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NBP issues Foreign Exchange Rates

December 04, 2020: Treasury Management Division of National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) on Friday...

Asian markets mixed as virus cases cloud vaccine optimism

December 04, 2020: Investors trod a careful path Friday as the vaccine euphoria that fuelled last month's equities surge cooled, with record numbers of infections and deaths highlighting the painful, immediate reality of the coronavirus crisis.

While the consensus is that the world can begin to get back to normal -- and the economy recover -- from next year as people are inoculated, observers warn lockdowns and other containment measures in place now are crippling businesses and jobs.

The United States recorded more than 210,000 new cases in a 24-hour stretch to Thursday evening, and more than 2,900 deaths, according to a tracker run by Johns Hopkins University.

And Italy registered 993 deaths, an all-time high.

The figures reinforce the need for governments to maintain restrictions, with Britain, France and Germany among the major economies imposing strict containment measures.

California, the richest state in the US, is on the brink of introducing a limited lockdown.

Focus is now turning to Washington as lawmakers appear to be finally inching towards an agreement on a new stimulus for the world's biggest economy before the Christmas break.

Democratic leaders have backed a $908-billion bipartisan proposal as a starting point for discussions, and some top Republicans are also warming to the idea. They had originally called for around $2 trillion.

Republican Mitt Romney, who helped draw up the new proposal, said: "We're getting more and more support from Republicans and Democrats."

Donald Trump ally Lindsey Graham was also said to have backed the offer, and while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell -- who has mostly kicked back against bigger spending plans -- has yet to accept it, there are hopes he will support the measure.

McConnell has offered a $500-billion bill but was reported to have called Democrats' acceptance of a smaller deal "heartening".

Trump said Thursday: "I believe we are getting very close to a deal."

Analysts said the developments suggest an agreement could be reached within weeks.


                  - 'Usual sentiment tug-of-war' -


Wall Street's three main indexes drifted, though the Nasdaq notched up another record, following mixed US economic data that showed slowing growth in the key services sector but lower-than-expected new unemployment claims.

Asian markets were mixed. Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Wellington, Manila and Jakarta all fell, but there were gains in Sydney, Seoul, Singapore and Taipei.

"Before we can make new gains, there is the usual sentiment tug-of-war between medium-term optimism and near-term Covid despair," said Axi Strategist Stephen Innes.

"Still, all roads lead to prosperity eventually as the post-pandemic market rally has moved seamlessly from policy-driven to mobility-driven to vaccine-driven and should continue so even if some investors are sitting on the fence waiting for a new stimulus deal."

Oil prices extended gains, with investors relieved that OPEC and other major producers had reached an agreement to increase output but at a much slower pace than had been feared.

From January 2021, they will pump 500,000 more barrels a day about a quarter of what was originally planned.

However, Edward Moya at OANDA warned: "If the global economic recovery is stronger than expected, you can expect to see terrible compliance next year and eventually the OPEC+ pact will be terminated.

Investors were also tracking talks between Britain and the European Union on a post-Brexit trade deal as the December 31 deadline approaches.

But some of the EU's 27 members -- led by France and the Netherlands -- fear chief negotiator Michel Barnier is in danger of granting too many concessions to London.

"I think it's quite clear that at this moment in time that we've reached a point where we are so close to the limits of our mandate, that we need a movement on the side of the UK if we want to strike a deal," a European diplomat said.

"I do not have the impression that we are hours away from a deal... what has to be bridged is still quite substantial."


                  - Key figures around 0300 GMT -


                  Tokyo - Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.4 percent at 26,690.47 (break)

                  Hong Kong - Hang Seng: DOWN 0.1 percent at 26,698.72

                  Shanghai - Composite: DOWN 0.5 percent at 3,425.77

                  Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.2142 from $1.2147 at 2150 GMT

                  Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.3451 from $1.3453

                  Dollar/yen: UP at 103.85 yen from 103.84 yen

                  Euro/pound: DOWN at 90.26 pence from 90.28 pence

                  West Texas Intermediate: UP 1.8 percent at $46.44 per barrel

                  Brent North Sea crude: UP 1.8 percent at $49.59 per barrel

                  New York - Dow: UP 0.3 percent at 29,969.52 (close)

                  London - FTSE 100: UP 0.4 percent at 6,490.27 (close)


Wall Street lifted as Boeing shares take flight

December 03, 2020: Wall Street's main stock indices pushed higher on Thursday after Ryanair confirmed a major order of Boeing 737 MAX jets.

The deal for 75 of the planes by the Irish low-cost carrier was the first major order for the 737 MAX since the aircraft was grounded for 20 months following two fatal crashes.

The news, along with a successful test flight by American Airlines, help send shares in Boeing higher as the aircraft moves closer to returning to the skies after winning approval by US regulators last month.

Shares in Boeing surged 7.4 percent higher.

In late morning trading, the Dow was 0.6 percent higher, with the S&P 500 pushing further into record territory.

- Stimulating development -

Sentiment was also helped by movement towards a new stimulus package.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi threw her support behind a $908-billion compromise virus relief package proposed by a bipartisan group of lawmakers on Tuesday. The proposal is however half what Democrats had previously been pushing for.

"The narrative about how the market is feeling optimistic about 2021 recovery prospects because of the arrival of Covid vaccines is growing a bit tired, yet market participants have been given a stimulant with the increased buzz on Capitol Hill about the need to get another stimulus package done soon," said market analyst Patrick J. O'Hare at Briefing.com.

He added that the continued high number of new jobless claims along with more than 100,000 Covid-19 hospitalisations in the US were factors in the market viewing it as likely that a deal will be done relatively soon.

- Virus impact -

The eurozone's equity markets slipped on survey data indicating the region's economy continued to be battered by coronavirus fallout.

In eurozone trades Thursday, Frankfurt's DAX 30 index shed 0.5 percent and the Paris CAC 40 dropped 0.2 percent.

Data provider IHS Markit said its closely-watched composite eurozone purchasing managers' index (PMI) fell to 45.3 points in November from 50 in October, according to final estimates.

Britain's services PMI dropped to 47.6 from 51.4. A level below 50 points indicates contraction.

Nevertheless, London's FTSE 100 managed a 0.4 percent gain thanks to a good performance by international mining stocks.

Meanwhile the pound surged to its highest level in a year, briefly rising above $1.35, after a government official expressed confidence on reaching a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU.

"It's the kind of comment that has been heard before in the last couple of weeks, without anything materialising," said market analyst Connor Campbell at Spreadex. "Nevertheless, with the deadline looming, sterling will take what it can get."

Oil prices drifted higher as a crucial OPEC gathering debated whether to extend the current level of output cuts.

- Key figures around 1630 GMT -

  • New York - Dow: UP 0.6 percent at 30,057.37
  • London - FTSE 100: UP 0.4 percent at 6,490.27 points (close)
  • Frankfurt - DAX 30: DOWN 0.5 percent at 13,252.86 (close)
  • Paris - CAC 40: DOWN 0.2 percent at 5,574.36 (close)
  • EURO STOXX 50: DOWN less than 0.1 percent at 3,518.78
  • Tokyo - Nikkei 225: FLAT at 26,809.37 (close)
  • Hong Kong - Hang Seng: UP 0.7 percent at 26,728.50 (close)
  • Shanghai - Composite: DOWN 0.2 percent at 3,442.14 (close)
  • Euro/dollar: UP at $1.2149 from $1.2115 at 2200 GMT
  • Pound/dollar: UP at $1.3493 from $1.3365
  • Dollar/yen: DOWN at 103.82 yen from 104.42 yen
  • Euro/pound: DOWN at 90.07 pence from 90.65 pence
  • West Texas Intermediate: UP 0.2 percent at $45.38 per barrel
  • Brent North Sea crude: UP 0.3 percent at $48.41


OPEC and allies to meet to thrash out cuts...

December 03, 2020: The members of the OPEC group of oil producers are meeting with their allies on Thursday to see if they can reach an accord on extending production cuts over the coming months.

The video-conference meeting of the OPEC+ grouping was pushed back from Tuesday and comes after three days of inconclusive discussions among the 13 members of OPEC proper.

Observers say the postponement points to an agreement being harder to reach than initially thought.

The meeting was originally scheduled for 1300 GMT but eventually started almost two hours later.

The first wave of the coronavirus pandemic sent oil demand -- and prices -- plummeting in the spring, with the benchmark American contract even going into negative territory for the first time in history.

After tough negotiations in April, OPEC+ -- which includes Russia -- agreed on drastic production cuts in order to try to put a floor under oil prices.

Despite hitting producers' revenues hard, those cuts did help drag prices back up again.

However, the second wave of the pandemic has dashed hopes of a rapid "V-shaped" recovery for the economy and for oil demand.

Most producers, including OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia, therefore favour an extension of the current agreement, which entails a cut of 7.7 million barrels per day (bpd) and was scheduled to be eased to 5.8 million bpd on January 1.

"OPEC and allies are said to be leaning towards a rollover of current cuts with a gradual increase in output," according to analyst Neil Wilson from Markets.com.

"Whether the easing would begin in January or after the three-month delay discussed before the meeting is unclear," wrote Stephen Innes of Axi.

After falling slightly in early Thursday trading, prices for both the US crude oil benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) and Europe's Brent North Sea were holding steady just after the start of the OPEC+ meeting, at $45.30 and $48.36 respectively.

- Thorny subjects -

Markets were expecting producers to be able to agree on an extension of three to six months, with many viewing Monday's meeting as a formality to sign it off.

But a recent surge in crude prices -- up by 25 percent over the course of November -- together with positive news from several companies on coronavirus vaccines means some countries may need more convincing of the need for further sacrifices.

Meanwhile, the perennially thorny subject of whether all members are respecting production quotas laid down in previous agreements seems to once again be on the table.

Some insist that those who are currently overproducing be made to comply before further restrictions are imposed.

"It is unlikely that the strict implementation of the agreed cuts... will be achieved, which will undermine their effectiveness and confidence in the group," according to Eugen Weinberg of Commerzbank.

The cartel will also have to pay attention to developments in the three members which have been granted exemptions from quotas -- Libya, Iran and Venezuela.

Libya's production had been almost wiped out by civil conflict but has spiked since October and now stands at over one million bpd, according to the country's National Oil Corporation (NOC).

In the longer term, Iran's offer on the oil market may also increase if the incoming US administration pursues a policy of detente with Tehran and relaxes sanctions.

That would lead hundreds of thousands of barrels coming on to the market, exerting a fresh downward pressure on prices.


Mobile banking transaction soars by 211% by value in...

December 3, 2020: Mobile banking transactions increased to 36.4 million amounting to Rs. 908.7 billion in Q1-FY21, marking an increase of 139% by volume and 211% by value when compared with the same period last year.

The State Bank of Pakistan released its Quarterly Payment System Review (QPSR) for the first quarter, July – September 2020, of the fiscal year 2020-21 today, which shows strong growth in the pace of digital financial transactions in the country.

Promoting digital financial services is a key goal of the SBP. According to the data reported in the review, digital payment transactions in Pakistan have increased significantly during Q1-FY21, largely due to the impact of measures taken by SBP creating incentives for customers.  Growth in digital payment infrastructure, as well as the emergence of new payment aggregators, have also been a contributing factor in this growth. Moreover, it also reflects the changes in consumer’s preference for digital transactions amid the Covid19 situation.

According to the Q1-FY21 QPSR, 253.7 million e-Banking transactions were conducted by customers valuing Rs. 19 trillion. E-banking transactions comprise Real-Time Online Branches (RTOBs) Transactions, ATM Transactions, Internet Banking Transactions, Mobile Phone Banking Transactions, e-commerce, POS, and Call Center/ IVR Banking. Although, RTOB transactions have a major share of e-banking transactions in terms of value, about 80%, other types of transactions are more than 83% of the e-banking transactions in terms of volume.  During Q1-FY21, the most promising uptake was seen in internet banking and mobile banking transactions as the number of registered mobile phone banking users reached 8.9 million showing an increase of 41% over Q1-FY20 and the number of internet users touched 4.3 million with a growth of 26% over the same period.

Accordingly, mobile banking transactions increased to 36.4 million amounting to Rs. 908.7 billion, marking an increase of 139% by volume and 211% by value when compared with the same period last year.  Similarly, internet banking transactions increased to 18.9 million, valuing Rs. 1.1 trillion during Q1-FY21, registering a growth of 55% in volume and 89% in value, in comparison to the same period last year.

Another major avenue of e-banking transactions is through Point of Sale (POS), whereby people make transactions using credit or debit cards typically for shopping at markets. The number of transactions through POS machines that declined sharply during Q3 and Q4 of FY20, owing to the closure of markets amid Covid19, recovered significantly in Q1-FY21.

 The number of transactions through POS were recorded at 16.8 million amounting to Rs. 92.3 billion, showing an increase of 47% in terms of volume and 49% in value during Q1-FY21 over Q4-FY20.  In addition to POS-based transactions, card-based transactions on e-commerce portals also followed a similar trend – a fall during Q3 and Q4 of FY20 due to Covid19 related decline in economic activity, and a recovery in Q1-FY21. Such transactions were recorded at 3.9 million, amounting to Rs. 11.9 billion in Q1-FY21, exhibiting strong growth of 70% by volume and 27% by value when compared with the Q4-FY20. Nevertheless, strong growth in e-commerce transactions can also be witnessed as the number of transactions and their value grew by 77% and 47% when compared with Q1-FY20.

Press Release


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