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BOC chair optimistic about notable economic growth in 2022

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The launch of BOC Fuel Card. Ms. Ramya Ranaweera , Director Finance, Hovel Holdings receives the first fuel card from BOC Management. -Pics by Saman Ranaweera

by Sanath Nanayakkare

Bank of Ceylon Chairman Kanchana Ratwatte expects that growth will rebound in 2022 with three primary elements as drivers of the economy, moving forward.

According to his predictions, Sri Lanka should see notable rebound in earnings from tourism, SME sector businesses and foreign remittances.

Speaking at an event held at its Head Office In Colombo yesterday with a multi-religious ceremony to invoke blessings on the staff of the bank, all its customers and all Sri Lankans in general, Ratwatte said, “I see a rainbow on the horizon. Sri Lanka should see a significant rebound in the tourism sector, small and medium enterprises (SME) sector and the country’s foreign remittances base in the first half of the year. The Bank of Ceylon stood as a tower of strength during the Covid-19 pandemic for nearly two years supporting to hold the national economy in place, and will unwaveringly continue to do so until the country gets back to normalcy,” he said.

The following are some excerpts from his speech.

“Today signifies a momentous day in my life. Two years ago, I assumed duties as chairman of this giant organisation which comprises a family strongly bonded with one another. I regard being able to serve for BOC as a great fortune in my life.”

“In the past two years despite challenges caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, BOC was able to give promotions to its employees in compliance with the due process. Also, we absorbed the trainees who had successfully concluded their training into our permanent carder. We were able to give promotions from junior executive ranks up to the echelon of general manager amid the pandemic chaos as a recognition for their dedication and loyalty towards the bank.”

“Most notably, we were able to successfully complete the official process in signing the collective agreement with the trade unions of the bank providing the basis for sound relations between the management and employees.”

“With that said, our happy workforce is not solely because of those motivations but also because of the positive work environment which encourages collaboration and communication; which is a unique feature of the BOC family.”

“BOC’s improved strategies to counter the pandemic saw significant resilience in its foreign remittances base. In 2019, remittances stood at USD 2.5 billion for BOC. In 2020, we managed to reach USD 2.8 billion. Despite the ongoing external challenges, this year we have crossed the USD 3.5 billion benchmark of remittances.”

“We thought the pandemic’s vulnerable conditions would be an opportune moment to launch and implement the BOC Export Circle to support the SME sector to revive the battered businesses and help take the surviving ones to the next level. Last year, BOC placed special emphasis on the revival of businesses through Export Circle.. Thus a revival unit was established to rekindle the businesses hit by the pandemic. I am proud to say that many of these companies have stayed afloat and the BOC has been able to turn around almost Rs. 35 billion worth of assets through this exercise. I see a few smiling faces here who have been served by the Revival Unit of the BOC.”

“BOC managed to overcome most of the issues the pandemic introduced to us out of the blue by ensuring seamless online banking services for our customers. However, most employees reported to work upon ensuring minimised impact of the pandemic on them.”

BOC Chairman Kanchana Ratwatte, General Manager/CEO K.E.D Sumanasiri and CFO Russel Fonseka inaugurate the BOC SME Circle at the BOC Head Office in Colombo yesterday.

Talking about external sector challenges, he said,””A 20-foot container of a particular item that came from Shanghai via Singapore for USD 900 in 2019, costs USD 8000 today. The prices of wheat and petroleum have surged among other commodities. Today a litre of petroleum in India is 104 Indian rupees. It is about LKR 270. The State is still subsidising petroleum products. Has the consumption gone down at current prices? No, it hasn’t. Despite the lockdowns, usage of petroleum increased. Letters of Credit (LCs) opened by the BOC for petroleum imports grew by 20% despite Coronavirus lockdowns. These should be factored into the current situation.”

Talking about revenue from Tourism, he said,” Up to 2019 prior to Easter Sunday attacks, Tourism generated a minimum of USD 4.5 billion. As a result of the pandemic, Tourism sector had to be looked after by other sectors. It was a double whammy on the economy. In contrast, now I see a bright side emerging as more than 200,000 tourists arrived in the country last year.”

“The livelihoods of Sri Lankan migrant workers came to a complete standstill for two years due to travel restrictions imposed globally. Now we see the encouraging trend of them going back to their overseas jobs as well as students going abroad for higher education. On a daily basis, the BOC gets requests from customers to remit amounts ranging from USD 2500 – 20,000 for their children’s higher education requirements. We oblige with that segment of customers regardless of which bank they initially banked with.”

“BOC reached rupees one trillion in its asset base in 2012 – the equivalent of a USD 5 billion worth company when converting the currency at LKR 200 per US dollar. In 2018, it reached two trillion making it a USD 10 billion worth company. In March 2021, we reached the 3 trillion mark which made it a USD 15 billion company. I am proud to say that every year we will be adding USD 5 billion to the asset base of BOC. By next year, we should be a USD 20 billion company. This is the strength on which we continue to serve our customers and the nation at large. Dear customers, let me tell you that BOC is resilient and strong enough to hold the economy until the country gets back to normalcy,” he said.

Emphasising the importance of encouraging Sri Lankan SME and Micro entrepreneurs, the Bank also launched BOC SME Circle yesterday.

In addition to that the Bank launched the BOC Fuel Card. The BOC fuel top-up card is designed to be beneficial to customers who face the hassle in managing their fuel expenses. The card is offered to corporate entities, fleet operators and individuals to add convenience to their daily operations.



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Seven factors of concern at upcoming Monetary Policy Review

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by Sanath Nanayakkare

The Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) is scheduled to announce its latest monetary policy review on 20th January 2022, with all eyes on dwindling foreign reserves and foreign currency exchange in the country.

In this context, First Capital Research has named 7 factors of concern that could be taken into account at the upcoming monetary policy review. They are as follows.

* Foreign Reserves USD 3.1 billion – Dec 2021

* Inflation CCPI 12.1% – Dec 2021

* GDP Growth -1.5% – 3Q2021

* Private Credit LKR 60.5 billion – Nov 2021

* 03M T-Bill rate 8.38% as at 12.01.22

Liquidity and CBSL Holdings LKR -364.0 billion and LKR 1.42 trillion

Balance of Trade (BOT) and Balance of Payment (BOP) USD -6.5 billion and USD -3.3 billion for Jan-Oct 21

First Capital Research’s Policy Rate Forecast – Jan 2022-Apr 2022 notes that they believe the CBSL may highly consider tightening the monetary policy rates in this policy review but given the concerns over economic growth, there is a probability of 40% for CBSL to maintain its policy stance at current levels.

“With high frequent indicators improving in line with expectations, we have eliminated any probability of a rate cut. We expect a continued increase in probability for a rate hike in order to prevent overheating of the economy amidst the given fiscal and monetary stimulus,” they said.

As per First Capital’s view, CBSL either can choose to hike policy rates by 50bps or 100bps or hold policy rates steady, while a rate cut is off the table due to the high debt repayment and the high domestic borrowing requirement.

First Capital believes that there is a 60% probability for a rate hike due to the remedial actions required in achieving external stability.

However, there is also a 40% probability to maintain the policy rates at its current level in order to further improve the high frequency indicators.30%, they noted.

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Sri Lanka’s dash brand enters international markets

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Multichemi International Ltd, which manufactures and distributes a wide range of products under dash, one of Sri Lanka’s leading detergent and household care brands, has begun exporting its products to several international markets in Asia and Oceania, with plans also to enter Africa. The dash brand includes a wide range of products in car care, household care, home fragrances and laundry care sectors. Multichemi International Ltd, which has been awarded ISO 9001:2015 certification, is a Sri Lankan pioneer in environment-friendly cleaning products, having launched the country’s first biodegradable, safe cleaning products over 28 years ago.

Amila Wijesinghe, General Manager of the Company said,”Having conquered the domestic market, we are now ready to capture the international market. We are confident that our products which are of high quality will receive a good demand overseas as well. The feedback we have received so far from our overseas customers is extremely encouraging. We are dedicated to taking our products to the international market, to bring in foreign currency to the country and help uplift the economy”,

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Janaka Abeysinghe appointed SLT CEO

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Sri Lanka Telecom PLC has announced the appointment of Janaka Abeysinghe as its Chief Executive Officer (CEO) with effect from February 1, 2022.

The incumbent CEO Kiththi Perera will be overseas on leave for a period of two years to pursue higher studies, according to a stock market filing by the company.

Abeysinghe joined SLT in 1991. In his present role, he leads the enterprise and wholesale business of SLT that provides integrated voice and data solutions to enterprises, government institutions, domestic telco operators and global wholesale carriers.

In his career at SLT spanning 29 years, he has held a number of senior positions, including general manager Enterprise and International Sales and has extensive experience in the areas of Enterprise Digital Services, Enterprise Communications Solutions, Data Communications, Business Development, Domestic and International Switching Operations and Global Wholesale Voice & Data Business.

He holds a Master’s Degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the University of Kansas, USA and a BSc degree in Electronics and Telecommunications Engineering with a First Class Honours from the University of Moratuwa.

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