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Fitch’s decision to downgrade Sri Lanka shows nothing but recklessness : CBSL

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Fitch was constantly updated on imminent foreign exchange inflows
Earnings from merchandise exports recorded an all time high in October 2021
Indices of the Colombo Stock Exchange reached historical highs
Prospects for workers’ remittances are bright
Fitch appears to have completely ignored the standby SWAP facility with PBOC of around USD 1.5 billion

Fitch Ratings in a rather hasty move, downgraded Sri Lanka’s international sovereign rating on 17 December 2021, demonstrating its failure to recognise the positive developments taking place in Sri Lanka, in an environment in which the entire world is grappling with multiple waves of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Central Bank of Sri Lanka says.

Issuing a press release the Bank further says:

This action resembles the recent unwarranted downgrade by Moody’s Investors Service a few

days prior to the announcement of the National Budget 2022. The sense of urgency on the part of an internationally recognised rating agency to downgrade Sri Lanka is inconceivable, particularly considering the fact that Fitch was being constantly updated by Sri Lankan authorities on the latest developments in all sectors of the economy and imminent foreign exchange inflows.

In particular, despite the lockdown measures that had to be introduced in the third quarter of 2021, the real economy averted a deep contraction during the quarter,

signalling Sri Lanka’s adaptability to the new normal. Real GDP, in fact, expanded by 4.4 per cent (year-on-year) during January-September 2021, reaffirming the strong possibility of above 4 per cent growth in 2021. High frequency data on activity point towards a strong recovery of the economy surpassing the pre-pandemic level. The Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index reached 61.9 in November 2021, the highest reading for a month of November on record, and way above the pre-pandemic level of activity.

Indices of the Colombo Stock Exchange reached historical highs, with a large number of Initial Public Offerings taking place in 2021. Credit extended to the

private sector expanded by over Rs. 685 billion in the ten months to October 2021, compared to about Rs. 260 billion in the same period last year.

The trade deficit continued to decline from May 2021 on a month-on-month basis, supported by record high export earnings. Earnings from merchandise exports

recorded an all time high in October 2021, and preliminary information indicates that

earnings have exceeded this record level in November 2021. With the exchange rate remaining stable since April 2021, excepting a few speculation-driven deviations, the conversion of export proceeds and other foreign exchange earnings has also improved

substantially in recent weeks. An exponential growth in tourist arrivals is observed on a monthly basis, indicating an early reversal of the annual foreign exchange revenue loss of around US dollars 5 billion in the period ahead.

The prospects for workers’ remittances are bright, with the resumption of worker migration, increased demand for Sri Lankan workers particularly from the Middle East and efforts to facilitate worker remittances through formal channels through an attractive incentive package. With such measures, the external current account

balance is expected to be maintained at growth supporting levels, thereby accommodating equity capital to the financial account through direct investment to

the identified projects in the Colombo Port City and Industrial Zones, in addition to the expected monetisation of non strategic and underutilized assets.

These developments and the rapid vaccination drive, which is being rolled out nationally, would help realise the potential of the economy over the near to medium term.

Fitch has also failed to recognise the fiscal reforms introduced through the National Budget 2022. With the introduction of new tax measures, upgraded tax administration systems, and the revival of the economy, the year 2022 is expected to deliver a substantial increase in Government revenue. Increasing the retirement age of public sector employees and measures to enhance the viability of state owned business

enterprises are notable reforms, and issuing quarterly warrants for Government institutions instead of annual warrants are expected to instill financial discipline in the

utilisation of the allocations, thereby cushioning the expenditure side. Such revenue and expenditure side measures would pave the way for a reduction in the fiscal deficit and financing needs of the Government, contributing to a sustainable debt level.

The domestic market has responded positively to expected path of fiscal consolidation, and interest rates have stabilised, following an initial overshooting, at market clearing levels. The Central Bank’s holdings of Government securities have also declined notably as a result of improved subscription at primary market auctions and active open market operations. Contrary to Fitch’s unfounded claims on increased probability of a default event over the coming months, the measures undertaken by the Government and the Central

Bank to secure support from friendly nations in the region are nearing fruition, thereby offsetting pressures on the balance of payments in the period ahead. The Six- Month Road Map for Ensuring Macroeconomic and Financial System Stability clearly articulated the expected cashflows by December 2021 and by March 2021, and the Government and the Central Bank remain confident that these inflows will materialise, and the end-2021 level of Gross Official Reserves will remain above US dollars 3 billion. Fitch appears to have completely ignored the standby SWAP facility with the People’s Bank of China of around US dollars 1.5 billion, of which the drawal is imminent.

The credit lines and other inflows expected following high-level meetings in India and the Middle Eastern and other regional economies are also not given due consideration by Fitch in arriving at this decision.

The fact that Fitch Ratings decided to downgrade Sri Lanka without waiting until the first test date of 31 December 2021 shows nothing but recklessness, which could only hurt investors if decisions are made based on this downgrade. It must also be noted that the Government has given a clear assurance that Sri Lanka will honour all debt obligations in the period ahead, and Sri Lanka has not delayed a single payment even under severe stresses that were caused by the COVID-19 pandemic over the past two years.

Therefore, all stakeholders of the economy, including international investment partners, are requested not to be dissuaded by this unjustified rating action, but instead, work with Sri Lanka to surf the turbulent tides, which are expected to settle in the next few days. A detailed press release on the progress of expected foreign inflows as envisaged in the Six-Month Road Map will be published this week.

-Central Bank



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Conclusion of phase 1 of private placement of Ordinary Shares of JKH to ADB

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Krishan Balendra Chairman JKH

Following is the text of a letter addressed by JKH Deputy Chairman/Group Finance Director Gihan Cooray to the CSE’s Chief Regulatory Officer Renuke Wijayawardhana.

Further to the announcements to the Colombo Stock Exchange on 22 November 2021 and 22 December 2021 regarding the Private Placement of up to a maximum cumulative amount of the Sri Lankan Rupee (“LKR”) equivalent of USD 80 million to Asian Development Bank (“ADB”), through the issuance of up to a maximum of 122,500,000 new ordinary shares of the Company in two phases (Phase 1 & Phase 2), we wish to inform that Phase 1 of the Private Placement of ordinary shares of the Company to ADB was concluded on 19 January 2022.

Accordingly, 65,042,006 ordinary shares (“Initial Placement Shares”) of the Company were allotted to ADB at a price of LKR 154.50 per share on 19 January 2022 for a consideration of the LKR equivalent of USD 50 million. The Initial Placement Shares results in a post-issue dilution of 4.70 per cent in Phase 1 of the transaction.

Additionally, in terms of Phase 2, the Company has issued 39,025,204 non-tradable/non-transferable options (“Options”), which will entitle ADB to subscribe for additional new ordinary shares of the Company (“Option Shares”), for an investment amount of up to a maximum of the LKR equivalent of USD 30 million.

Therefore, the maximum number of ordinary shares that would potentially be issued under the entire transaction, assuming all Option Shares are subscribed for, will be 104,067,210, thereby capping the post-issue dilution on the conclusion of both phases to a maximum of 7.31 per cent.

The salient details of the Options are as morefully detailed in the Shareholder Circular dated 29 November 2021. Based on the subscription date of the Initial Placement Shares, the Option Exercise Period will be from 19 October 2022 to 18 January 2023.

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Bangladesh – Sri Lanka Preferential Trade Agreement: Gains and policy challenges

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By Asanka Wijesinghe and Chathurrdhika Yogarajah

0espite enhanced trade partnerships in South Asia, intra-regional trade is far from reaching its theoretical potential. Similar production patterns and competitive sectors can be the causes. However, bilateral discussions to further lower trade costs continue. The ongoing Bangladesh-Sri Lanka discussions on a preferential trade agreement (PTA) will benefit from knowing the potential gains from reducing bilateral trade costs. In addition, knowledge of products with higher potential for export gains will help optimise the economic benefits from a trade deal.

Bangladesh – Sri Lanka Trade:
The Current Status

In 2018, when discussions on a PTA began to firm up, Sri Lanka’s exports to Bangladesh were USD 133 million, while imports from Bangladesh were USD 37 million. Despite the low trade volume, Sri Lanka’s exports to Bangladesh have grown (Figure 1). In addition, Sri Lanka records a bilateral trade surplus with Bangladesh, which is encouraging given the country’s trade deficit concerns. However, weak growth of exports from Bangladesh to Sri Lanka can be seen from 2001 to 2016 (Figure 1).

The current trade deals between the two countries are still partially restrictive. Both countries keep a sensitive list of products that are not eligible for tariff cuts. Sri Lanka maintains a list of 925 products sanctioned by SAFTA (South Asian Free Trade Area) while Bangladesh keeps 993 products. Sri Lanka’s sensitive list covers USD 6.2 million or 23.8% of imports from Bangladesh. The sensitive list of Bangladesh covers USD 77.6 million or 62% of imports from Sri Lanka. Thus, the elimination of sensitive lists may benefit Sri Lanka more.

Figure 1: Trade Intensity between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka

Source: Authors’ Illustration using Trademap Data.

Theoretically, bilateral alliances deepen trade by removing weaknesses in existing multilateral trade arrangements. A trade deal between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka can simplify trade regulations further. In addition, Bangladesh needs alternative preferential access as graduation from Least Developed Country (LDC) status will take away preferential access to its key markets. For Sri Lanka, increasing bilateral participation in production value chains, especially in the textiles sector, might be an economic motivation. Financial support extended by Bangladesh to manage Sri Lanka’s foreign currency pressures might be a political motivation for a trade deal.

Eliminating sensitive lists can lead to trade creation, although it may not happen due to political and economic reasons. When it comes to tariff cuts, both countries will act defensively as certain products in the sensitive lists are vital for employment and revenue generation. Thus, the success of a trade deal depends on how many products with high export potential are under its purview. In this direction, a group of products with specific characteristics can be identified as an offensive list. For example, Sri Lanka’s offensive list includes products that Bangladesh imports from anywhere in the world, produced by Sri Lanka with a capacity for expansion. Sri Lanka has a comparative advantage in exporting that good, and Bangladesh already has a tariff on the product.

Export Gains from Tariff Elimination

If tariffs on the sensitive lists are eliminated, there will be modest export gains for Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in absolute terms. Sri Lanka will gain USD 24.7 to 49.7 million of exports to Bangladesh, while Bangladesh will gain USD 2.1 to 4.5 million of exports to Sri Lanka. Potential export gains are given in a range due to assumptions on elasticity values used in the partial equilibrium model. Elimination of sensitive lists will generate a higher tariff revenue loss to Bangladesh, ranging between USD 13.5 million to USD 19.1 million. By contrast, Sri Lanka’s revenue loss will be slight at USD 1.4 million to USD 1.9 million.

Whatever the arrangement, it is crucial to include the products with high export potential in the offensive lists (See Table 1 for the major products). Out of 39 products in Bangladesh’s offensive list, 21 are intermediate goods, while 18 are consumption goods. Similarly, 75 out of 115 products in Sri Lanka’s offensive list are intermediate goods. Tariff cuts on intermediate products may induce fragmented production between two countries, which would harness country-specific comparative advantages. Major intermediate goods in the offensive lists are dyed cotton fabrics, cartons, boxes, and cases, plain woven fabrics of cotton, denim, natural rubber, and smoked sheets of natural rubber (Table 1).

The ex-ante estimates predict modest gains for Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in absolute terms, even after completely removing the sensitive list. But complete removal is politically challenging for both countries. Moreover, Bangladesh as an LDC may expect special and differential (S&D) treatment. Thus, the outcome can be a limited PTA in line with weaknesses in existing trade agreements governing South Asian trade. The impact on trade of regional trade agreements in force is negative primarily due to stringent general regulatory measures, including rules of origin (ROO), sensitive lists, and prolonged phasing-in. Given that the estimated modest economic gains of a Bangladesh-Sri Lanka PTA do not justify a trade deal that requires substantial resources for negotiations,the PTA should have fewer regulatory measures and tariff concessions for the products on the offensive lists to maximise the economic benefits of a PTA between the two countries.

Link to the full Talking Economics blog: https://www.ips.lk/talkingeconomics/2022/01/20/bangladesh-sri-lanka-preferential-trade-agreement-gains-and-policy-challenges/

Asanka Wijesinghe is a Research Economist at IPS with research interests in macroeconomic policy, international trade, labour and health economics. He holds a BSc in Agricultural Technology and Management from the University of Peradeniya, an MS in Agribusiness and Applied Economics from North Dakota State University, and an MS and PhD in Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics from The Ohio State University. (Talk with Asanka – asanka@ips.lk)

Chathurrdhika Yogarajah is a Research Assistant at IPS with research interests in macroeconomics and trade policy. She holds a BSc (Hons) in Agricultural Technology and Management, specialised in Applied Economics and Business Management from the University of Peradeniya with First Class Honours. She is currently reading for her Master’s in Agricultural Economics at the Postgraduate Institute of Agriculture, Peradeniya. (Talk with Chathurrdhika: chathurrdhika@ips.lk)

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Expolanka boosts bourse by adding 21.7 points to ASPI

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By Hiran H.Senewiratne

CSE trading started in negative territory yesterday due to heavy profit- takings but after 1 pm the market began to recover, triggered by index heavy counter Expolanka, which gained by adding 21.7 points to the All-Share Price Index. The stock market yesterday produced a creditable recovery to finish on a positive note after early losses amid a relatively low but healthy turnover level. The Expolanka share price appreciated by 2.5 per cent or Rs 9.50. Its shares started trading at Rs 386 and at the end of the day they shot up by Rs 9.50.

Amid those developments both indices moved upwards. The All -Share Price Index went up by 42.8 points and S and P SL20 rose by 7 points. Turnover stood at Rs 4.9 billion with a single crossing. The crossing was reported in Expolanka, which crossed 100,000 shares to the tune of Rs 39.5 million and its shares traded at Rs 395.

In the retail market, top seven companies that mainly contributed to the turnover were, Expolanka Rs 715 million (1.8 million shares traded), Browns Investments Rs 336 million (19.9 million shares traded), ACL Cables Rs 261 million (2.1 million shares traded), LOLC Finance Rs 231 million (8.1 million shares traded), JKH Rs 193 million (1.2 million shares traded), Expack Corrugated Cartons Rs 162 million (seven million shares traded) and  Softlogic Capital Rs 161 million (11.3 million shares traded). During the day 154 million share volumes changed hands in 37000 transactions.

Yesterday, the US dollar was quoted at Rs 202.91, which was the controlled price of the Central Bank. The actual price would be more than Rs 250, market sources said.

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