• Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Pakistan’s market is booming

Discussion in 'Pakistan Economy' started by cb4, Apr 14, 2013.

  1. cb4

    cb4 ELITE MEMBER

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    Pakistan’s chaotic financial heart, Karachi, is home to 18 million people, Taliban bombers, contract killers, and one of the world’s most successful stock markets.

    With 49 percent returns last year, the Karachi Stock Exchange (KSE) was one of the five best performing markets in the world. Now it is seeking a foreign partner to buy a stake and take over management of a market that has risen threefold over the past four years.

    At least some of that performance came on the back of a government amnesty that allowed people holding undeclared assets or “black money” to invest it freely in the market. And the relatively illiquid market has also been vulnerable to manipulation.

    But government officials say the market’s success highlights the economic potential of a country better known for spiralling sectarian violence, the war against al-Qaeda and the Taliban, crippling power cuts and entrenched corruption.

    The market’s benchmark index continues to soar to record highs: up 10.34 percent so far this year, fuelled in part by expectations May elections will mark the nation’s first transfer of power from one democratic government to another. For foreigners, an 11 percent depreciation of the Pakistani rupee against the dollar since the start of the year has offset those gains.

    “Pakistan has a lot to offer investors and this is our chance to show it,” KSE chairman Nadeem Naqvi said. He plans to embark on a series of roadshows for potential foreign partners that will take him to London, Frankfurt and Hong Kong in the coming months.

    Many of the companies listed on the KSE offer double-digit returns, low stock prices and resilient business models in this frontier market with a population of 180 million. The index still has an attractive price:earnings ratio of 8.50 despite the soaring returns of the past few years.

    Pakistan has a 4 percent weighting in the MSCI Frontiers market index and has become somewhat of a discovery for foreign investors chasing new markets and yields.



    The seamier side

    But the KSE’s spectacular rise last year can at least be partly attributed to another factor entirely: the cleansing of “black money”.

    The market took off last year just as a government decree was finalised allowing people to buy stocks with no questions asked about the source of the cash.

    Average daily volume more than doubled last year to 173 million shares from 79 million in 2011.

    Authorities say the measure will bring undocumented funds into the tax net in a country where few pay taxes. But some critics decried it as a gift to corrupt officials and criminals seeking to launder dirty cash.

    “Politics and dirty money go hand in hand in Pakistan,” said Ikramul Haq, a Supreme Court lawyer and a professor on tax law.

    “People want to be outside the regulatory framework and outside the tax net.”

    The black money amnesty also drew attention to the seamier side of the Karachi stock market.

    Interviews with regulators, brokers, market officials and analysts showed insider trading and other manipulations were routine. Regulators have been largely ineffectual in controlling the shady practices.

    The Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) said it found 23 violations of securities laws that merited fines in fiscal year 2011/12, from April to March. The market regulator sent warning letters in another 19 cases, it said in its annual report

    .

    That was a drop in the bucket, said Ashraf Tiwana, who was dismissed as the head of SECP’s legal department after years of clashes with his bosses over fraud in the market. He has petitioned the Supreme Court to replace the SECP chairman and commissioners.

    “There’s a lot of fraud, a lot of market manipulation... but not enough action has been taken, especially not enough criminal action has been taken,” Tiwana said. “They’re just passing small fines and giving out warning letters.”

    Regulators were too close to the market, Tiwana said.

    The head of the stock exchange is a former broker and the two top members of the SECP are former employees of Aqeel Karim Dhedhi, the founder of one of the country’s biggest brokerage houses.

    Nicknamed “Big Dhedhi” for his ability to move markets, Aqeel Karim Dhedhi heads one of Pakistan’s largest domestic conglomerates, the AKD Group.

    Lately, the well-known philanthropist and leading member of Pakistan’s business establishment has been trying to fend off arrest over allegations of insider trading.

    A SECP investigator accused traders, including Dhedhi’s brokerage, of buying shares in the state-run Sui Southern Gas before an official note allowing the company to raise its prices.

    In the weeks before Sui Southern’s announcement, the stock price jumped from 13.5 rupees (R1.22) to 20 rupees, its biggest hike in five years.

    The National Accountability Bureau, the state-run anti-corruption agency, called it a case of insider trading. But the SECP said its own confidential investigation showed no evidence of fraud.

    The SECP whistleblower in the case has been suspended from her job for disclosing “confidential information”. Dhedhi strongly denied any wrongdoing and said he had purchased his gas stocks years before the announcement.

    “There is nothing there. The [SECP] report totally cleared us,” Dhedhi said. “I’m proud to say that in more than 40 years of operating, we’ve never paid a penny in fines.”

    Dhedhi said he often offered advice to government officials on financial policy. His business empire includes two equity funds that were among the best performing in Asia last year.

    “The SECP has really started listening to the market,” Dhedhi said.

    He remains under investigation. But even if regulators were to find him guilty of insider trading, past practice shows he would likely get a slap on the wrist.

    The SECP’s fines are almost always a fraction above the amount of money made in the stock manipulation, and sometimes even less.

    In December, a broker was fined half the amount he made from trades that manipulated the share price of tobacco giant Philip Morris. In February, the SECP fined Pakistani brokerage BMA Capital $500 000 (R4.4 million), after it made $460 000 by misleading a foreign client. BMA Capital has appealed.


    Fines largely symbolic

    Imtiaz Haider, the SECP commissioner in charge of market regulation, acknowledged fines were largely symbolic. If they were too high, he said, brokers might not be willing to pay them.

    Contesting fines in the congested court system could take years. “The purpose is more to name and shame,” Haider said. “It causes them reputational damage.”

    Like KSE chairman Nadeem Naqvi, Haider is a former employee of Dhedhi’s. Both men denied any conflict of interest.

    “It’s important to have people in charge who know the way markets work,” Haider said. “I’ve had lots of other jobs than just working for Dhedhi.”

    The SECP can revoke licences, impose hefty fines, or open criminal cases against offenders. But it almost never does. It has launched only 10 criminal cases in the past five years, all still held up in the judicial backlog. It has issued dozens of small fines.

    “We have great laws and regulations but they are not properly enforced,” former SECP chief Khalid Mirza said.

    “The SECP is just catching the small fish as far as I can see.”

    Naqvi acknowledged his priority had been to boost the market, not to crack down on it. “My management style isn’t confrontational because I want to build confidence in the market,” he said.

    Separating the commercial and the regulatory functions of the market is one of the main reasons the KSE is looking for a foreign partner. It has appointed Deutsche Bank as its adviser on its quest to demutualise, a process that will separate those two functions.

    “Demutualisation is another step on the road to reform,” Naqvi said. “Right now we have a fairly robust system. But I am not saying it is foolproof.”



    Black to white

    The Karachi market’s small size and lack of liquidity make it vulnerable to manipulation.

    Market capitalisation is only $41.5 billion, the Bombay stock market’s capitalisation is more than 10 times higher at $578bn.

    Only a quarter of the shares are freely floated: about 30 percent of that is held by foreign funds and investors, including Franklin Templeton, Invesco, Goldman Sachs Asset Management and Mackenzie Financial Corporation.

    Since only 60 of KSE’s 600 listed companies trade regularly, small trades can rapidly make a big difference in a company’s share price.

    Boosting volumes on the exchange was one of the intentions behind Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari’s decree last April turning black money into white.

    It said no questions could be asked by the Federal Board of Revenue about the source of funds invested in stocks until July next year. The investments therefore became legally legitimate.

    The pool of such funds is potentially huge. A report by the UN Office on Drug and Crime projected the size of Pakistan’s informal or “black” economy at $34bn in 2010/11, one-fifth the size of the formal economy.

    The Financial Action Task Force, which is based in Paris and monitors money laundering, said the decree did not contravene Pakistan’s existing anti-money laundering legislation. But anecdotal evidence suggests controls are lax.

    In one case shown to Reuters by a lawyer, a man invested $10m buying stocks in a single transaction. His address: a Karachi slum notorious for Taliban infiltration. – Katharine Houreld from Reuters

    Pakistan
     
  2. Argus Panoptes

    Argus Panoptes BANNED

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    What black money giveth, black money shall taketh away.