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LOLC at the helm of corporate sector due to its impressive performance

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LOLC Group (LOLC), the premier blue chip conglomerate, concluded another financial year on a high note as per the results for the year ended March 31, 2020.

LOLC posted an impressive Rs.19.8 billion Profit after Tax (PAT) for the year in comparison to Rs.19.6 billion PAT in the last year, becoming the most profitable listed entity in Sri Lanka for two consecutive years. In a short span of time, LOLC has truly emerged as a “Sri Lankan global player” having operations in over 10 countries.

While the Group performance was affected by local externalities, such as the Easter Sunday attack, the subdued economic growth and the political instability in FY19/20 that resulted the company to record dips in the net interest income and hikes in impairment charges, LOLC has been able to enjoy its stellar performance largely based on the earnings stemming from its overseas financial operations and the gain on a bargain purchase of Rs. 5.4 billion from the acquisition of the largest sugar production plantation company in Africa. Moving forward, LOLC is well set to realise the financial synergies generated from the PRASAC divestment through realigning the capital position of the Group.

Established 40 years ago, LOLC has spearheaded the Small & Medium Enterprise (SME) lending and microfinance revolution in Sri Lanka and the region. Excelling on a national level, LOLC has now established itself as a leading microfinance institution in the countries which it operates.

With its financial strength and the perfected micro finance business model in the region, the Group is now well-positioned to expand its operations beyond Asia to the African continent where a substantial opportunity lies in serving a large Bottom of the Pyramid population. Overseas expansion has not only offered LOLC diversified revenue streams with increased financial stability, but also has added resilience with a well-spread risk profile.

LOLC already made its debut to Africa by acquiring a microfinance bank in Nigeria in October 2019 and by starting LOLC Finance Zambia as a green field project. In FY 2020/21, LOLC will focus on consolidating its existing businesses while pursuing promising investments in Africa and Asia for long-term value creation.

The Group announced the board’s decision to sell its 70% stake in PRASAC to the South Korean KB Kookmin Bank for a consideration of $603 million in January 2020. LOLC received the relevant regulatory approval in March 2020 and concluded the transaction on April 13, 2020. PRASAC claims $3.3 billion in assets, $2.7 billion in portfolio, $1.8 billion deposits and $133 million Profit before Tax (PBT) for the 12 months ending March 2020.

Despite the sale of PRASAC, LOLC still has a foothold in the fastest growing Southeast Asian country via LOLC Cambodia, the fourth largest Microfinance Institution (MFI) in terms of portfolio size. The company has recorded an impressive performance with a 57% YoY growth of its earnings to conclude the year.

The group owns 97% of LOLC Cambodia that has an asset base surpassing $1 billion, a gross loan portfolio of $857 million, a deposit base of $501 million and a recorded profit of $34.6 million. With its superior process efficiencies and the right product mix, the company now leads the industry in terms of profitability.

Venturing into Myanmar in 2013 as a greenfield operation, LOLC Myanmar Microfinance Company Limited has now become the third largest among the 176 MFIs in the country with an asset base of $109 million, a portfolio of $77.8 million, and a growing deposit book of $13.8 million. LOLC Myanmar has seen an exceptional performance in FY2019/20 with over 94% YoY growth in loan book, total assets and deposits.

In 2017, the Government of Pakistan and the Sultanate of Oman invited LOLC to take up the major shareholding of their joint venture – Pak Oman Microfinance Bank, in recognition of LOLC’s outstanding contribution to the microfinance community. The Group ventured into Indonesia in 2018, acquiring the controlling interest in PT Sarana Sumut Ventura (SSV), expanding its global footprint. SSV is now well-placed to capture the industry potential in a country that has a massive Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises (MSME) market and over 100 million Bottom of the Pyramid population.

Tapping into other neighbouring emerging markets, LOLC invested in the Philippines through LOLC ASKI Finance and LOLC Bank Philippines (a thrift bank) in 2019. These entities collectively account for $11.8 million loan portfolio. In the year under review, the Group made its first finance sector investment in the African region by acquiring a controlling stake of FinaTrust Microfinance Bank in Nigeria, the country with the largest population in Africa.

Today, with the financial sector representation in eight countries along with promising investments in Asia and Africa in the coming years, LOLC has successfully established itself as a strong global financial conglomerate. 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.

In spite of the challenging and unexpected external shocks, LOLC Finance PLC (LOFC) continued to hold its market leadership position amongst the Non-Banking Financial Institutions (NBFIs) in the country with an asset base of Rs.192 billion, a portfolio of Rs.134 billion and deposits of Rs. 99 billion. The company posted Rs. 3.9 billion PAT in the year under review. LOFC as the leading impact lender, holds the largest pool of Development Finance Institutions (DFIs), guiding their respective development goals for Sri Lanka.

The capital and the wide array of technical assistance provided by these DFIs through LOFC have transformed the grass root levels of the economy. Continuing the Group’s legacy of expanding strategic international alliances, LOFC signed a loan agreement with Swedfund, the Swedish Government’s Development Finance Institution to promote financial inclusion and gender equality.

In a statement about the annual performance of the Group, Group Managing Director/CEO Kapila Jayawardena said, “2019/20 has been a difficult year due to externalities affecting most industries, but we are pleased with our strong performance this year, with a Group PAT of Rs. 19.8 billion which is largely contributed by our strategic foreign ventures. With this standing, we are proud to be the most profitable listed entity for the second consecutive year. With a timely global expansion strategy, well diversified revenue streams and a dynamic workforce in place, we will ambitiously look forward to stride ahead with consistent performance during these turbulent times.”

 



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Spotlight on ‘Emerging Issues for Macroeconomic Stability’

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The Central Bank of Sri Lanka co-hosted the CBSL-ADBI-APAEA Online Macroeconomics Conference for the third consecutive year, in collaboration with the Asian Development Bank Institute (ADBI) and the Asia-Pacific Applied Economics Association (APAEA), on 23 September 2022. This year’s theme remained same as the previous year; ‘Emerging Issues for Macroeconomic Stability’.

Inaugurating the Conference, Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe, the Governor of the Central Bank, elaborated on some key challenges faced by many countries over the world, mainly driven by the COVID-19 pandemic and geo-political tensions, driving most central banks to prioritise on stabilising their corresponding economies. He highlighted the increasing concern faced by both advanced and emerging market economies alike, in the balancing act between supporting economic growth on the one hand, and maintaining overall macroeconomic stability on the other, amidst varying levels of macroeconomic buffers. He also noted the importance of research collaborations between the academia and policymakers to address various issues faced by the economies amidst the prevailing high volatility in the global economic landscape.

The Governor highlighted that although the applicability and validity of findings of certain models and theories presented in theoretical academic research could be somewhat limited amidst crisis situations like the one Sri Lanka is facing at present, ongoing effort to study the dynamics of emerging market economies is an essential element in the recovery process. Professor Tetsushi Sonobe, Dean and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of ADBI delivered opening remarks and noted the heterogeneity among different regions in terms of the exposure to inflation pressures, available policy space and the soundness of macro-fundamentals. He emphasized that workshops of this nature would help stimulating a dialogue among academia and policymakers and support further development of policy research.

The Conference comprised two sessions of research paper presentations by authors from the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, ADBI and APAEA. The sessions were chaired by Dr. John Beirne, Vice-Chair of Research at ADBI, and Mrs. Yvette Fernando, Deputy Governor of the Central Bank.

The proceedings of the conference can be accessed via the Central Bank Website in the ‘Conferences, Seminars and Workshops’ section (https://www.cbsl.gov.lk/sites/ default/files/cbslweb_documents/research/CBSL_ADBI_APAEA_Workshop_Sep2022_Agenda.pdf).

Collaborative Research Conference by CBSL-ADBI-APAEA – 23 September 2022.

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A compelling value proposition for investing in SL in the context of Port City Colombo

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On the heels of the interim budget speech and a Staff Level agreement on an Extended Fund Facility with the IMF, the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce hosted a virtual session on the 01st of September 2022 to discuss, ‘How can Sri Lanka compete for investment amidst turbulence times: Economic growth vs Fiscal consolidation’.

Joining the discussion were Natarajan Sankar, Managing Director and Partner at Boston Consulting Group (BCG), Dr Dushni Weerakoon, Executive Director at the Institute of Policy Studies, Ashique Ali, chairman of SLASSCOM, and Thulci Aluwihare, Deputy Managing Director of CHEC Port City Colombo. The session was moderated by Shiran Fernando, Chief Economist at the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce.

During the discussion, Natarajan Sankar highlighted how the development of economic clusters could be an important policy tool to activate growth in new sectors, similar to Dubai, Singapore and Malaysia. The presentation demonstrated that Sri Lanka is now at an inflection point, where bold reforms must be implemented to enhance export competitiveness and FDI attraction, similar to major South Asian Economies following the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis.

Discussing these ideas further in the context of Port City Colombo, where BCG has been engaged as the International Strategy Consultant, Sankar stressed that the structural advantages offered by Sri Lanka need to be augmented by strengthening the country’s brand as a destination for investment, as well as by improving the ease, risks and costs of doing business. As many SEZs have failed due to poor conceptualization and implementation, he emphasized the need to form a compelling value proposition through a comprehensive package of fiscal incentives, infrastructure support, talent pool and a conducive legal/ regulatory framework.

Sankar also discussed the vast potential that exists in the IT, Digital Education and Professional Services segments, where Sri Lanka could position for an India+1 strategy, on the back of lower cost of operations, good quality talent pool and robust connectivity. In the context of IT companies, he pointed out that businesses consider a multitude of factors in their international location decisions, as they take a long-term view on graduating from Outposts to Satellites, and eventually, Hub operations. Hence, a precise overarching narrative and investor pitches, tailored for sectors and sub-sectors, should be set out to appeal for international investment, he explained.

Adding to the discussion, Dr Dushni Weerakoon, Executive Director of the Institute of Policy Studies, referred to the World Bank’s Global Investment Competitiveness Report, which points out the top 3 factors for investment decisions as: supportive political environment, macroeconomic stability and a supportive regulatory regime. Sri Lanka’s poor performance across these pillars, coupled with the ongoing economic crisis, could cause investors to generally steer away from long term investments and consider opportunistic/portfolio investments where exit is relatively easier.

However, to attract “efficiency seeking FDIs”, which are the conduit for new technology, management know-how and business networks, the long-term reform agenda plays a crucial role. Amidst an economic crisis and an era of fiscal consolidation, there is a case to be made for strategically considering tax incentives to attract investment in sectors such as IT, construction and exports. This could also position Sri Lanka competitively amongst the 50-70% of developing countries that offer fiscal incentives to attract investment.

Providing an insight from an IT/BPM perspective, Ashique Ali, chairman of SLASSCOM, underscored the importance of developing globally relevant skills to benefit from the vast opportunity within the IT/BPM sector, which remained resilient globally even during the pandemic, due to the rising demand for digitalization. He stressed that Sri Lanka continues to remain attractive for global clientele despite the disruptions to business activity that the industry experienced over the recent couple of months.

Discussing the matter from the point of view of the Port City Colombo development, Thulci Aluwihare, Deputy Managing Director at CHEC Port City Colombo explained the significance of strong economic growth in achieving long term debt sustainability, notwithstanding fiscal consolidation. Whilst agreeing that efficiency of the workforce, quality of infrastructure, political stability etc. take precedence over fiscal incentives in the context of investment decisions, Aluwihare revealed a comparative analysis of regional peers, which highlights Sri Lanka’s poor ranking in these aspects. Furthermore, Sri Lanka is also a relatively high tax jurisdiction, where taxes were second to India despite the lack of a vast domestic market. On the other hand, even developed jurisdictions such as Singapore and Dubai, UAE provide targeted tax incentives for as long as 40-50 years.

He also further explained that the hurdle return rates expected by international investors, commensurate with country risks, is significantly higher than in the region, which in turn makes large-scale development projects relatively unattractive. Aluwihare concluded by stressing that targeted incentives should be offered by considering a cost benefit analysis where the wider economic impact outweighs the cost of such incentives.

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External and internal factors set stage for CSE revival

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By Hiran H. Senewiratne

The CSE rose over 1 per cent within the first hour of trading yesterday, continuing the momentum from the previous day, unfolding a stock market driven by retail investors. The reasons for the market to bounce back were external and internal factors, stock market analysts said.

One external factor that propelled the market was the Asian Development Bank (ADB) reassurance of further support for crisis-hit Sri Lanka once the International Monetary Fund Board approves the US $ 2.9 billion four-year Extended Fund Facility program.

ADB President Masatsugu Asakawa told journalists that reaching the Staff Level Agreement by Sri Lanka with the IMF earlier this month was a positive development and expressed confidence in the government receiving “financing assurances” from relevant creditors leading up to the IMF Executive Board approving the new support program for Sri Lanka.

A further factor that positively impacted the market was the Export Development Board report that our export earnings from the beginning of the year to August this year reached more than US $ 8 billion, which was a 12 per cent increase, stock market analysts said.

Amid those developments both indices moved upwards. All Share Price Index went up by 97.25 points (0.99 per cent) to end of the day at 9958.87 and S and P SL20 gained 22.71 points (0.72 per cent) to end of the day at 3187.22. Turnover stood at Rs 3.1 billion without a crossing.

In the retail market top seven companies that mainly contributed to the turnover were, ACL Cables Rs 458 million (3.8 million shares traded), Lanka IOC Rs 299 million (one million shares traded), Expolanka Holdings Rs 198 million (890,000 shares traded), Lanka Wall Tiles Rs 169 million (2.2 million shares traded), First Capital Holdings Rs 121 million (6.2 million shares traded), Royal Ceramic Rs 106 million (2.5 million shares traded) and First Capital Treasuries Rs 101 million (4.4 million shares traded). During the day 181 million shares changed hands in 33000 transactions.

Between early August and yesterday, SG Holdings is estimated to have acquired 67 million shares or a 3.7 per cent stake in Expolanka at a price range of Rs. 200 and Rs. 230 per share.

It is said buying in September alone resulted in a net inflow of Rs. 14.6 billion to the stock market and more importantly boosted liquidity of those who sold out of Expolanka. On the previous day Expolanka saw 11.6 million of its shares change hands via 883 trades for Rs. 2.65 billion. It closed at Rs. 224.75, up by one rupee. Expolanka’s market value was Rs. 439.3 billion as of yesterday accounting for 10 per cent of CSE’s total.

Yesterday the Central Bank- announced US dollar buying rate was Rs 359.18 and the selling rate Rs 369.93.

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