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All that glitters is gold

GoldHaving reached their 10-year historical peak, gold prices are getting dizzier at the top. Yet, given the unyielding demand generated by punters, investors, and consumers alike, prices are seen stubborn in the days ahead. Soaring inflation amid weak global economic indicators has made gold quite enchanting - a tradition that has its roots in time immemorial. By the end of the second quarter this year, global gold demand stood at 919.8 tons, down by 17 percent year-on-year, according to World Gold Council. However, in value terms, gold demand surged five percent to reach $44.5 billion. Almost half the pull came from the jewellery segment with buyers from India, China, Saudi Arabia and USA topping the list. These four countries together made up 46 percent of the world demand. Indias mushrooming economy, up-coming festivals and better-than-expected harvest is expected to further strengthen sales. Meanwhile, as world equity markets collapse and the European debt crisis creates ripples across countries, demand for gold-backed ETFs has also increased in the past few years, experiencing a 152 percent zoom in 2008. Investors flock to safer havens like gold, as US Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS) yields fall to its sixty year lows. Demand for technological uses of the metal remained more or less unaffected; whereas physical demand for bars and coins rose by 42 percent in 2QCY11 over the same period last year. Yet again, India and China dominated this rush. Mine production was the only positive contributor to the gold supply, increasing by a modest seven percent in 2QCY11. However, the price of the metal is hardly determined by the equilibrium of demand and supply, as the bull-run is largely driven by speculation. Analysts compare the recent ascent to the commodities boom of 1980s, when gold prices spiked to reach a record high of $850 per ounce, only to plummet soon and settle within $300-$400 for some years to come. Adjusting for inflation, this record still stands waiting to be broken, which in other words, means 2000-dollar-prophecy may well come true. So long, wedding revelers.

Is banking industry as sound as a bell?

1000 Rupee NotesThe latest financial soundness indicators released by the SBP have given out mixed signals on the performance of the local banking industry. The positives first: The banking industrys profitability is on the mend due to a variety of reasons. Higher interest rates, decent deposits growth (29 percent in 18 months), availability of high rewarding sovereign investments enabling banks to sustain high level of margins and cost cutting measures both at administrative level and pouring low cost demand deposits; all helped the banks attain improved bottom lines. The commercial banks ROE jumped significantly to 14.2 percent in 1HCY11 from 10.7 percent at the end of same period a year ago. This represents a significant improvement compared to CY09 and CY08, when the commercial banks ROE averaged around 7.95 percent. The capital position of the commercials banks also remained strong, as bankers managed to keep risk weighted CAR unchanged at 14.2 percent at the end of June 2011 over same period a year earlier. Simultaneously, Tier 1 Capital to RWA also stayed constant at 12.2 percent. A higher CAR means higher protection level for depositors. But the critics relate higher capital adequacy ratios to the banks growing interest in sovereign instruments which have a zero risk weighting. This is also clear from a declining capital to total assets ratio, which eased down to 9.4 at the end of June, 2011, down from 10.1 percent same period last year. Considering the fiscal quagmire and the ever rising debt level, there shall be a healthy debate on assigning some risk weight to government borrowing or putting a cap on a banks exposure to treasury bills. However, asset quality indicators painted a dismal picture as a combination of high interest rate environment and weak economy led to poor asset quality. The commercial banks infection ratio stood at 14.8 percent at the end of June, up from 12.5 percent same periods last year. On top of that, a worrisome development is that the ratio of toxic loans grew in the face of negligible growth in advances. The gross advances level on the commercial banks balance sheet rose by merely seven percent in the past one and a half year. The current higher infection ratio has bucked the market expectation, which had earlier forecasted the ratio of bad loans to have peaked out in 2009. Foreign banks remained more prudent, with the infection ratio of nine percent as of June 30; nearly 5.8 percentage points lower than the average of commercial banks. In part, the deterioration in the asset quality in the past one and a half year will have an adverse bearing on the industrys bottom-line down the line since it will result in higher provisioning cost. The mix of positive and negative indicators calls into question, the soundness of the local banking industry. To no ones surprise, the analysts warn the market of the industrys higher profitability level. The banking industrys profitability is concentrated in the hands of big five banks and has not been supported by growth in advances level or steady asset quality. This can be gauged from the fact that the commercial banks ADR fell to 55.3 percent at the end of 1HCY11, a drop of six percentage points in the past one year. This highlights the existences of conflict of interest between mangers and shareholders in the industry, as the former focuses on short term profitability, while the latter demands quality of earning assets.

Bunds pare losses on weak manufacturing data

german-bondsLONDON: German Bunds pared losses on Thursday as weak manufacturing data out ofSpain and Italy raised worries about growth and whether euro zone countries will be able to lift themselves out of an ongoing debt crisis.
Bund futures were last 3 ticks down on the day at 134.53. European stocks were also down after a three-day rally.
Copyright Reuters, 2011

Euro nurses losses, eyes on US jobs data

euroSINGAPORE/SYDNEY: The euro steadied on Friday after a drubbing overnight on weak euro zone data, supported by talk that Asian sovereign players were buying the single currency to defend an option barrier.
Some traders said the euro may trend lower in coming days, given growing worries about the euro zone growth outlook and the possibility of the European Central Bank softening its hawkish stance at next week's policy meeting.
Data on Thursday showed manufacturing in the euro zone contracted for the first time in almost two years and a Spanish bond sale drew lukewarm demand.
Also boding ill for the euro is its drop below an upward trendline drawn through its mid-July low and troughs hit in early August. The trendline now comes in near $1.4295 and may serve as resistance.
"Any hint of an easing bias from the ECB would accelerate EUR breaking the bottom of the recent range of 1.41-1.45," analysts at BNP Paribas said.
The euro was little changed at $1.4257 by midday in Asia on Friday. On Thursday, it fell 0.8 percent and touched a three-week low around $1.4227 at one point.
Traders said option positions built up during the last couple of days suggest some players are positioning for a break to the downside, targeting $1.3850.
Possible support levels for the euro include the euro's Aug. 12 intraday low near $1.4150 and its Aug. 5 intraday low of $1.4055.
Lower down, the euro's 200-day moving average comes in near $1.4005, and an upward trendline drawn off lows hit in June 2010 and January 2011 lies roughly around $1.3930 or so.
The Australian dollar fell as US stock futures retreated after the New York Times reported that theagency that oversees US mortgage markets is preparing to file suit against "more than a dozen" big US banks, accusing them of misrepresenting the quality of mortgages they packaged and sold during the housing bubble.
The Aussie dollar dipped 0.2 percent to $1.0704.
The market's focus is on US jobs data due later on Friday, the last nonfarm payrolls report before a Fed policy meeting later this month, at which many market participants are expecting some sort of additional easing.
Unemployment is a key determinant in whether the Fed takes additional action to support the economy.
Market players say expectations for the jobs data have been lowered after the employment gauge in a US manufacturing survey released on Thursday dipped to its lowest level since November 2009. A strong result could trigger a bigger reaction than a weak outcome, said Adarsh Sinha, Asia-Pacific G10 FX strategist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in Hong Kong.
"I think expectations are probably pretty pessimistic going into payrolls," Sinha said. Economists polled by Reuters are expecting the payrolls data to show an increase of 75,000 jobs.
Sinha, however, said that the market may now be bracing for a smaller increase of about 40,000 jobs.
"If it's better than expected, then the market is going to price out expectations of further easing to some extent... I would expect that to be a dollar positive scenario," he said.
The dollar index, which measures the dollar's value against a basket of currencies, was little changed at 74.537 , hovering near a three-week high of 74.714 hit on Thursday.
The yen showed little reaction to news that new Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda picked Jun Azumi, a former parliamentary affairs chief for the ruling Democratic Party, to become the new finance minister.

Copyright Reuters, 2011

Mobile phone import grows by 10.15 percent

 ISLAMABAD: The import of mobile phone in the country registered an increase of 10.15 percent during first month of financial year as the country imported mobile phones units worth US $49.256 million in July 2011.
According to the data released by Federal Board of Statistics (FBS), during the month of July, mobile phone units costing $49.256 million were imported as compared to the import of mobile phone unites worth of $44.716 million during month of June 2011.
The mobile phone import was increased by 26.29 percent as compared to the same period of last year as phone import during the month of July 2010 was recorded as mobile units costing 39.003 million.
Meanwhile, import of Telecom was increased by 27.18 percent as compared to the import of the commodity during same period of last year.
The import of the commodity was units worth $99.035 million in July 2011 as compared to telecom units costing $77.870 million during same period of corresponding year.
The import of other machinery during month of July was decreased by 20.28 percent as compared to same period last year.

Copyright APP (Associated Press of Pakistan), 2011

Sindh Bank posts pre-tax Profit of Rs628mn

sind-bankKARACHI: Sindh Bank Limited posted an operating profit of Rs. 628.32 million and an after-tax profit of Rs408.57 million during the period from 29th October 2010 to 30th June 2011.
A spokesman of the Bank said here on Tuesday that this included pre-tax profit of Rs245.852 million and an after-tax profit of Rs156.657 million earned during the quarter ended 30th June 2011 with a network of 10 branches in operation.
He said that the Bank plans to enhance its branch network to 50 by the end of the current calendar year.
The profits earned during the period under report translated into an overall EPS of Rs0.41 and Rs0.16 respectively reflecting not only the continuing growth momentum but also clearly indicating robust management strategies in spite of the continuing economic sluggishness.
The spokesman pointed out that the Bank achieved 113% increase in the deposit base while its net revenue for the period under report stood at Rs770.12 million indicating that the momentum achieved in the first quarter has been maintained.
`Despite a constricted economic environment, Sindh Bank managed to increase its Balance Sheet size by 34.65 per cent to Rs37.429 billion in the last quarter. In a matter of less than 3 months, the Bank's corporate banking portfolio touched the Rs3 billion mark across quality profile clients indicating rapid development of the corporate banking portfolio during the period under report', he added.

Copyright APP (Associated Press of Pakistan), 2011

LPG's Aramco price drops to $842.50 per ton

 KARACHI: The international price of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) has declined by $ 27.50 to $ 842.50 per ton for September 2011, and local producers should reduce local LPG price by Rs2500 per ton immediately.
This was stated by the acting chairman of All Pakistan LPG Distributors Association (APLDA) Mohammad Atique Khan here Tuesday.
He said Saudi Armco Contract Price (CP) the price of propane has slipped by $45 to $790 per ton while butane is down by $20 to $865 per ton.
Atique urged local producers to announce a cut so that LPG can become affordable for domestic consumers. High LPG prices have gone out of reach of poor consumers and therefore, its sale has declined by 45 to 55 percent in the last so many months, he added.
He maintained that most of distributors have closed their businesses due to high LPG prices.
Atique maintained that it was the right of domestic consumers to get a reduction in local prices as LPG's international price has declined.
He alleged that due to high prices of LPG, most of public transport including coaches, auto rickshaws, pick up vans, taxis and mini-trucks has been converted to CNG.
Similarly, in remote and hilly areas, people are now preferring to cut trees to meet their fuel requirements, due to high prices of LPG.
Atique urged the government to devise a mechanism for calculating LPG prices which are acceptable to every stakeholder so that LPG prices can be brought at minimum possible level in the country. This will boost the use of LPG as alternative fuel, he noted.
He also underlined the need to increase local production of LPG in the country to bring down its prices.

Copyright APP (Associated Press of Pakistan), 2011

Pakistan's Zardari seeks to allay Chinese concerns on terrorism

asif-ali-zardarURUMQI: Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari has promised to work closely with China in the fight against terrorism, state media said, nearly a month after Chinese officials blamed an attack in the troubled far-western region on militants trained in Pakistan.
Zardari made the comments during a meeting on Tuesday with Zhang Chunxian, the Communist Party chief of the restive region of Xinjiang, at the start of a trade expo in the capital, Urumqi.
His visit comes after officials in Kashgar, a city in south Xinjiang, said a stabbing attack in late July was orchestrated by members of the separatist "East Turkestan Movement" who trained in Pakistan before returning to China.
Xinjiang, a region torn by ethnic violence, borders Pakistan, and some members of the ethnic Uighur community opposed to Beijing's rule have sought refuge there.
Zardari said that Islamabad opposes any terrorist activities, Xinhua said in a report on Wednesday.
Pakistan and China are long-time allies, and in recent months Islamabad has leaned closer to China as its ties with the United States have deteriorated.
Yet China has its own concerns over Pakistan's stability as it struggles to fight militant groups operating from its soil.
Ahead of the expo, China has tightened security in Urumqi, deploying SWAT teams and increasing checks on flights bound for the region, state media said. .

Copyright Reuters, 2011