Maheen Rahman – Fund Manager with a crystal ball

The Chief Executive of Alfalah GHP Investment Management believes that stability of exchange rate, slowing imports, and improving current account deficit, all point to economic stability in Pakistan. She is optimistic that Pakistan’s equity markets are turning around.

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Maheen manages one of the leading asset funds in Pakistan. In 2015 she was declared amongst Fortune’s “40 Under 40 Top Women to watch for 2015”. She has recently launched a joint “AZ-Alfalah Pakistan Fund” along with Azimut – Europe’s leading fund. She is optimistic that Pakistan’s equity markets are turning around. GVS talks with her.

Maheen Rahman is the Chief Executive of Alfalah GHP Investment Management and has over seventeen years of experience in investment banking, research, and asset management. She started her career with Merrill Lynch in Investment Banking and transitioned to ABN Amro Bank in Corporate Finance and was involved in equity raising and IPO activity across south-east Asia.

Maheen joined IGI Funds in 2009 as Chief Executive and, after take over by Alfalah Group, was selected by the Alfalah Board as Chief Executive of the combined entity. She has also been featured on Fortune’s “40 Under 40 Top Ten Women to Watch for 2015” and regularly speaks at global and local forums on business opportunities in Asia, Pakistan, and Women Empowerment.

Ms. Rahman also holds a number of Board positions in Pakistan. She has served as Vice Chairman and Director of the Mutual Funds Association of Pakistan, the trade body that represents all asset managers, distributors, and mutual funds in Pakistan. She has also served on the Executive Committee of FPCCI, a pan-Pakistan trade body representing large scale industries and commercial organizations.

Stability of exchange rate, slowing imports, and improving current account deficit all point to economic stability. It also implies interest rates have topped out hence bringing an end to the tightening phase

She is also Director of Pakistan’s Institute of Corporate Governance, which is committed to improving corporate governance standards through director training and executive education.

Ms. Rahman holds a B.Sc. (Hons) in Economics from LUMS and a M.Sc. Finance and Economics from Warwick Business School, UK. Ms. Maheen, in November 2019, as Chief Executive of Alfalah GHP Investment Management, launched the “AZ — Alfalah Pakistan Equity Fund” along with Azimut Group, Europe’s leading independent asset manager with over $57 billion in assets under management across 17 countries.

This fund represents a strategic partnership agreement between Alfalah GHP Investment Management and Azimut that will focus exclusively on Pakistan’s stock market. The strategic partnership between the two also aims to explore further joint marketing and commercial initiatives in Pakistan and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region with a view to bringing Pakistan’s investment story to investors across the world. Global Village Space (GVS) spoke with Maheen Rehman on the prospects of Pakistani equity markets in 2020. Here is a snap shot:

GVS: What are your expectations from the launch of the AZ-Alfalah Pakistan Fund? What is the response so far?

Maheen: The fund is an open-ended Islamic asset allocation fund focused on Pakistan’s equity and Sukuk market. The target market is investors outside Pakistan who are looking for an easy way to invest in Pakistan, earn high returns from both equity and Sukuk avenues, and yet have the flexibility to invest and withdraw funds with ease.

As such, it is a first of its kind. We expect the fund to continue to draw attention on the basis of recent stock market performance and also as a result of the carry trade opportunity that currently exists. The response so far has been positive.

GVS: Only around $64 million of foreign investments came into Pakistani equities in 2019; in your interview with Bloomberg, you showed optimism, do you think this humble trend will change in 2020?

Maheen: The amount is small so far – however, it is positive after almost three years of outflows by foreign investors. Valuations are very cheap and well below the mean average, which is what is attracting this inflow combined with the overall stabilization seen in the rupee.

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GVS: In your Bloomberg Interview in Nov 2019, you explained that Pakistani stocks are rallying; will this trend continue? What are your expectations?

Maheen: Stability of exchange rate, slowing imports, and improving current account deficit all point to economic stability. It also implies interest rates have topped out hence bringing an end to the tightening phase.

Valuations are well below the historical mean – around 6x Pe multiple compared to 15 years mean of 9x hence making Pakistani stocks one of the cheapest in the world. Given the stability coming through we expect some reversion to the overall mean which means we have some to go before the rally evens of.

GVS: What kind of equities will perform well?

Maheen: Most likely, the financial sector, energy should do well in a high-interest rate and slow growth environment.

GVS: Imran Khan government and state bank of Pakistan are focused rigorously on stabilization with unusually high-interest rates; do you expect this trend to change in 2020?

Maheen: We expect interest rates to remain at current levels for at least the next six months with easing only likely to come through once inflation begins to drop back into single-digit territory.

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GVS: Will growth rates increase? If not, do you think investors will remain interested in an emerging market growing at the rate of 2-3%?

Maheen: Growth rates will only go up if our broad structural issues can be addressed in particular taxation and exports. These two factors will be instrumental in building the revenue-generating capability of the economy, thereby reducing fiscal and current account deficits and allowing for room for growth.

In terms of policy and regulation, the key will be to move from a tightly regulated and bureaucratic environment to a well-regulated one with greater transactional ease. The good news is that regulators are aware of the difficulties and are working towards finding common ground solutions with industry and financial services, but there is still some way to go on this front.

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