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Introducing REITs in Sri Lanka: ‘An opportunity to benefit from real estate investment’

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The Colombo Stock Exchange (CSE) and the Securities and Exchange Commission of Sri Lanka (SEC) announce the launch of Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) which now give average investors an opportunity to reap the benefits of real estate investment and the advantages associated with investing in publicly traded securities on the CSE. While investing in real estate appears to be a popular choice, the rising cost of property poses a significant challenge to individual investors who typically resort to bank loans to finance such investments. This timely introduction by the CSE and SEC provides greater access to all investor segments to commercial real estate projects and an opportunity to benefit from the recently observed spiraling property prices.

REITs were first introduced in the United States in 1960 creating a mechanism for individual investors’, especially middle-income earners, to generate income through investing in large commercial real estate. This product has made rapid progress within the Asian markets as well with its growing popularity especially in Thailand, Malaysia and India and is also viewed as a mechanism to broad base the real estate ownership within a country. A REIT is essentially a structure which typically owns and operates income-generating real estate. The income-generating real estate assets owned by a REIT may include office buildings, shopping malls, apartments, hotels, resorts, self-storage facilities and warehouses.

A REIT would enable unit holders to earn a portion of the income that is generated through renting, leasing or selling these properties which is required to be distributed directly to the unit holders of the REIT. The CSE and SEC have introduced a framework which mandates the distribution of 90% of the generated income to its investors.

This innovative introduction, which has been formulated specifically taking into consideration the local environment, would open up new horizons for real estate developers and owners to convert completed income generating projects into a REIT, have its units listed on the CSE following the mechanism now made available to them and have them publicly traded in the secondary market, similar to equity securities listed on the CSE.

The framework for REITs has been introduced by the SEC via rules made by the SEC in terms of section 53 and 13 of the SEC Act which came into effect from July 31, 2020 in the form of a gazette notification. The comprehensive formation of SEC rules will govern the overall mechanism of REITs in Sri Lanka. The CSE has also formulated listing rules for the listing of units of REITs. A REIT would enable investors to further diversify their portfolios by investing in this lucrative investment vehicle which would produce long-term returns. Investors would benefit from a stable stream of income, swift entry and exit route through the secondary market and also benefit from the returns of the overall real estate asset appreciation.

The economy at large would also benefit from the introduction of REITs with the anticipated creation of jobs, economic growth, increased tax revenues, liquidity through listing and would also attract foreign direct investments into the country. REITs would also require stronger corporate governance and increased transparency which would help the investor community and regulatory bodies to assess the viability and quality of projects.

Similar to any stock market investment, the investor is required to take into account his/her own financial status and also consult with an investment advisor prior to making an investment decision. A review can also be carried out on the REIT’s disclosure filings, including the annual and quarterly reports, prior to making a decision to invest in REITs.

The CSE and SEC will continue to focus on setting up a more conducive environment along with the regulatory authorities to facilitate greater company and investor participation.

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Union Bank records ‘resilient performance’ despite challenging environment in 3Q

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Union Bank continued to focus on its prudent cost and portfolio management strategy to remain resilient amidst a volatile macro-economic landscape that prevailed through the third quarter of the year, a bank press release said.

It adds – ‘The Covid-19 outbreak weakened the country outlook substantially and affected the overall business landscape of the country. Amidst a challenging economic landscape, the Average Prime Lending Rate (AWPLR) dropped by approximately 400bps YoY while the Treasury Bill rates continued on a downward trend during the period under review. In line with directives of the Central Bank, Union Bank implemented a downward revision of interest rates on its various lending products including credit cards. The Bank took measures to provide loans at concessionary rates for Working Capital requirements of SMEs and exporters by participating in the CBSL credit schemes including the Saubhagya Covid-19 Renaissance Facility.

‘In a backdrop where the negative impacts of Covid-19 on the economy, businesses and consumers continued to weigh down on the banking industry, the Bank focused on continuing the Covid-19 related benefits schemes granted to its customers in a bid to support their financial recovery while focusing on maintaining business operations in compliance with health safety guidelines set by health officials to ensure safety of staff, customers and other stakeholders.

‘Amidst mounting challenges, Union Bank increased its liquidity buffers on a prudent basis and has been able to maintain a strong excess liquidity position. During the period under review average fixed deposits remained stable whereas average CASA ended at Rs.23,805 Mn, with an increase of 18% over the comparative period.

As a consequence of the Bank’s policy to support its customers during these tough times and a decline in interest rates, its Net Interest Margin (NIM) declined from 3.8% to 3.3% over the comparative period.

Late payment fee and other fee waivers provided in line with the CBSL guidelines aimed at supporting the customers affected by the pandemic, alongside a decline in economic activity, caused a reduction of the overall fee income by 25% over the comparative period.

‘The Treasury performed notably within the period under review, recording impressive trading profit/capital gains with a significant YoY increase of 108%. Other Operating Income of the Bank increased on the back of exchange rate deflation during the said period.

‘Amidst the challenging environment, the Operating Income of the Bank for the quarter was Rs. 1,692 Mn, and reduced by 3% over the comparative quarter. The Total Operating Expenses were prudently managed through bank-wide cost management initiatives and reduced by 5% QoQ to Rs. 941 Mn.

‘Consequently, Pre-impairment profits of the Bank were Rs. 751 Mn for the quarter and was similar to that of the comparative quarter. While the Bank’s actual credit losses were low, the Bank recorded significant provisions through management overlays to account for the deteriorating environment, leading to a 31% QoQ increase in impairment charges. The entire day one loss on account of Covid-19 moratoriums was recorded under the impairment charge as per the non-substantial modification method which is in line with the Sri Lanka Accounting Standard – 9 (SLFRS 9).’

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LOLC expands international footprint with entry into Zambia

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Ms. Freda Tamba, Director, Non-Bank Supervision, Bank of Zambia and Elmo Jayetileke, Chief Executive Officer, Africa Region of LOLC, ceremonially opening the first LOLC Finance Zambia Limited branch in Lusaka.

The LOLC Group commenced its operations in Zambia recently with the official launch of its inaugural branch located in Lusaka. The company which will operate as LOLC Finance Zambia Limited, is a deposit-taking non-banking financial institution and will provide finance products such as home loans, motor vehicle finance, business loans, and consumer loans, among other products, thus helping to narrow the access to financial services gap in Zambia.

The branch at Lusaka Cairo Road was ceremonially declared open by Ms. Freda Tamba, Director, Non-Bank Supervision, Bank of Zambia. Plans are also underway to open branches in the Copperbelt and North-Western provinces of Zambia in the near future.

LOLC Zambia is LOLC’s ninth overseas finance operation and LOLC has already launched operations in Cambodia, Myanmar, Indonesia, Pakistan, Philippines and Nigeria. LOLC currently reigns as Sri Lanka’s most profitable listed entity for two consecutive years, emerging as a “Sri Lankan global player” in a short span of time. With its financial strength and the perfected microfinance business model in the region, the Group is well-positioned to expand its operations beyond Asia, serving a large Bottom of the Pyramid population. LOLC, keenly looking to establish its breakthrough impact finance lending model across Africa, replicating its success in Asia, made its debut to Africa in 2019 by acquiring a microfinance bank in Nigeria and by starting LOLC Finance Zambia as a green field project. Today, with promising strategic investments, LOLC looks to increase its presence throughout the African region in the years to come.

Speaking about the entry into Zambia, LOLC Group Managing Director/CEO, Kapila Jayawardena said, “Zambia is a very important market to us as it is one of the fastest growing economies in Africa. There is enormous opportunity and potential for micro-entrepreneurs to expand their businesses and for enhanced economic development. As the only Sri Lankan financial institution operating in this market, we hope to export our global expertise to Zambia as done in all other nations we are present in, to benefit mainly the MSME segment to uplift their lives through responsible lending. We hope to use our technological innovations to effectively penetrate the Zambian market”.

Excelling on a national level, LOLC has now established itself as a leading microfinance institution in the countries in which it operates. Today, LOLC has successfully established itself as a strong global financial conglomerate and with this standing, the Group is poised to be a global financial catalyst with a multi-currency, multi-geographic microfinance and SME platform in the future.

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OPPO launches the eye-catching OPPO F17 in Sri Lanka

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Hot on the heels of launching OPPO F17 Pro, OPPO Sri Lanka is launching its latest model in the F series OPPO F17 in Sri Lanka. “OPPO F17 carries the F-series gene, combining outstanding design while extending its focus into Fast Charge and seamless entertainment. For users whose phones are always within arm’s reach, F17 incorporates a suite of features that makes sure your eyes are always cared for as it satisfies your recreational needs,” commented Bob Li, CEO of Xinda Lanka (OPPO Sri Lanka) at the launch.

With leather-like back cover and the laser-engraved patterns which make the phone look like a trendy fashion accessory, the OPPO F17 is a light smartphone that provides a sense of novelty and luxury while giving users a way to elegantly stand out. The smartphone comes in two colors – Navy Blue and Dynamic Orange.

Another element that enhances the sense of luxury is the camera design on the back cover, which showcases a perfectly balanced four camera 2×2 array design that’s inspired by high-end watches. The 2.5D curved body gives this phone a simpler style and flatter body than conventional 3D curved designs. This one-piece body provides a new, unique aesthetic for mobile phones and provides users a better feel when they’re holding the phone. And to complete the stylish look, F17’s middle frame incorporates a thin design that uses narrower and more delicate front bezel, resulting in a thinner and lighter body.

F17’s 4015mAh battery (typical) uses 30W VOOC Flash Charge which allows for a full charge in just 56 minutes, or 72% in only 30 minutes. OPPO F17 also provides additional battery saving technology like Super Power Saving Mode which extends the low battery through a series of power saving strategies upto 17 hours and Super Night-time Standby which perform ultra power saving optimization at night by learning the user’s sleeping habits.

Whilst F17’s Sunlight Screen keeps your eyes comfortable by automatically adjusting the brightness in well lit environments to enhance screen visibility the AI Smart Backlight learns how you manually adjust your screen’s brightness in different scenarios. Moonlight Screen automatically sets your screen’s lowest brightness and F17’s DC Dimming eliminates screen flickering to relieve the user’s eye strain when they watch videos or use social media apps.Rounding out the state-of-the-art display is F17’s In-display fingerprint scanner which provides advanced security for faster and more accurate recognition than side or back fingerprint detectors deliver.

As Hyper Boost 2.1 allows apps and games to respond quicker and the entire system to run more smoothly, 8GB memory with 128GB storage ensures that gaming experiences will have less lag even after the phone’s been in use for a while.

OPPO’s RAM+ anti-lag and OF2FS optimizes speed and performance by efficiently expanding the available memory in the system and improves the storage performance while alleviating lag caused by system aging.

Through OPPO F17’s Dual Channel Network Acceleration both Wi-Fi and the mobile network is leveraged to ensure high network stability especially when Wi-Fi is poor whilst Bullet Notifications and Floating Window Reply ensure that one will not be interrupted in the middle of a game.

The 16MP main camera in F17 is enhanced by AI Dazzle Color, a feature that makes colors more vibrant or beautifies portraits based on the surrounding environment brightness and colors through deep learning algorithms whilst making one look best with AI Beautification 2.0, which automatically removes blemishes, retains skin texture, and adjusts to the user’s skin color allowing for clearer and brighter photos.

Also, as Front Night Mode enables users to get clear selfies with rich details in dim environments, F17’s Steady Video Mode leverages Electronic Image Stabilization (EIS) to output stable and clear videos in dynamic scenes. Furthermore, the first-party Soloop video editing app easily enables users to generate complete short videos to be uploaded onto short video platforms using only one tap.

ColorOS 7.2 in OPPO F17 delivers practical features that will continue to delight users. Whilst the Icon Pull-Down Gesture allows users to open hard-to-reach apps at the top of the home screen when they only have one hand free to hold and control the phone the 3-finger Screenshot feature empowers users to grab as much or as little of the content they see on their screen for future reference or to share with their friends.

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