Recent commentary on Sri Lanka’s credit outlook ignores the numerous policy initiatives of the Government of Sri Lanka, which have already started yielding results
The Government of Sri Lanka observes that the concerns expressed in the media in reference to recent reports on Sri Lanka’s ability to service its debt obligations by international banks are one sided, and do not take into consideration the numerous of policy measures that have been introduced to revive the economy and ensure macroeconomic stability. These innovative policy measures are not restricted to traditional debt-based solutions to service the current debt obligations. Measures to build resources through non-debt solutions, the preservation of foreign currency resources and the gradual phasing down of the relative share of foreign debt are already yielding desired results, with a high likelihood of harnessing further improvements during the remainder of the year and beyond.
Certain media reports published recently attempts to raise concerns about Sri Lanka’s ability to honour its debt service obligations, based on backward looking and linear assumptions, thus ignoring the expected outcome of the novel policy regime currently in place. While gross official reserves have moderated somewhat since end December 2020, such moderation is not expected to continue. When all relevant facts are considered, it becomes apparent that the fears raised in certain reports are, in fact, merely hypothetical. The Sri Lankan economy, which is over US dollars 80 billion, has major natural and regular sources of foreign exchange inflows, including merchandise and services exports, workers’ remittances, programme and project related inflows, equity investment, and other financial flows. Aided by the post-COVID revival of the economy, such foreign exchange inflows are projected at US dollars 32 billion in 2021, even without major forms of borrowings, such as floating International Sovereign Bonds (ISBs). These projected inflows are expected to increase by about US dollars 2-3 billion annually in the period ahead with the support of well targeted policies and strategies of the Government. At the same time, authorities will continue to take measures to build up official reserves with the help of measures already implemented and further measures as necessary in the period ahead. It is noteworthy that the Government has launched a major drive towards promoting real inflows of foreign exchange through actively facilitating various merchandise and services exports, in both traditional and non-traditional sectors. The import curtailment measures and the steady recovery in export earnings would continue to improve liquidity in the domestic foreign exchange market. Further, envisaged equity investment flows through the Colombo Port City and Industrial Zones and the reprioritisation of project financing would help reduce the share of foreign debt notably in the period ahead, thereby dispelling concerns about debt sustainability.
In this context, settling the maturing ISBs of US dollars 1.0-1.5 billion, per year, over the medium term, need not be viewed as a major source of concern, given the entire stock of outstanding ISBs account for only 16.7 per cent of Sri Lanka’s total government debt as of end February 2021. It is also stressed that lenders in the majority of 83.3 per cent of the debt stock have raised no concern whatsoever about Sri Lanka’s ability to honour debt obligations. The authorities remain committed to honoring all upcoming debt obligations, leaving zero probability of any form of default on any obligation, which would jeopardise the longstanding relations with stakeholders and the impeccable credit history of the country.
The engagement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) continues at staff level and as a member state in technical exchanges of know-how. Exploration of liquidity facilitation arrangements with regional central banks is also continuing, with some discussions are at an advanced stage.
As indicated in the Budget 2021, the Government has adopted a novel approach in relation to foreign financing, while enhancing the effectiveness of already secured financing channels, aimed at reducing the share of foreign financing of the budget deficit over the medium term. Reflecting the impact of measures already put in place by the Government, the relative share of outstanding external debt has already declined notably. The Government aims to reduce its external debt over the medium term to around a third of the total debt, and already the share of external debt has declined to around 40 per cent by end 2020 from over 48 per cent at end 2019.
The measures introduced to manage non-essential imports helped ease trade deficit to USD 5,978 million in 2020 from USD 7,997 million in 2019. The trade deficit is further expected to shrink in 2021 to around USD 4 billion. Export facilitation is expected to continue through allowing intermediate goods imports unhindered and promoting domestic value chain improvements, which would result in export earnings of about USD 13 billion in 2021.
Additionally, despite the projections of downturn in workers’ remittances, Sri Lanka recorded an increase of over USD 400 million remittances in 2020 with an aggregate of USD 7.1 billion. The policy measures to further incentivise remittances flows were facilitated with the Budget 2021 announcement of an additional Rs. 2 for conversion of per USD remittance, and the banks were required to sell 10 per cent of such remittance conversion to the Central Bank. The Central Bank has already commenced such absorption of conversions into its foreign exchange reserve. Further arrangements to improve foreign currency liquidity have been introduced, including a mandatory conversion of ¼ of export proceeds.
The Government is also in the process of channeling in official credit sources, with priority being envisaged for policy loans with a significantly high liquidity component. In addition, the commercial external financing component of the already lined-up term financing facility and other market financing components are envisaged in line with Budget 2021.
Sri Lanka Development Bonds (SLDBs) and loans of Overseas Banking Units (OBUs) also remain sources of foreign currency financing mainly from domestic foreign currency earning entities. The recently introduced measures to entice foreign investors to the government securities market and the real economy through an attractive foreign exchange swap arrangement are also likely to help enhance foreign currency inflows in the near term.
Real investment flows to the country remain a promising source based on the Colombo Port City related developments. The land reclamation work had been completed and the required legislation is being finalised. In December 2020, the Sri Lankan conglomerate, LOLC Group, signed an agreement with the Port City developers for a Mixed Development Project valued at USD 1 billion, which is set to break ground in mid-2021.
In this context, the Government reiterates its utmost commitment on meeting its external debt obligations, which will be facilitated not only through direct and indirect financing arrangements but also through highlighted policy measures and the current work plan to increase non-debt creating forex inflows.
The Government wishes to reiterate that even in the midst of various concerns raised by many parties on Sri Lanka’s debt service capability at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government was able to service its total external debt of around USD 4.3 billion in 2020.
The recent research reports indicate different figures of external debt obligations for 2021. The external debt obligations of the Government for 2021 amount to around USD 3.7 billion including the amortisation payments of USD 2.5 billion. Of this amount, thus far in 2021, the Government has settled over USD 500 million.
Sri Lanka will engage freely with all its investment and development partners and implement the envisaged measures to build up reserves through non-debt creating inflows while reviewing closely the international capital market developments.
Investors are invited to approach the Sri Lankan policy authorities at the highest levels who always remain open for constructive dialogue and will welcome any one-on-one engagement or roadshow discussions, without being dissuaded by premature one-sided opinion expressed without factoring the ground realities and the actual outcomes of policy measures introduced by the Government of Sri Lanka.
Hemas Consumer strengthens portfolio with L’Oréal partnership in Sri Lanka
Hemas Consumer, the leading manufacturer and distributor in Sri Lanka’s beauty and personal care sector has strengthened its portfolio of offerings in a groundbreaking partnership with the world’s number one beauty company, L’Oréal. With this partnership Hemas Consumer obtains distributor rights to leverage its sales network and innovative marketing approaches in taking L’Oréal’s wide range of beauty and personal care brands across Sri Lanka.
Commenting on the new partnership, Sriyan de Silva Wijeyeratne, Managing Director, Hemas Consumer & Executive Director Hemas Group said, “We have spent over fifty years building successful and strong consumer brands in Sri Lanka. In keeping with our promise of consumer delight and trust, we are elated to partner a world-class cosmetics group like L’Oréal expanding our existing portfolio with the world’s most sought-after beauty and personal care products.
We are well equipped in our distribution process with island-wide sales channels to serve all parts of the country. I believe this partnership will revolutionize Sri Lanka’s beauty care industry and more prospects await as we continue to look ahead with L’Oréal.”
Sabrina Esufally, Director Business Development and Innovation at Hemas Consumer said, “This partnership will enable Sri Lankans to access the iconic brands and solutions created through years of research and innovation by L’Oréal. In the fast evolving and dynamic beauty industry, the combined strength of Hemas’s local heritage and penetration, and L’Oréal’s global technology and trust is the perfect recipe for consumer delight.”
DFCC Bank supports industrial excellence by partnering CNCI Achiever Awards
DFCC Bank PLC, stepped up once again for the 3rd consecutive year to partner with the Ceylon National Chamber of Industries (CNCI) as the principal sponsor and official banking partner of the CNCI Achiever Awards 2020.
The CNCI Achiever Awards was held for the 19th consecutive time to recognize the outstanding efforts of exceptional performers who have molded their respective industries with innovative solutions, while overcoming challenges and meeting the demands of their clientele. This year, the event was recently held under strict health guidelines at the Galadari Hotel in Colombo.
Commenting on the sponsorship, Chief Executive Officer of DFCC Bank PLC Lakshman Silva stated, “We are pleased to have partnered with the Ceylon National Chamber of Industries (CNCI), as the Main Sponsor and Official Banking Partner of the 19th CNCI Achiever Awards 2020. DFCC is honored to partner in reconciling successful Sri Lankan businesses from various industrial sectors. Our partnership with this prestigious awards programme aligns seamlessly with our commitment to foster and reward industrial growth across the country and support local entrepreneurs in MSME & SME sectors.”
Lanka SSL triumphs with National Gold and Top Ten Awards
CNCI Achiever Awards 2020
Lanka Special Steel Limited (Lanka SSL), a trusted name in wires and a fully-owned subsidiary of E B Creasy & Company PLC, was recently awarded the coveted National Gold Award under the Extra Large category in the Manufacturing Sector at the Achiever Awards 2020 for Industrial Excellence.
The annual event organized by the Ceylon National Chamber of Industries (CNCI) was held in March 2021 at Colombo, and celebrated some of the leading industrialists in the country for their tremendous and continued efforts in uplifting and promoting quality standards, productivity, growth and strategy, R&D, employee welfare and others whilst contributing to both the society and economy at large.
‘We are immensely proud to have been recognized with two very prominent awards at this year’s CNCI Achiever Awards. It is a huge leap from just winning a Merit Award the last time around, and this incredible achievement certainly reflects our highly ambitious plans to strive for continued excellence. We would like to thank our valued customers and all stakeholders. We are grateful to our hardworking and committed staff at Lanka SSL who have made this possible,’ said Pravin De Silva, CEO of Lanka SSL.
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