Animal 101, start-ups such as PiLabs also made their mark with mobile games such as ‘Field Garfield’ which is an official Garfield game.

A ride-sharing app called savaree, photo-sharing app Groopic and custom shoes app Markhor have been making news lately in Pakistan and overseas.

E-commerce is taking off in Pakistan with companies such as Home shopping, Shophive, daraz.pk and Symbios are becoming popular for online shopping.

Spurred by a favorable regulatory and technology environment, Pakistan is witnessing dramatic growth in mobile banking.  Four out of five cellular mobile companies currently operating in Pakistan have launched m-money systems in partnership with financial institutions. The m-money market volume reached 153 million annual transactions worth US$ 6.2 billion as of 2013.

Industrial Applications:

Information and communications technology is being deployed in Pakistan's energy sector.

In addition to automatic reading of smart meters at the customer premises, smart meters have been installed with the support of USAID on incoming and outgoing feeders at all nine government-owned electric utilities. These will help move the system toward building of a smart national grid to better manage power generation, transmission and distribution in the country.

A captive power plant owned by Sapphire Group textile mill in Muridke Lahore is using hundreds embedded sensors and other digital instruments in power turbines, analyzing the data they collect, and using the information to improve the plant’s performance, optimize production and reduce unplanned downtime. US-based General Electric is paying for the sensors and the software. The company will be paid by splitting all benefits with Sapphire under a win-win scenario, according to GE Reports website.

Public Sector Applications:

IT projects ranging from automated meter reading and computerized land records management to online education and mobile banking are now at various stages of implementation across Pakistan.  In a report released last year, the World Bank called these projects "unprecedented in the public sector in developing countries". The objective of these efforts is to reduce corruption, increase productivity and improve service delivery in both private and public sectors.

The Punjab government is deploying smartphone applications to crack down on absentee mobile government workers and their corrupt practices. As part of this project, the government employee must send his or her picture and a report of interaction with citizens along with GPS coordinates. For example, a agricultural pest control official required to visit farmers must file reports of his findings and actions in real time via a smartphone app.

An SMS soliciting feedback from citizens is sent out after each such visit or interaction. Responses from users are logged into a central database, and the data then analyzed and mapped. Call centers have also been trained to contact those who do not respond or are unable to read the text due to illiteracy. More than three million users of public services have so far been contacted since the summer of 2012, with both positive and negative feedback, according to the World Bank report. “Sir, we went to the hospital yesterday. They asked for 1500 rupees [in bribes]. We didn’t have the money so we left,” reads one of the reports about a hospital in Lahore, the provincial capital. The feedback is actively monitored by the office the Chief Secretary – the top civil servant in the province – to manage the performance of officials.

Summary:

Pakistan today stands at the threshold of soaring productivity and rising standards of living over the next several decades. The basic requirements for it to materialize are maintenance of peace and security and  increasing investments in education, health care, energy and infrastructure.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

High-Speed Fiber Optic Connectivity in Pakistan

E-Commerce in Pakistan

Public Sector Apps in Pakistan

History of Educational Attainment in Pakistan

Online Education in Pakistan

Value Added Agriculture in Pakistan

Upwardly Mobile Pakistan

Friday, May 1, 2015

Will Gwadar Be Another Hong Kong For China?

The port city of Hong Kong has played a pivotal role in China's economic and trade expansion on the Chinese East Coast in the Pacific region. Meanwhile, China's Western region has remained relatively underdeveloped.

China's West Coast:

Is China looking to build and use Gwadar in Pakistan as Hong Kong West to accelerate development in its West? Will Gwadar serve as a superhighway for China's trade expansion in Middle East, Africa and Europe? A point to project Chinese economic and military might westward?

Unlike the continental United States which has coasts on both the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans allowing it easy access to Europe and Asia, China has only one coast, its East Coast along South China Sea.

As the Americans look to Asia with the US Pivot to Asia and the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), the Chinese are looking to expand westward with Central Asia as well as Africa, Europe and the Middle East with "One Road One Belt" initiative funded by Silk Road Fund and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). Pakistan is a crucial partner in this strategy, particularly the development of Pakistan-China Corridor linking China's western region with Gwadar port on the Arabia Sea.

Gwadar Deep Sea Port:

The Chinese see Gwadar deep sea port and the town of Jiwani as Hong Kong West, a gateway to Middle East, Africa and Europe. It will be the most important link in China's Maritime Silk Route (MSR), a sort of superhighway to the West for Chinese trade.

Professor Juan Cole of University of Michigan has aptly described the Chinese strategy as follows:

China’s enormous northwest is much closer to the Arabian Sea than to the port of Shanghai. It is about 2800 km. from Urumqi (pop. 4 million, the size of Los Angeles inside city limits) to Karachi, but twice as far to Shanghai. China has decided to develop its northwest by turning Pakistan into a sort of Hong Kong West. Hong Kong played, and perhaps still plays an important role as a gateway for certain kinds of foreign investment into China. In the same way, Pakistan can be a window on the world and a conduit for oil and trade into northwestern cities such as Urumqi and the smaller Kashgar (pop. 1 mn.)

In addition to a major expansion of the deep sea port,  there are plans in place for building a modern city with several skyscrapers, an international airport, highways and industrial parks in Gwadar, Balochistan. There will be air, road and rail links to move people and freight to and from around the world. Oil and gas pipelines are planned to transport energy as well. When completed, it will be comparable to major international port cities of Dubai, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Baloch Insurgency:

Baloch insuegency is cited as  a key threat to the implementation of the China-Pakistan Corridor in Pakistan. What is often not acknowledged by analysts is the fact that the Baloch insurgency is dying. It's a fact that has recently been described in some detail by Malik Siraj Akbar who is sympathetic to the Baloch separatist cause. Here's what Akbar wrote in December 2014 in a piece titled "The End of Pakistan's Baloch Insurgency?":

"Since its beginning in 2004, the Pakistan's Baloch insurgency is caught up in the worst infighting ever known to the general public. Different left-wing underground armed groups that had been fighting Islamabad for a free Baloch homeland have now started to attack each other's camps......Frustration, suspicion, infighting and division are the common features of the end of a guerrilla fight. Perhaps that time has come in Balochistan. "

The announcement of the Pak-China deal seems to have re-energized those who seek to hurt Pakistan. They are now trying to resuscitate the dying Baloch insurgency. Western media has widely publicized an interview of Bramdagh Bugti who is running the insurgency from the comfort of a Swiss hotel room.  In addition, Pakistan's western-funded NGOs are being used to play up the Baloch insurgency in the media with events like "Un-Silencing Balochistan" event and by blaming the ISI for the murder of Karachi activist Sabeen Mahmud.

Summary:

The China-Pak Corridor deal could prove to be transformational for Pakistan's economy, prosperity and rising living standards of its nearly 200 million people. As development work moves forward for Gwadar and China-Pakistan Corridor, I fully expect several hostile nations, including neighboring India, to use their proxies on the ground in Balochistan and some members of the "civil society" made up of some foreign-funded NGOs in Pakistan to make progress as difficult as possible. There will be serious efforts by many to resuscitate the dying Baloch insurgency. Pakistani people and both civil and military leaders need to be prepared to deal with these hurdles.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Who Killed Sabeen Mahmud? Why?

Xi Jinping in Pakistan

Pak-China Industrial Corridor

American Hypocrisy on Dr. Afridi's Sentence

Post Cold War World: Pakistan-China-Russia Vs India-US-Japan

How Strategic Are China-Pakistan Ties?

Alaska Permanent Fund: A Model For Balochistan?

Has Modi Stepped Up India's Covert War in Pakistan?

Serious Issues Undermining Baloch Insurgency

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Pakistan's Fiber Connectivity Growth

A $44 million 820 kilometer fiber optic cable being laid between Pakistan and China will be the 6th high-speed connection to add redundancy and to cater to rapidly growing Internet traffic from-to Pakistan. It is part of the $46 billion Pak-China Economic Corridor project recently agreed between the two neighbors.

Fiber Optic Network in Pakistan Source: KHL
Undersea Fiber Connectivity:

Pakistan is  currently connected with the world through four undersea fibre optic cables. These include India-Middle East-Western Europe (I-ME-WE),  Southeast Asia-Middle East-Western Europe 3 (SEA-ME-WE-3) and Southeast Asia-Middle-East-Western Europe 4 (SEA-ME-WE-4), operated by Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL) and TWA-1, which is owned by Trans-World Associates. A fifth undersea cable called South East Asia-Middle East-Western Europe (SEA-ME-WE)-5 is being laid to connect Pakistan with the rest of the world, according to Pakistani media reports.

Overland China-Pakistan Fiber:

The overland fibre optic cable is being laid by Chinese company Huawei between Rawalpindi and Khunjarab Pass on Pakistan-China border, a distance of 820 kilometers, according to media reports.

When completed, this project will provide Pakistan with a direct telecom access to China and the Central Asian States, and from there to Europe and the United States.

3G 4G Subscription Growth Source: PTA


Internet Traffic Growth:

The launch of 3G and 4G networks has accelerated the growth of Internet users in Pakistan. More than a million subscribers are signing up every month since the 3G and 4G rollout in the country last year. These new users are generating more and more data traffic requiring rapid increases in available bandwidth.

Pakistan ended March 2015 with over 12.07 million 3G/4G subscribers, up from 10.34 million in February, according to data from Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA). Telenor led the 3G/4G market with over 3.53 million subscribers, followed by CMPak (2.95 million 3G/4G subscribers), Mobilink (2.86 million 3G subscribers), and Ufone (2.66 million 3G subscribers). Warid had 66,140 LTE network subscribers at 31 March.

Thousands of kilometers long fiber network is currently in place to deal with the growing domestic bandwidth demand. Several projects are underway to grow this network further.

Redundancy and Reliability:

Pakistan needs multiple fiber connections to the outside world to prevent the kind of major Internet outages the country has suffered periodically for the last decade.

For example, a major disruption occurred in June 2005 when ALL Internet access from Pakistan was lost due to damage to the lone undersea fiber optic cable in the Arabian Sea connecting the nation with the rest of the world. There were satellite links but these links have very limited bandwidth. Even though the number of Internet users in Pakistan was relatively small at about 15-20 million, the impact on business was disproportionate. Traders on KSE reported as much as 80% drop in trading volume from this outage. All call center activities and other BPO vendors were severely affected.

Then there were more episodes of severe disruptions in 2008 when several undersea cables were cut. The Maldives were 100 percent down, followed by India, which had 82 percent disruption. Qatar, Djibouti and the United Arab Emirates were the next most widely affected areas with about 70 percent service interrupted. Disruptions for Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan ranged from 51 percent to 55 percent.

The increasing number of external fiber connections will help minimize disruptions in Internet connectivity and help deal with its impact on Pakistan's businesses, industry and security.

Summary:

High-speed Internet connectivity is at least as essential as other forms of communication, if not more so. Pakistan is investing in it for its economic and national security. Investments in this area need to be continuously boosted as the user base grows in the country.

Related Links:












Friday, April 24, 2015

Pakistan ETF PAK Trading On New York Stock Exchange

A new country Exchange Traded Fund (symbol PAK) started trading on New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) this week. The ETF will track the price and yield performance of the MSCI (Morgan Stanley Composite Index) All Pakistan Select 25/50 Index.

Pakistan ETF: 

The new Pakistan ETF launch coincided with Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to Pakistan where he announced massive $46 billion investment in Pakistan's energy and infrastructure. The sectors expected to benefit most initially from the Chinese investment are: energy, cement and financial services.

Pakistan Outperforms Emerging, Frontier Markets Source: Economist

Although the ETF launch timing was fortuitous, it was actually planned well before the Chinese leader's visit. It caters to individual investors seeking outsize returns in Karachi where KSE-100 index has been outperforming both emerging and frontier markets for several years.

Pakistan GDP, CAD Source: Economist

In 2014, the KSE-100 Index gained 6,870 points thereby generating a handsome return of 27% (31% return in US$ terms), making Pakistan's KSE world's third best performing marketTotal offerings in the year 2014 reached 9 as compared to 3 in the year 2013. After a gap of seven years, Rs 73 billion were raised through offerings in 2014 as compared to a meager Rs 4 billion raised in 2013. Foreign investors, that hold US$ 6.1 billion worth of Pakistani shares -which is 33% of the free-float (9% of market capitalization)-remained net buyers in 2014.

The ETF fact sheet shows that the index has 31 holdings in it. Also, the industry weightings are concentrated in financials (32.7%), energy (24.2%), materials (23%) and utilities (10.8%) — roughly 90% in four sectors alone.

The top equity holdings with weightings in the ETF are as follows: MCB Bank, 11.5% Oil and Gas Development (OGDC), 9.8% United Bank, 6.1% Fauji Fertilizer, 5.9% Lucky Cement, 5.7% Hub-Power, 4.9% Pakistan State Oil, 4.8% Engro, 4.7% Bank Al-Habib, 4.1% National Bank Pakistan, 3.7%




Pakistani Shares Valuation:

Even after outperforming both emerging and frontier market indices, Pakistani shares can be bought at deep discounts which make them very attractive, according to Renaissance Capital’s chief economist Charles Robertson.  MSCI (Morgan Stanley Composite Index) Pakistan trades at only 8.4 times forward earnings, a 17% discount to MSCI Frontier Markets. For comparison purposes, fellow frontier south Asia markets Sri Lanka and Bangladesh trade at 13.4x and 21.4x respectively. India, included in the emerging market index, trades at 16.8 times.

Key Sectors: 

Chinese investment in energy and infrastructure will help stimulate all sectors of Pakistani economy. But the sectors benefiting most from the $46 billion investment will likely include banks, energy and building materials, the sectors which are the favorites of  Pakistani billionaire investor Mian Mohammad Mansha.

Being close to the ruling Sharif family makes Mansha the ultimate insider. Beyond his investments in banking, cement, energy and textiles, Mansha is also starting to invest in consumer products sector benefiting from rising incomes, growing middle class and increasing jobs created in Pakistan by the massive Chinese investment. Mansha owns a big chunk of Muslim Commercial Bank (MCB) shares. He has recently been pumping more money into energy, cement and dairy businesses. Mansha's DG Khan Cements has announced plans to build a $300 million cement plant near Karachi. In additions, his Nishat Dairies has imported thousands of dairy cows for a dairy farm in Lahore.

Summary:

The $46 billion Chinese investment in energy and infrastructure has brought attention to tremendous investment opportunities in Pakistan, a nation of nearly 200 million people with rising middle class and growing consumption.  Pakistani military's recent successes against the terrorists and China's massive investment commitments are expected to boost investor confidence in the country. Higher confidence will help draw other significant investors to invest in Pakistan over the next several years.

Full Disclosure: I have personally invested in PAK ETF.