Inflation Conundrum

Author: Ahmad Malik

In recent years, particularly over the past two years, Pakistan has been grappling with a severe inflation problem with significant economic repercussions. As inflation continues to rise, millions of people are forced to make tough choices between putting food on the table. This exacerbates the challenges faced by Pakistan, which is already struggling to cope with myriad political uncertainties and lacking signs of stability in the near future. Moreover, inflation’s impact extends beyond individual households, raising concerns about both short- and long-term consequences for the overall economy.

Although inflation is about the low purchasing power of individuals and households, it goes beyond that. As prices rise, the same money buys fewer goods and services, eventually leading to a decline in overall consumption and economic activity. If one goes by the numbers, inflation in May skyrocketed to 36.4%, reaching the highest level among South Asian nations, primarily driven by soaring food prices, as reported by the statistics bureau. The increase in food prices due to inflation directly impacts the purchasing power of individuals and households.

The repercussions of low consumption eventually extend to the manufacturing industry, as people struggling to afford necessities like food may postpone or forgo discretionary spending on items such as TVs, clothes, or car upgrades, let alone consider purchasing a new vehicle. Every facet of the economy suffers when such a contraction in consumer spending happens.

The higher inflation rates have made it difficult for industries to maintain price stability.

Inflation has also impacted businesses and manufacturers as production costs have increased significantly. The sharp decline of the rupee vs. the dollar and the government’s decision to ban imports of luxury items, automobile parts, and raw materials from time to time has hindered production. It has halted production across the industries as there are no buyers. It is not surprising to see when car manufacturers release YoY data where there’s a steep decline in sales in the current fiscal year compared to previous years. Consumers are of the opinion that the sharp rise in prices means that they will have to wait, probably for years, before they can afford a new car. At the same time, car manufacturers blame the losing value of the rupee and the government’s import ban. The higher costs associated with inflation limit businesses’ growth and expansion potential, ultimately affecting their ability to thrive in the market.

The prevailing uncertainty in the economy also poses challenges for investors, hindering their interest to invest in new ventures or expand existing operations. Moody’s Investors Service recently downgraded the Pakistan government’s local and foreign currency credit ratings from Caa1 to Caa3. This downgrade was prompted by declining foreign exchange reserves and an increased risk of default on foreign debt repayment. Other credit rating agencies have also expressed concerns, further contributing to mistrust and uncertainty. Consequently, businesses and investors are reluctant to invest long-term or undertake new projects. This lack of

investment is hampering capital formation in Pakistan, limiting the availability of resources necessary for business expansion and innovation.

The reduced investment activity also constrains individual companies’ growth potential and contributes to slower overall economic growth. The cumulative effect of these factors underscores the challenges faced by the Pakistani economy in fostering sustained development due to higher inflation.

Inflation in Pakistan has also compelled the State Bank to revise the interest rates and monetary policy over and over again to adjust for inflation. State Bank raised its key interest rate, in May, to a record 21% to fight inflation and earn the trust of foreign creditors. However, the increase in interest rates has its dilemmas as it affects various aspects of the economy, such as borrowing costs, consumer spending, and investment decisions. Individuals and businesses, especially SMEs, are less likely to take on new loans or invest in new projects. This decrease in borrowing and investment activity has broader implications for the overall economy, as it slows down consumption, business expansion, and economic growth.

Another area where Pakistan’s economy has suffered due to inflation is its export with trading partners. As Pakistan faces higher inflation rates than its trading partners, its exports have become more expensive. This increase in export prices, due to production costs, accompanied by lower production due to the unavailability of raw materials and a plummeting rupee, has dwindled the demand from foreign markets. The stats don’t paint a good picture either, as from July to April of the fiscal year 2022-2023, Pakistan’s exports amounted to $23.174 billion, a decrease compared to the exports of $26.247 billion in the same period of the previous fiscal year, 2021-2022. The most significant decline was observed in April 2023, with exports amounting to $2.124 billion, in contrast to the exports of $2.897 billion in April 2022. This represents a decline of 26.68 per cent.

The higher inflation rates have made it difficult for industries to maintain price stability and manage inflationary pressures to ensure healthy exports. The prevailing uncertainty and downgraded credit ratings further hinder investment and capital formation. Additionally, the country’s exports have suffered due to higher inflation rates, making them more expensive in foreign markets. Pakistan must address inflation, stabilize prices, and implement measures to foster sustained economic development; ensuring competitiveness and protecting domestic industries.

The writer is a freelancer.

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