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ComBank’s assets cross milestone Rs 1.5 trillion in 1H 2020

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The Commercial Bank of Ceylon Group has reported mixed results for the first half of 2020, with robust top line growth negated by a combination of factors including pressure on interest margins due to reduced credit demand and interest concessions granted as pandemic relief to borrowers, increasing impairment provisions and low yields on surplus liquidity.

Comprising of Commercial Bank of Ceylon PLC – the country’s largest private bank – its subsidiaries and associates, the Group saw its assets grow by a healthy 11.19% over the six months to cross the milestone Rs 1.5 trillion mark in the second quarter of the year, and gross income improve by 2.15% to Rs 75.167 billion in the review period.

However, with interest income declining by 5% to Rs 61.393 billion for the six months ending 30th June 2020 and by 11.05% in the second quarter alone, mainly due to recognition of a day one /modification loss on interest concessions offered to customers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic under the special concessions mandated by the Central Bank and the Bank’s own concessionary payment schemes, net interest income for the period reviewed reduced by 5.71% to Rs 22.767 billion and by 16.98% to Rs 9.984 billion in the second quarter, adding pressure on net interest margins, the Bank disclosed in a filing with the Colombo Stock Exchange (CSE).

The Bank’s ability to limit the decline in net interest income for the six months to 5.71% was due to its success in reducing interest expenses by 4.57% to Rs 38.626 billion via timely repricing of its liabilities in the review period.

“The ups and downs reflected in our six-month results are symptomatic of the combination of factors that were in play, the pre-pandemic slowing down of business and the consequent rise in impairment charges, and many concessions, voluntary as well as regulator-mandated, that the Bank had to provide in support of customers affected by the impacts of COVID-19,” Commercial Bank Chairman Mr Dharma Dheerasinghe commented. “There were also other gains in some areas that helped cushion the negative impacts to some extent. We believe this is all par for the course.”

The Bank’s Managing Director Mr S. Renganathan elaborated that although total operating income had increased by a respectable 10.34% to Rs 35.437 billion in the review period, impairment charges and other losses had increased significantly by 67.56% to Rs 9.261 billion for the six months. The increase in provisions was mainly due to the higher credit risk on account of facilities under moratorium, additional collective impairment provisions made under stressed scenarios for certain identified industries and a decision to apply increased weightages for the worst case scenario when assessing the probability-weighted forward looking macro-economic indicators and Loss Given Defaults with the objective of capturing the impact of COVID 19 on the Expected Credit Loss computation as at June 30, 2020, resulting in net operating income reducing by 1.56% to Rs 26.176 billion. “Banking has become a balancing act more than ever before, with different indicators contributing to a see-saw effect,” he said.

In this milieu, the Bank contained operating expenses for the six months to Rs 12.986 billion, a growth of just 2.72% over the corresponding period of 2019, enabling it to post an operating profit of Rs 13.191 billion before taxes on financial services, which reflected a reduction of 5.44%, Mr Renganathan disclosed. “We believe this is a creditable achievement in the context of the conditions that prevailed,” he said.

With taxes on financial services for the period reducing by 42.48% to Rs 2.073 billion due to the abolition of the Debt Repayment Levy (DRL) and Nation Building Tax (NBT) from January 2020 and December 2019 respectively, the Group recorded profit before income tax of Rs 11.117 billion, an improvement of 7.40% over the first half of 2019.

Income tax expenses reduced by a marginal 0.24% to Rs 3.669 billion due to tax concessions on the Bank’s Sri Lanka Development Bonds portfolio that were not available in the corresponding period of last year, enabling the Group to report profit after tax of Rs 7.448 billion, a growth of 11.61%.

Taken separately, the Commercial Bank of Ceylon generated a profit before taxes on financial services of Rs 12.511 billion for the six months under review, a decline of 8.17%. Mirroring the Group trend the Bank achieved profit after tax of Rs 6.961 billion, an improvement of 7.65%.

Total assets of the Group grew by Rs 158 billion or 11.19% since 31st December 2019 to Rs 1.567 trillion as at 30th June 2020. Asset growth over the preceding 12 months was Rs 200.568 billion or 14.68% YoY.

Gross loans and advances grew by Rs 10.829 billion or 1.16% since end 2019 to Rs 941.567 billion at the end of the six months reviewed. The growth of the loan book over the preceding year was Rs 52.644 billion reflecting YoY growth of 5.92%.

Total deposits recorded a growth of Rs 86.237 billion or 8.07% over the six months to reach Rs 1.155 trillion as at 30th June 2020, reflecting an average monthly growth of over Rs 14 billion. Deposit growth since 30th June 2019 was Rs 118.069 billion or 11.38% at a monthly average of Rs 9.84 billion.

Elaborating on some of the key elements that impacted Group performance, the Bank said net fees and commissions had reduced by 15.52% for the six months to Rs 4.088 billion as a result of a 31.37% reduction in this component in the second quarter of the year due to the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the reduction of fees and charges by the Bank as required by the regulator. However, the negative impact of this decline was cushioned by other income growing by a whopping 173.89% to Rs 8.583 billion, principally because an increase in exchange profit and capital gains had resulted in net other operating income recording close to a four-fold increase, from Rs 1.675 billion to Rs 6.506 billion.

Gains in exchange income from swap trading and foreign currency trading and translation gains of Rs 963.3 million from US Dollar denominated reserves due to a 2.4% depreciation of the Rupee in the first half of 2020 resulted in exchange profit growing four and a half times from Rs 1.422 billion to Rs 6.387 billion, the Bank disclosed.

In addition, net gains from de-recognition of financial assets increased from Rs 355.693 million to Rs 2.134 billion in the review period mainly due to capital gains on the sale of government securities. However, the Bank posted a net trading loss of Rs 58.185 million as against a trading gain of Rs 1.103 billion because the figure for the first half of 2019 was swelled by unrealised gains of Rs 1.266 billion on forward, spot and swap transactions, as against a loss of Rs 304.493 million in the first half of 2020.

However, the negative impact of the unrealised losses on forward, spot and swap transactions was partly negated by mark to market gains of Rs 674.357 million on treasury bills and bonds as against mark to market gains of Rs 50.2 million in the corresponding six months of the previous year.

In other key indicators, the Bank’s Tier 1 capital adequacy ratio (CAR) improved to 13.020% as at 30th June 2020, helped by a reduction in risk-weighted assets due to an increase in investments in government securities and the impact of more loans being categorised as low risk weighted following the Central Bank’s direction to increase the turnover-based ceiling for the SME loans segment. The Bank’s Tier I CAR was well above the revised minimum requirement of 9% imposed by the regulator consequent to the COVID-19 pandemic, while its Total Capital Ratio of 16.866% was also comfortably above the revised requirement of 13%.

An imminent US$ 50 million equity investment in Commercial Bank by the IFC via a private placement would further boost the Bank’s Tier I capital and enhance shareholder value, the Bank said.

The Bank’s gross NPL ratio increased to 5.37% from 4.95% at end 2019 while its net NPL ratio increased to 3.19% from 3.0%.

The Bank’s interest margin reduced to 3.04% for the six months from 3.51% at end December 2019. Return on assets (before tax) and return on equity stood at 1.43% and 10.21% respectively as at 30th June 2020 from 1.66% and 13.54% at the end of 2019.

As part of its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Commercial Bank launched a series of concessions and facilities to help businesses and individuals recover from the adverse effects of the pandemic, in addition to its conformance with regulator-mandated concessions. The Bank launched two separate bank-funded support loan schemes for SMEs and micro enterprises, special payment relief schemes for existing borrowers, special repayment plans for Credit Card customers and slashed interest rates across the board on all categories of loans.

The first Sri Lankan Bank to be listed among the Top 1000 Banks of the World and the only Sri Lankan bank to be so listed for 10 years consecutively, Commercial Bank is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. The Bank, which won more than 50 international and local awards in 2019, operates a network of 268 branches and 873 ATMs in Sri Lanka.

Commercial Bank’s overseas operations encompass Bangladesh, where the Bank operates 19 outlets; Myanmar, where it has a Representative Office in Yangon and a Microfinance company in Nay Pyi Taw; and the Maldives, where the Bank has a fully-fledged Tier I Bank with a majority stake.

 



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SLT-MOBITEL and Samsung enable 5G on selected Samsung smart devices

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Samsung, Sri Lanka’s premier smartphone brand, recently announced its partnership with SLT-Mobitel, to enable 5G technology on selected Samsung devices starting from the first week of June. Samsung users are now equipped with the capability of using their 5G compatible device on SLT-Mobitel’s network to experience the transformative power of 5G at SLT-Mobitel 5G trial zones.

Enabling every Sri Lankan to experience the state-of-the-art 5G technology, SLT-Mobitel’s pioneer 5G technology empowers Samsung users to utilize their products to the full potential with superior broadband connectivity and myriad of benefits that come with the trailblazing next gen connectivity.

“As the National ICT Solutions Provider, we are committed to leading Sri Lanka towards the next phase of technological revolution and the continuation of our partnership with Samsung is a step towards establishing that goal. Being the fastest Mobile network that has been recognized for three consecutive years by Ookla, the global leader in internet testing speeds, SLT-Mobitel Mobile is geared to transform Sri Lanka with our future ready infrastructure and next generation connectivity experience. By enabling 5G for select Samsung Smartphone devices, we are empowering Samsung users to utilize their 5G compatible device to its maximum potential. At SLT-Mobitel, we are continuously looking for innovative ways to deliver exceptional experiences to our customers as we have the technology and infrastructure that can make lives smarter and more efficient with the power of 5G,” said Chief Executive Officer of Mobitel (Pvt) Ltd. Chandika Vitharena.

“We are pumped to be the first smartphone brand to introduce 5G to many of our wide array of smartphones, along with the immense support by SLT-Mobitel. Bringing convenience, style and premium technology to your hand, Samsung is now Future Ready as it is equipped with the latest benefits brought to you by 5G. 5G is the latest introduced to Samsung Galaxy devices to ensure that it gets utilized to the maximum capacity. With 5G starting to roll out across Sri Lanka, it won’t be long before the whole country is connected to a better mobile network. Samsung has always been committed to ensuring that consumers get the best out of their smartphones, and that is why our 5G rollout is happening at a vast scale. Consumers can now achieve their dream potential through their Galaxy smartphones with 5G,” said Mr. Kevin SungSu YOU, Managing Director, Samsung Sri Lanka.

Samsung Galaxy smartphones are 5G devices that come with support for nos.12, 5G bands. This means as the 5G network is rolled out in Sri Lanka by SLT-Mobitel, they will support the premium 5G technology. Even before commercialization of 5G network in Sri Lanka, Samsung has leaped ahead to ensure that its consumers are future ready by offering smartphones with up to 12 5G bands support – N1, N3, N5, N7, N8, N20, N28, N38, N40, N41, N66 and N78.

With Galaxy 5G, users will get assured 5G connectivity no matter what the 5G band in Sri Lanka is and will get access to uninterrupted nationwide access to any 5G network (subject to operator network availability). The seamless 5G support will help download, share and stream content at blazing fast speeds.

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Reported progress at IMF staff level agreement talks peps share market

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By Hiran H.Senewiratne

The CSE fell within the first hour of trading after opening to a stronger market yesterday but during the latter part of the day it witnessed some recovery with the announcement of some progress made at the IMF staff level agreement talks, stock market analysts said.

It is said that the latest IMF talks with Sri Lanka have made significant progress towards developing a policy package to stabilize the country but the latter has to move forward on debt restructuring to finalize a bailout, market sources said.

“The staff team and the authorities made significant progress on defining a macroeconomic and structural policy package, IMF sources were quoted as saying.

The discussions will continue virtually with a view to reaching a staff-level agreement on the EFF arrangement in the near term. Because public debt is assessed as unsustainable, the IMF Executive Board would require adequate financing assurances from Sri Lanka’s creditors that debt sustainability will be restored, which would give some relief to the country, stock markets analysts said.

The analyst also pointed out that they are seeing a trend in investors moving to energy sector shares following the adoption of a price formula.

“In a high inflation market, energy sector shares become lucrative. This we have seen in other markets too and it will strengthen more when a price formula is imposed on the electricity sector too, market analysts added.

Amid those developments both indices moved downwards. The All-Share Price Index went down by 23.6 points and S and P SL20 declined by 11 points. Turnover stood at Rs 785 million with a single crossing. The crossing was reported in Nations Finance PLC, which crossed 85 million shares to the tune of Rs 51 million; its shares traded at 60 cents.

In the retail market top seven companies that mainly contributed to the turnover were; Expolanka Holdings Rs 244 million (1.4 million shares traded), Lanka IOC Rs 182 million (2.5 million shares traded), Browns Investments Rs 31.1 million (four million shares traded), TJ Lanka Rs 29.2 million (763,000 shares traded), Renuka Holdings Rs 21.8 million (1.5 million shares traded), LOLC Holdings Rs 17.7 million (45000 shares traded) and Softlogic Holdings Rs 16.3 million (622,000 shares traded). During the day 115 million share volumes changed hands in 9500 transactions.

Yesterday the Central Bank announced the US dollar buying rate as Rs 355.76 and the selling rate as Rs. 367.12. With prudent fiscal and monetary policies the rupee is strengthening, financial sources said.

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Tourism stakeholders voice concern over non-implementation of debt moratorium extension

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By Hrian H.Senewiratne

The Cabinet approved a six- month moratorium extension for the tourism sector 21 days ago but it’s yet to be implemented, president, Tourist Hotels Association

M. Shanthikumar said.

“The entire tourism industry is on the verge of collapse and accommodation providers and other service providers are on the brink of closure or have already closed. The debt moratorium which was given by banks will end this month and the moratorium needs to be extended amid the current crisis, Shanthikumar told the media at a press conference at Hotel Ramada on Monday.

While thanking Minister Harin Fernando for getting swift Cabinet approval for the moratorium extension, Shanthikumar expressed surprise at the almost one- month delay in implementing it by the Central Bank and another committee appointed to oversee it.

“The US dollar loans that were taken by tourism stakeholders to develop their respective properties add up to around Rs. 500 million (with interest) to banks and the industry is asking for a six -month debt moratorium extension for this. This will also not have a major negative impact on the banking industry as our industry’s total borrowings are only around 5 per cent of the total lendings of banks, Asoka Hettigoda, another major figure in the tourism industry told the press conference.

“If the industry is not offered this moratorium and they are unable to meet their debt obligations it will have a negative impact on the entire banking sector and its non- performing loan ratio which in turn will reflect badly on the banks, he said.

Hettigoda added: “The tourism sector has also been a very faithful paymaster and when the industry recovers the loans due to the banks can and would be settled.

Another stalwart in the industry, Anura Lokuhetty, said that already some hotels, specially in the SME sector, are closing down and if the moratorium is not extended for another six months there will be a total job loss of around 40 per cent, which is around 200,000 jobs; a very alarming scenario for the economy. “It must be said that if this happens, calculating also dependents of tourism industry personnel, the loss of livelihoods would be around one million.”

“We are confident that the industry is on the recovery path and the industry is confident that it can net in tourism forex in excess of USD 1 billion from the remaining six months. Sri Lanka is heading for the winter season and we see a very positive trend in our forward bookings despite the current economic and political issues in Sri Lanka. We saw this positive vibe even during the LTTE separatist war, another Industry giant Hiran Cooray said.

Cooray said that in the first five months of the year the tourism industry earned more than US $ 400 million and the coming six month would be crucial for the industry with the upcoming winter season. “If the government considers the debt moratorium for the next six months the industry could bring more than US $ one billion in foreign reserves into the country, he said.

Cooray said due to the Russian war, travel to the EU is restricted and the industry expects the Russian and the Chinese markets to also reopen soon, allowing the tourism industry to go beyond the USD 1 billion revenue mark for the next six months.

Meanwhile, Nilmin Nanayakkara, who is also a tourism industry live-wire said that they are asking for the moratorium because tourist arrivals have dropped due to the May 9 incident and political mismanagement. “The industry did not create this negative sentiment and we are not responsible for this and this accounts for the request by the industry for a moratorium, he said.

“We have to save this industry from drowning. Since the Easter Sunday bomb blast followed by the pandemic, the sector survived purely due to the moratorium extended by the government and the relief package given for its survival. Hotels that employ over 70 per cent of the workforce were able to sustain the staff and cover the basic costs due to these relief measures, he added.

Members of THASL and SLAITO alone invest over Rs. 2 billion annually to promote Sri Lanka in overseas markets. This is over and above the contribution of 1 per cent of the turnover from the industry to SLTDA in the form of TDL to develop and promote tourism. In 2018, this was an additional Rs 1.5 billion.

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