Cabraal and Central Bank responds to debt default fears
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.
‘Govt. lacks mechanism to recover USD 40 billion spirited out of SL from 2008 to 2018’
By Hiran H.Senewiratne
The government doesn’t have any mechanism to recover the USD 40 billion that was siphoned out of the country illegally from 2008 to 2018 by Sri Lanka’s business elites, Senior Lecturer, Department of Economics, University of Peradeniya Dr. Kalpa Rajapaksha said.
“Most people think that the IMF loan is a victory for Sri Lanka without knowing its risk factors. These are exceptionally high because one of the main impacts would be for the banking sector whose liquidity is due to weaken on account of high tax impositions and certain economic reforms, Dr. Rajapaksha told The Island Financial Review.
Dr. Rajapaksha added: ‘The tax relief given during President Gotabaya Rajapaksha’s tenure triggered this issue, which cost government coffers more than Rs 450 billion. However, Sri Lanka has to carefully follow IMF recommendations taking its history into consideration. It is said that Greece and Ethiopia and several other countries absolutely failed by following IMF recommendations in the past.
‘We are in the dark as to the method of economic recovery because the government is attending to deeper, burning issues in the country, such as reduction of poverty and ending economic inequities.
‘The imposition of heavy taxes on people, especially professionals, via a wealth tax and a heritage tax by 2025 and the increasing of direct taxes, such as VAT, on low income classes, without taking into account the need for a wage hike, will iraise the poverty level and widen wealth inequalities.
‘Inflation at the global level is very high and strategies are required to increase exports and cut down the heavy import dependency of the economy. This is a prerequisite to address all economic woes.
‘The previous ruling party squandered and stole billions of dollars but the present government not having any plan to recover that money is a tragedy. Therefore, promoting neo- liberal principles is impossible under the current corruption scenario.
‘Further, the IMF has set the target of reducing the debt to GDP ratio to 0.7 per cent in 2023, along with their recommendations. Many people doubt the achievability of these aims.’
Global banking sector instabilities affect local bourse
By Hiran H.Senewiratne
CSE trading got off to a positive start but later turned negative yesterday due to huge selling pressure. The reasons being investor worries over a domestic debt restructuring mechanism after having secured the IMF loan and the negative global scenario when it comes to the banking sector, market analysts said.
According to analysts, during the last week strategically important banks in the global economic system went through credit default swaps, especially Silicon Valley Bank, Signature Bank and Credit Suisse Group AG. But another leading European Corporate Bank possibly facing a credit default swap, created some ripple effects for economies like Sri Lanka, analysts said.
The All- Share Price Index went down by 134.1 points and S and P SL20 declined by 51.6 points. Turnover stood at Rs 871 million with two crossings. Those crossings were reported in NDB, which crossed 1.2 million shares to the tune of Rs 51.6 million; its shares traded at Rs 43 and Aitken Spence 772,000 shares crossed for Rs 47.1 million, its shares traded at Rs 61.
In the retail market top seven companies that mainly contributed to the turnover were, SLT Rs 82 million (717,000 shares traded), Browns Investments Rs 52.8 million (8.2 million shares traded), Lanka IOC Rs 50.1 million (298,000 shares traded), Tokyo Cement (Non- Voting) Rs 36.5 million (388,000 shares traded), Expolanka Holdings Rs 33.6 million (251,000 shares traded), ALC Cables Rs 33.3 million (406,000 shares traded) and Sunshine Holdings Rs 27.2 million (633,000 shares traded). During the day 45.4 million share volumes changed hands in 15000 transactions.
The market is generating revenue from SLT over news of it being divested; moreover, there has been interest for the hotel and tourism indexes, since tourist arrivals and earnings have been attractive, an analyst said.
It is said that Treasury bond yields opened steady on Monday, while the rupee opened weaker at spot market, dealers said.
A 01.07.2025 bond was quoted at 30.75/31.00 per cent on Monday, up from 30.90/31.20 per cent on Friday. A 15.09.2027 bond was quoted at 28.00/70 per cent, up from 28.00/50 per cent from Friday. The Sri Lanka rupee opened at 322/325 against the US dollar, weaker from 320/325 a day earlier.
Holding ‘Raid Amazones’ for second consecutive year in SL, a rare honour for her – Head of Marketing Srilankan Airlines
By Hiran H.Senewiratne
More than 250 female French athletes arrived in Sri Lanka for the challenging ‘Raid Amazones’ adventure event that took place last week in Kandy. They arrived in Sri Lanka for the second consecutive year, which was a big achievement for the country when it comes to the tourism sector, Head of Marketing SriLankan Airlines Saminda Perera said.
“For the first time in ‘Raid Amazones’ history they selected one country for two consecutive years, which could be considered a great honour for Sri Lanka. This would enable more French tourists to arrive in Sri Lanka in the future, Perera told the media recently during the event in Kandy. ‘Raid Amazones’ will hit the streets of the fabled hill capital, Kandy, with the participation of over 250 female athletes.
‘Raid Amazones’ is a well-known annual destination adventure event originating in France, which features female athletes competing their way through a range of challenges, such as, orienteering, mountain biking, canoeing, riding, running and archery.
“Sri Lanka was chosen over rival destinations by the event’s founders due to the unparalleled warmth of its people and support on the ground to pull off a successful event. Their decision is also due to SriLankan Airlines’ tireless marketing efforts to secure the popular trail on successive occasions for Sri Lanka in its hour of need for international tourism support, Perera said.
Tourism sources added: “During the 21st edition of the trail, the participants will be able to connect with a potpourri of natural and historical highlights as they trek through the Kandyan plateau in Central Sri Lanka.
“Their journey, though, would begin from the moment that they step onboard SriLankan Airlines to fly from Paris to Colombo, on an aircraft dedicated to ‘Raid Amazones 2023’.
“Named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Kandy, the iconic setting of ‘Raid Amazones 2023’, is renowned for two of the most recognizable cultural symbols that define Sri Lanka.
“SriLankan Airlines partnered Raid Amazones in 2022 soon after recommencing operations to Paris.
“SriLankan Airlines, together with Connaissance de Ceylan, the official ground- handling partner of the event, will go all out to ensure that the French group experiences the best in Sri Lankan hospitality.
“This event will especially help create more awareness of Sri Lanka as an adventure travel hotspot among French travellers and the rest of Europe, where ‘Raid Amazones’ is sought-after and attracts adventure-seekers.”
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