Mumbai: As Sri Lanka grapples with a severe foreign exchange crunch, high street banks in India have turned cautious and selective about their exposures to the island nation.
Several institutions have reduced discounting letters of credit (LC) – the basic instrument for financing trade – issued by many Lanka lenders while others are giving credit to exporters based on the standing of the party, amount, the tenor of the credit, and standing of the bank issuing LCs.
Given the long trade relations, Sri Lanka’s dependence on imports and expectations of credit lines (from India and other countries), and possible currency arrangements, bankers hope that the country would be able to tide over the crisis in the medium term.
At the beginning of December, Sri Lanka’s forex reserves were just enough for a month of imports.
“We have not put a complete embargo on discounting export bills to Sri Lanka. It’s done on the basis of limits available with LC issuing banks,” said a senior official of the State Bank of India, the country’s largest lender.
Among other large banks, HDFC Bank was going slow on handling LCs for exports to Sri Lanka, Axis that has financed many Indian companies with exports to Sri Lanka is being selective, while ICICI Bank has cut limits for Sri Lanka along with some of the other smaller countries for quite some time now. IndusInd, said an official of the bank, is closely monitoring the developments and has been selective in the transactions undertaken.
“There is nothing wrong with banks in Sri Lanka. But when the payment falls due, there may not be enough dollars available in the forex market there,” said a banker.
India’s total exports to Sri Lanka was $3.2 billion in 2020. Oil, ships, boats, pharmaceutical products, sugar, iron and steel, cotton and machinery are among the top export items.
Under the normal trade finance arrangement, an exporter is paid by its bank which discounts the bill after documents like shipping bills, commercial invoices, and bills of lading are submitted to the bank. The bank is paid after a certain time – the credit period which could be up to six months (or a year or more for capital goods) – by the importer’s (here, the Sri Lankan buyer’s) bank.
Banks discounting bills have turned edgy as Sri Lanka is starved of dollars and the Sri Lankan central bank may not be in a position to supply dollars when importers’ banks have to make payments to exporters’ banks in India.
Payments against sight bills, where (under normal circumstances) funds are transferred within five working days, are taking more than a month, said an official with a leading export promotion organisation. Some exporters, said an official of a consumer goods company, are giving 6 to 7-month lines of credit to distributors who undertake exports to Sri Lanka.
Though large MNC banks like HSBC, Citi, and Standard Chartered, which have a long presence in Sri Lanka, continue to extend trade finance with certain precautions, they have the comfort of dealing with their respective Lanka office as the counterparty.
“Some banks are simply not giving any credit, but are simply operating on a collection basis. They are releasing money only after receiving it from the bank in Sri Lanka,” said a mid-sized exporter.
Seven factors of concern at upcoming Monetary Policy Review
by Sanath Nanayakkare
The Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) is scheduled to announce its latest monetary policy review on 20th January 2022, with all eyes on dwindling foreign reserves and foreign currency exchange in the country.
In this context, First Capital Research has named 7 factors of concern that could be taken into account at the upcoming monetary policy review. They are as follows.
* Foreign Reserves USD 3.1 billion – Dec 2021
* Inflation CCPI 12.1% – Dec 2021
* GDP Growth -1.5% – 3Q2021
* Private Credit LKR 60.5 billion – Nov 2021
* 03M T-Bill rate 8.38% as at 12.01.22
Liquidity and CBSL Holdings LKR -364.0 billion and LKR 1.42 trillion
Balance of Trade (BOT) and Balance of Payment (BOP) USD -6.5 billion and USD -3.3 billion for Jan-Oct 21
First Capital Research’s Policy Rate Forecast – Jan 2022-Apr 2022 notes that they believe the CBSL may highly consider tightening the monetary policy rates in this policy review but given the concerns over economic growth, there is a probability of 40% for CBSL to maintain its policy stance at current levels.
“With high frequent indicators improving in line with expectations, we have eliminated any probability of a rate cut. We expect a continued increase in probability for a rate hike in order to prevent overheating of the economy amidst the given fiscal and monetary stimulus,” they said.
As per First Capital’s view, CBSL either can choose to hike policy rates by 50bps or 100bps or hold policy rates steady, while a rate cut is off the table due to the high debt repayment and the high domestic borrowing requirement.
First Capital believes that there is a 60% probability for a rate hike due to the remedial actions required in achieving external stability.
However, there is also a 40% probability to maintain the policy rates at its current level in order to further improve the high frequency indicators.30%, they noted.
Sri Lanka’s dash brand enters international markets
Multichemi International Ltd, which manufactures and distributes a wide range of products under dash, one of Sri Lanka’s leading detergent and household care brands, has begun exporting its products to several international markets in Asia and Oceania, with plans also to enter Africa. The dash brand includes a wide range of products in car care, household care, home fragrances and laundry care sectors. Multichemi International Ltd, which has been awarded ISO 9001:2015 certification, is a Sri Lankan pioneer in environment-friendly cleaning products, having launched the country’s first biodegradable, safe cleaning products over 28 years ago.
Amila Wijesinghe, General Manager of the Company said,”Having conquered the domestic market, we are now ready to capture the international market. We are confident that our products which are of high quality will receive a good demand overseas as well. The feedback we have received so far from our overseas customers is extremely encouraging. We are dedicated to taking our products to the international market, to bring in foreign currency to the country and help uplift the economy”,
Janaka Abeysinghe appointed SLT CEO
Sri Lanka Telecom PLC has announced the appointment of Janaka Abeysinghe as its Chief Executive Officer (CEO) with effect from February 1, 2022.
The incumbent CEO Kiththi Perera will be overseas on leave for a period of two years to pursue higher studies, according to a stock market filing by the company.
Abeysinghe joined SLT in 1991. In his present role, he leads the enterprise and wholesale business of SLT that provides integrated voice and data solutions to enterprises, government institutions, domestic telco operators and global wholesale carriers.
In his career at SLT spanning 29 years, he has held a number of senior positions, including general manager Enterprise and International Sales and has extensive experience in the areas of Enterprise Digital Services, Enterprise Communications Solutions, Data Communications, Business Development, Domestic and International Switching Operations and Global Wholesale Voice & Data Business.
He holds a Master’s Degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the University of Kansas, USA and a BSc degree in Electronics and Telecommunications Engineering with a First Class Honours from the University of Moratuwa.
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