Pakistani Stocks Beat BRIC Shares in 1999-2009
As expected, Fareed Zakaria's discussion of "The Rise of the Rest" sings praises of the BRIC nations, particularly mentioning his native India in the most glowing terms. There is nothing wrong with that, except that Zakaria omits any positive mention of India's neighbor Pakistan in the context of economic performance in the decade of 1999-2009, and chooses to strike familiar themes of "Islamic jihadists" and "terrorism" when he does make any references to Pakistan.
What Zakaria has omitted is the story of the extraordinary returns Pakistan has produced for investors. Pakistan's key share index KSE-100 was just over 1000 points at the end of 1999, and it closed at over 9727.40 on Dec 31, 2009. Pakistan rupee remained quite stable at 60 rupees to a US dollar until 2008, slipping only recently to about 80 rupees to a dollar. In spite of the currency decline, Pakistan's KSE-100 stock index surged 55% in 2009 in US dollar terms and 65% in rupee terms. During the same period of 1999-2009, Mumbai Sensex index moved from just over 5000 points to close at 17,464.81. If you had invested $100 in KSE-100 stocks on Dec. 31, 1999, you'd have over $900 today, while $100 invested in the Mumbai's Sensex stocks would be worth $274. Investment of $100 in emerging-market stocks in general on Dec. 31, 1999, would get you about $262 today, while $100 invested in the S&P500 would be worth $91.
Pakistan's KSE-100 stock index surged 55% in 2009 in US dollar terms and 65% in rupee terms, in a year that also saw the South Asian nation wracked by increased violence and its state institutions described by various media talking heads as being on the verge of collapse. Even more surprising is the whopping 825% increase in KSE-100 from 1999 to 2009, which makes it a significantly better performer than the BRIC nations. BRIC darling China has actually underperformed its peers, rising only 150 percent compared with energy-rich Brazil (520 percent) and Russia (326 percent) or well-regulated India (274 percent), which some investors see as a safer and more diverse bet compared with the Chinese equity market, which is dominated by bank stocks. This is the kind of performance that has got the attention of some of the top investors and investment firms around the world.
Unlike Zakaria and his fellow media Indophiles in the West, however, the smart investors are paying attention to the outsized returns produced by the Karachi Stock Exchange listed companies. Not only has Goldman Sachs reaffirmed Pakistan's place on the list of its top 15 emerging economies for 2010, smart international investment gurus are investing in Pakistan. For example, Mark Mobius of Franklin Templeton International Funds recently said he is "overweight compared with everyone else" in Pakistani stocks.
In late 2008, Pakistan asked for IMF's help in recovering from a severe economic crisis resulting from political turmoil and a balance of payment crisis. The Letter of Intent that Pakistan's PPP-led government signed with the IMF for the $7.6 billion bailout acknowledged that Pakistan's GDP jumped "from $60 billion in 2000-01 to $170 billion in 2007-08 with per capita income rising from under $500 to over $1000". The LOI with IMF also acknowledged that "Pakistan attracted over $5 billion in foreign direct investment in the 2006-07 fiscal year, ten times the figure of 2000-01. The government's debt fell from 68% of GDP in 2003-04 to less than 55% in 2006-07, and its foreign-exchange reserves reached $16.4 billion as recently as in October (2008)."
Pakistan's KSE-100 shares trade well below the price-earnings of Mumbai or Shanghai, and its KSE's market cap is only a fraction Pakistan's GDP, which is a healthy sign for future increase in valuation. By contrast, the Indian stock market capitalization already exceeds India's total GDP. That's the sign of a bubble that can not be sustained for long.
Lower current valuation relative to BRIC markets means that there is greater potential for growth and higher returns on investments in Pakistan in the future. That's what many smart professional investment firms such as Franklin-Templeton and Goldman Sachs are expecting by being bullish on Pakistan.
Pakistan has defied low expectations repeatedly in the past. Let me quote what Mark Bendeich of Reuters wrote on Jan 10, 2008:
"A little more than six years ago, immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks on U.S. cities, few sane investment advisers would have recommended Pakistani stocks.
They should have. Their clients could have made a fortune. Since 2001, the nuclear-armed South Asian country, blamed for spawning generations of Islamic militants and threatening global security, has been making millionaires like newly minted coins.
As Western governments have fretted about Pakistan's nuclear weapons falling into the hands of militants, the Karachi Stock Exchange's main share index has risen more than 10-fold."
Pakistan is just too big to fail. In spite of all of the serious problems it faces today, I remain optimistic that country will not only survive but thrive in the coming decades. With a fairly large educated urban middle class, vibrant media, active civil society, assertive judiciary, many philanthropic organizations, and a spirit of entrepreneurship, the nation has the necessary ingredients to overcome its current difficulties to build a strong economy and a democratic government accountable to its people.
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