Saturday, January 26, 2008

Pakistan: A Magnet For Foreign Investors?

Extreme Investing or Safe Haven?
Some call it "Extreme Investing". Call it by any name, but international investors have discovered Pakistan as an attractive destination.
Referring to the recent upsurge in violence, Bank Muscat CEO Ali Issa said, "We are not worried about our investment in Pakistan, we think it's just a passing phase."
Chief Strategist for Merrill Lynch Mark Matthews is the most bullish about Pakistan, calling it a “safe haven” for investors. Matthews believes Benazir Bhutto's death is "on the whole, largely irrelevant to the economy, which like other places, is what really moves the stock market." He says Pakistan represents the “biggest information arbitrage,” which in its crudest terms, means that body bags are good for stock pickers. He reckons that the slew of bad news from Pakistan is diverting people’s attention from the fact that the Pakistan economy is humming along nicely, with growth forecast to reach 7% this year, a repeat of 2007, and stocks yielding an average of 6% dividend yield. Karachi was up an impressive 40% last year, and would have closed even higher had it not been for the tragic assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in December which trashed the market.
Pakistan’s Telecom Sector
Telecom sector is attracting the largest share of foreign direct investment in Pakistan. Foreign investors pumped in $364m into it during July-Sept 2007 quarter, according to the latest figures released by Pakistan Telecommunications Authority. The total FDI in Pakistan for this 3-month period was $962.5m.
The number of cellular subscribers in Pakistan has crossed 76m in Dec, 2007, from 500,000 in 2004. According to Business Recorder, Pakistan's financial daily, most forecasters believe that the upward trend will continue in the next 5 years because of the huge market potential, particularly in the rural areas where the build-out has yet to happen. Operators such as Wateen (with Motorola) are planning a large Wimax roll-out to improve voice and high bandwidth data access across the country. The biggest mobile operators in Pakistan include Mobilink with 30m subscribers, Ufone with 16m, Telenor with 14m, Warid with 13m and Paktel with 1m. It is estimated that the telecom sector has added at least 300,000 jobs in the last few years.
Financial Services & Infrastructure
While Telecom has been the hottest sector, here are some of the recent deals making the news:
1. Nomura announced it would team up with an Omani bank to buy Saudi Pak Bank for US$200m.
2. Barclay’s Bank received a banking license in Pakistan and will open up 10 branches with US$100m.
3. International Petroleum Investment, a UAE company, announced it would build a US$5b refinery.
4. Hutchison Port Holdings announced it will build a US$1b deep water container port.
5. Singapore’s Temasek, through NIB Bank, is buying PICIC.
6. Philip Morris is building a new plant, and China Mobile is hiring thousands of people, as it doubles its base stations in the country.
Private Equity Funds
Recent launch of a private equity fund focused on Pakistan is another indication of continuing investor interest in Pakistan economy as a magnet for investors. This fund, solely dedicated to investing in Pakistan was closed December 2007, capping a year in which the country was one of the hottest emerging markets despite its political turmoil. This is the fourth or fifth major private equity fund focusing on Pakistan. JS Group, a Pakistani financial services group, is the sponsor and a large investor in this new JS Private Equity Fund, which was closed on Dec. 31 at $158 million.
The Future
While many Pakistanis seem to have a developed a sense of pessimism, even a hint of cynicism, the international investors are telling us that that there’s a bright future ahead for Pakistan. All we have to do is believe in it and not be swayed by all the bad news that media like to play up. A hopeful nation can do wonders, if the hope is backed up by sincere actions to realize that hope. The current continuing growth in the size and strength of the middle class in Pakistan, if continued for another decade, can do wonders in empowering the people and taking the power away from the small elite that has ruled Pakistan since its inception. Let’s be patient. Let’s not ever give up hope.


Riaz Haq said...

Here's Pak Observer report on South Korean investment in Pakistan:

Ambassador of South Korea, Choong Joo Choihas has said that Tuwairqi Steel Mill (TSML) potentially rich to serve as a catalyst for industrial growth in Pakistan.

During a visit to TSML, the Korean diplomat said “South Korean steel giant POSCO, has so far invested US$ 15 million in this project, and contemplating to invest more. Owing to the strategic geographical location of Pakistan, in central and south Asia, this joint venture appears to be vital initiative in the global business operations of POSCO,” he said.

Choong Joo also said that South Korea is willing to invest in different sectors, particularly steel sector, which offers huge growth opportunities spurred by government’s investment-friendly policies

He said, that scores of South Korean companies are operating in energy, petrochemical and infrastructure industries, while many more have plans to invest in future, provided law and order situation improves in Pakistan. He further informed, that around 10,000 workers from Pakistan are currently serving in Korea.

Young-Ho Yoo, the Resident Director of POSCO said that the new plant is now on the verge of completion and is expected to commence operations by the end of the second half of the current year. “After completion of the first phase, we are looking forward to examine the feasibility for the second and third phase of the project, as its forward and backward integration,” he remarked.

Earlier, Zaigham Adil Rizvi, Director (Projects), TSML gave a detailed presentation about the project and shared statistics about the global steel industry. “There is a consistent growth in the production of DRI over the years, owing to environment-friendly production process and consistent quality of the product,” he said.

He was of the view that currently, Pakistan was among the countries that relied mostly on imports, when it comes to heavy mechanical structures and engineering goods. “By producing high-quality steel within Pakistan, we can manufacture such equipment locally by value addition, with the help of downstream industries,” he concluded.

Tuwairqi Steel Mills Limited (TSML) is Pakistan’s first private sector integrated environment-friendly steel manufacturing project of Al Tuwairqi Holding.

The plant spreads over an area of 220 acres at Port Qasim, Karachi and employs the world’s most advanced DRI (Direct Reduction of Iron) technology of the MIDREX process, owned by Kobe Steel of Japan. The first phase of the project, that constitutes a DRI plant, to produce 1. 28 million tons of high-quality DRI, is now on the verge of completion.

POSCO is the world’s third-largest steel maker, by market value, and Asia’s most profitable steelmaker. It has been the bedrock of Korea’s industrial development over the past 40 years. The Korean shipbuilding and automobile industries primarily are dependent on POSCO for their steel requirements. POSCO produces some 33.7 million tons of steel products each year. Currently, POSCO ships those products to over 60 countries around the globe, satisfying some of the world’s most quality-sensitive manufactures.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Techinasia report on Telenor's planned investment in Pakistan:

Norwegian telecom group Telenor will invest $1.7 billion in Pakistan after acquiring a 3G spectrum, reports Propakistani. The massive investment, announced by Telenor CEO Jon Fredrik Baksaas at a recent meeting with members of the Pakistan media, should have a large impact on the country; Baksass predicts that it will increase internet penetration and, by extension, the country’s GDP.

This new investment should be a boon especially for rural people who may not have internet access, as $700 million of it is apparently earmarked for spreading 3G networks across the country. Baksaas reportedly said that he expects this rollout to have a greater impact on rural residents than urban residents.

This is not Telenor’s first foray into Pakistan, the company has already invested more than $2 billion there. That shouldn’t come as a large surprise given that the company is one of Pakistan’s largest telecom operators, with more than 30 million subscribers in the country