In response to recent Moody’s ratings, the Central Bank of Sri Lanka issued the following statement.
We observe, with disappointment, the rating downgrade by Moody’s Investors Service and the recent release of an erroneous analysis by an international investment bank expressing concern s about Sri Lanka’s economic and financial strength and external debt service capacity.
This downgrade and the report failed to do justice to the ground reality of the ongoing rapid economic recovery backed by vastly improved business confidence arising from the return of political and policy stability after a lapse of five years. Such announcement is also unwarranted especially at a time when the new Government is about to announce its Budget for 2021, spelling out the policy framework proposed in the medium term.
While Sri Lanka too like many of its peers in the emerging market group, experienced initial capital outflows, exchange rate depreciation, slowdown in activity, and pressure on government finances, in response to the effects of COVID-19 pandemic, unlike many of its peers, the country has been able to decisively deal with the domestic spread of the pandemic, for which Sri Lanka is hailed as one of the few countries to have been able to do so. The swiftness with which decisions were taken followed. by the landslide vi story of the Government, Sri Lanka is now moving along a recovery path towards growth and stability.
Merchandise exports have returned to pre-COVID monthly avers ges of US dollars 1 billion. With the curtailment of non- essential imports, the trade deficit has improved notably. Although inbound tourist movements are not yet allowed, other services exports, including IT services and shipping, remain robust. Workers’ remittances have recorded a sharp increase in spite of the initial expectation of a slowdown. Amidst the COVID response the Government also initiated reforms in State Owned Enterprises (SOE) and the Impact of such actions can be seen already with some SOE’s showing positive results.
Foreign Direct Investments, which slowed in the first half of the year, appear promising looking ahead, particularly with the expected inflows to the Port City project and for new manufacturing projects. The expected finalization of new legislation for the Port City within a month will result in the realization of investment by those who have already completed due diligence on such investment. Other expected investments include import alternative industries as well as investments by international financial institutions. With regard to portfolio flows, foreign inflows to the government securities market have already shown signs of resumption. The stock market indices have improved to pre-COVJD levels.
The tourism sector has been supported by the flourishing domestic tourism. With increased emphasis on domestic agriculture, agro-based industries and resource-based industries, domestic economic activity has seen a remarkable turnaround with more opportunities being created for entrepreneurs to flourish, and available economic indicators point towards a promis ing recovery in the second half of the year, following the setback in the first half.
Given these developments, the exchange rate has sharply appreciated since mid-April, and remains stable at appreciated levels allowing the Central Bank to accumulate reserves through market purchases of foreign exchange. In fact, official reserves of the Central Bank increased to US dollars 7.4 billion by end August 2020, and the Government has repeatedly expressed its ability and willingness to meet all its debt obligations falling due in the period ahead. 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 likely to help enhance foreign currency inflows, in addition to the support of friendly countries, such as the swap arrangement with the Reserve Bank of India in July 2020 and the expected disbursement of the 21 1<1 tr anche of the Foreign Currency Term Financing Facility proceeds from the China Development Bank in October 2020.
Sri Lanka’s policy environment remains facilitative of enabling high economic growth beyond the recovery phase while preserving macroeconomic stability. On the back of over 11 years of well anchored mid-single dig it levels of inflation, the Central Bank has pursued an increasingly accommodative monetary policy stance. Fiscal policy, while remaining focused on supporting the economy, will return to a path of consolidation as envisaged in the Government’s policy framework, “Vistas of Prosperity and Splend our”. Hence, both fiscal and monetary policies have prioritized supporting people, businesses and thereby the economy, without jeopardizing the ma croeconomic balance of the country.
Given these circumstances, the Government of Sri Lanka wishes to reaffirm to foreign investors that ha ve put faith in Sri Lanka continuously over the past several years that Sri Lanka remains willing and able to meet its debt obligations, as it has done impeccably in the past. In fact, Sri Lanka is one of the few countries to have recognized the external sector pressures and decisively curtailed all non- essential imports with a view to prioritize external debt service obligations.
Furthermore, the press release added that all payment transactions for the repayment of the International Sovereign Bond of US dollars 1 billion maturing on 04 October 2020 have already been lined up and funds will be credited to the paying agent’s account on 02 October 2020. It is puzzling that Moody’s has downgraded Sri Lanka on the eve of this repayment, which seems similar to the previous premature and reckless downgrades by rating agencies in the immediate aftermath of the en d of the internal conflict in 2009 and during the political impasse at end 2018.
Accordingly, foreign investors are invited not to be dissuaded by the recent unwarranted rating downgrade and the erroneous analysis published recklessly, but to be guided by improving economic conditions as outlined above. As in the past, any investor can approach the Ministry of Finance, the State Ministry of Money and Capital Market and State Enterprise Reforms, and the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, and the highest level officials of these entities remain committed to facilitate any one-on-one or roadshow d is cussions with investors.
In addition, the Government will commence regular roadshows to strengthen investor relations following the announcement of the National Budget in November 2020, which will provide further clarity on the Government’s medium term fiscal and financing plans.
New IPS report on ‘Elasticity Estimates for Cigarettes in Sri Lanka’
• New study finds that increasing taxes on cigarettes will have twin advantages of reducing cigarette consumption and increasing government revenue.
• Calculated tax and price elasticities of demand for cigarettes show that smokers are price sensitive: increasing cigarette taxes by 10 per cent will reduce consumption by 8 per cent.
• A simulation exercise shows that when cigarette taxes are raised in line with inflation and streamlined between 2020-2023, government excise tax revenue will increase by LKR 37 billion by 2023 and 140,000 premature deaths from cigarette consumption can be prevented in the future.
The Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka (IPS) has released a report which provides a comprehensive assessment of Sri Lanka’s historical and current tobacco tax policies to assess whether they are in line with the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommended best practices. The new report ‘Elasticity Estimates for Cigarettes in Sri Lanka’ is authored by Dr. Nisha Arunathilake, Harini Weerasekera and Chamini Thilanka, and is part of a series of IPS research focusing on health and education.
According to the WHO, significant increases in tobacco taxes are the best means of controlling tobacco consumption. High taxes are an incentive for quitting tobacco, reducing consumption, and for not initiating smoking. The report finds that although cigarette prices have gone up over time, cigarettes are still affordable for smokers as tax increases have not kept up with inflation and income increases. Further, the tax structure is not streamlined, and tax policy changes have been implemented in an ad-hoc manner.
The report provides an estimate of price and income elasticities of cigarettes, and uses these to assess the effectiveness of tax increases on smoking prevalence in the country by conducting a simulation analysis. The results show that increasing cigarette taxes by 10 per cent will reduce consumption by 8 per cent. Finally, the study used the estimated tax elasticities to model the health and fiscal benefits of moving to inflation-adjusted and uniform excise tax system over 4 years.
DFCC Bank and AIA virtually recognise CEO Club award winners
Launched in 2018, the ‘CEO’s Club’ Awards organized annually by AIA Insurance for DFCC Bank staff, has since been held in grand style each quarter. The event is intended at recognizing and celebrating DFCC’s staff on their exceptional achievements in providing protection to the bank’s customers by introducing AIA’s insurance solutions.
Despite the limitations posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, the management of both DFCC and AIA were determined to continue the tradition of much deserved recognition for the DFCC staff who have excelled in providing insurance solutions to customers. As the first ever virtual AIA-DFCC CEO’s Club Awards Night, the event was held on Microsoft Teams. This pioneering event connected fifteen locations simultaneously, taking digital adoption to a new level, to celebrate award winners.
AIA CEO Nikhil Advani congratulated the winners, while commenting on the long-standing partnership between AIA and DFCC; “AIA are pioneers in Bancassurance in Sri Lanka and DFCC is one of our most valuable partners. Together over the years we have created a strong bond, driven by the common goal of providing protection and financial security to our customers. We are constantly defying odds and challenging the status quo and that is why we were able to take digital to the next level and ensure that these merited recognitions and celebrations took place, uninterrupted.”
DFCC CEO Lakshman Silva also applauded the winners and commented; “DFCC Bank, one of the oldest development banks in the country and now a full-service commercial bank, has had many trail-blazing initiatives. We entered into a partnership with AIA with the objective of enhancing our customer value proposition- and over the years have complemented each other, bringing exceptional value to customers. It was great, that together we were able to overcome the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic and create an opportunity out of it, in creating a first of its kind digital event. This is what great partnerships do.”
Fifty-four CEO’s Club winners from across the island were recognized at the virtual Awards Night, for their achievements in 2019, with six others getting special recognition for their contribution as well. The top ten performers were Samitha Jayathilake ( Kottawa Branch) , Chamindu Anjana (Hikkaduwa Branch) , Dilini De Silva (Moratuwa Branch), Dinusha Jayathilaka (Anuradhapura Branch), Nuwan Abeywickrama (Kiribathgoda Branch), Anjalina Kumarihamy (Piliyandala Branch), Dilanka Jayawardena(Kaduwela Branch) , Lahiru Madushan(Central Sales Unit ) , Paskaranathan Ghengatharan (Kotahena Branch) and Lakshman Thambiraja (Batticaloa Branch ).
Tokyo Cement and Chevron Lubricants quarterly results boost market
By Hiran H.Senewiratne
The CSE turned positive yesterday with the releasing of impressive second and third quarter results by two investor favourite counters, Tokyo Cement and Chevron Lubricants, stock market analysts said.
It is said that Tokyo Cement’s second quarter results recorded Rs. 2.1 billion profit, which was a 183 percent increase compared to the corresponding quarter for year 2019, while Chevron Lubricants recorded Rs. 803 million in profits, which was a 29 percent increase compared to the corresponding quarter the previous year. Therefore, Chevron Lubricants announced a dividend of Rs. 3.50 per share for its shareholders yesterday.
Tokyo Cement’s impressive growth plus Chevron Lubricant’s dividend announcement removed the negative sentiment from the share market, which witnessed negative sentiments as a result of the government’s announcement of the three day Covid 19 curfew from today, market analysts said.
Amid those developments, the market experienced a day full of fluctuations and both indices moved upwards, i.e., the All Share Price Index was up by 126. 39 points and S and P SL20 went up by 51.82 points Turnover stood at Rs. 1.64 billion with a single crossing reported in JKH. The latter’s 1.26 million shares crossed for Rs. 157 million and its share was traded at Rs. 130.50.
In the retail market top five contributors to the turnover were, Tokyo Cement (Non Voting) Rs. 234.7 million (4.4 million shares traded), Tokyo Cement (Voting) Rs. 176.6 million (2.8 million shares traded), Expolanka Rs. 162.6 million (9.1 million shares traded), Dip Products Rs. 117.9 million (382,000 shares traded) and Chevron Lubricants Rs. 78.2 million (900,000 shares traded). During the day 55.1 million share volumes changed hands in 16138 transactions.
Further, two finance companies are going to merge to meet the co-capital requirement of the Central Bank, which is, Rs. 2 billion; they are Nation Lanka Finance and Sinhaputhra Finance. With the merger the surviving entity would be Sinhaputhra Finance. At present both companies are struggling to meet co-capital requirements of the Central Bank. Once the merger happens they will be able to meet the requirement, stock market analysts said.
Sri Lanka rupee was quoted at 184.25/40 to the US dollar on Thursday while bond yields were largely unchanged, dealers said. The rupee closed at 184.25/35 against the greenback on Wednesday. Bond markets were dull with little activity, dealers said.
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