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Nations Trust Bank continues resilient performance

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Despite the challenging business environment, the Bank continued its planned “K shaped” recovery strategy by increasing the loan portfolio by LKR 20 billion recording an increase of 10% during the quarter. Nations Trust Bank continued to provide working capital loans under the “Saubhagya” scheme introduced by the government to assist customers across all segments.

Understanding the importance of assisting the adversely impacted businesses for their revival and to rebuild of businesses and livelihoods, the bank contributed over LKR 19 billion new credit facilities under its own revival fund “Nations Diriya” scheme which is dedicated to extending financial support to key industries, enabling such businesses to recommence and rebuild their business operations.

Furthermore, the bank also offered special payment relief schemes and repayment plans for the existing borrowers in addition to the Central Bank mandated moratorium schemes with low interest rates and restructured repayment plans for some of the identified industries and businesses segments.

Nations Trust Bank raised $25 million from IFC during the quarter to support Sri Lankan SME businesses with improved access to critical working capital to continue operations and preserve lives and livelihoods. Over the years, IFC-NTB partnership has helped create a promising future for many small businesses across Sri Lanka, opening new markets and opportunities and creating new vistas.

Essential banking services continued to be provided despite some parts of the country being isolated to mitigate a third wave of COVID-19 post Sinhala and Tamil New Year. During these unprecedented times the investments made on digital platforms have assisted all key stakeholders to stay connected and conduct business while ensuring their safety in carrying out day to day banking activity by having access to the bank at their fingertips. In-person meetings were converted to organization-wide virtual meetings adhering to all safety protocols.

PCR and Antigen tests for identified staff were undertaken by the bank at regular intervals ensuring the safety of staff and customers. Special staff transportation at concessionary rates were arranged during the pandemic for staff to conveniently commute to work as an additional safety measure. The bank ensured all safety protocols are implemented in close consultation with the public health authorities, across the network.

Despite subdued economic conditions due to the pandemic, the group recorded a Profit Before Tax growth of 39% for the 3 months ended 31st March 2021 compared to previous year.

Net Interest Income continued to decline primarily due to the reduction in the market interest rates while interest rate ceilings introduced by the regulator impacted some business portfolios. Yields on loans reduced by 370bps in line with the fall in AWPLR by 350 bps supporting the loan growth and the economic recovery efforts. A reduction in yields in the FIS portfolio, after the profits taken on the high yielding securities, further aggravated the net interest income decline. However, the improvement of CASA ratio to 35% as at end March 2021 from 29% as at end March 2020 helped partially offset the decline in interest margins during the period.

Gains on trading FX increased as a result of FX funding swaps with a higher depreciation of the rupee during the current period in contrast to the depreciation during the same period last year. The bank also benefited with trading profits on its’ fixed income securities portfolio with the fall in market rates.

Suspension or refund of certain charges by the bank, considering the current difficulties faced by customers due to the COVID-19 pandemic, negatively impacted the bank’s fee-based income. Cards income declined on account of a decrease in card spend due to changes in customer behavior patterns owing to the restrictions in mobility and overseas travel. A drop in discretionary spend was visible due to these phenomena. However, a positive trend could be seen in Trade Finance related income with the increase in some of the Trade Finance related activities. (NTB)



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BP sees biggest profit in 114-year history after oil and gas prices soar

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(picture BBC)

Energy giant BP has reported record annual profits after oil and gas prices surged last year following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The company’s profits more than doubled to $27.7bn (£23bn) in 2022, compared with $12.8bn the year before.

Other energy firms have seen similar rises, with Shell reporting record earnings of nearly $40bn last week.

The profits have led to calls for energy firms to pay more tax as many households struggle with rising bills.

BP boss Bernard Looney said the British company was “helping provide the energy the world needs” and investing the transition to green energy.

Energy prices had begun to climb following the end of Covid lockdowns but rose sharply in March last year after Russia invaded Ukraine, sparking concerns about global supplies.

The price of Brent crude oil reached nearly $128 a barrel, but has since fallen back to about $80. Gas prices also spiked but have come down from their highs.

It has led to bumper profits for energy companies, but also fuelled a rise in energy bills for households and businesses.

(BBC)

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Public spending on education in SL declining but non-state actor participation in sector up: IPS

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L-R Dr Madura Wehella, former Additional Secretary (Policy, Planning and Review), Ministry of Education; Prof Harischandra Abeygunawardena, Chairman, National Education Commission; Dr Nisha Arunatilake, Director of Research, IPS; Asith de Silva, Senior Manager - Social Innovations, Dialog Axiata PLC and Dr Harsha Alles, Chairman, Gateway Group

By Lynn Ockersz

‘Despite Sri Lanka’s free education policy and expansion of state activities in education, public spending on education has historically declined. Government expenditure on education is low compared to Nepal, India and Malaysia, for example, although research indications are that non-state actor participation in the sector is growing, Director of Research at the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka Dr. Nisha Arunatilaka said.

‘Encouraging non-state sector participation in education services and expanding on successful collaborative initiatives between the state and non-state sectors to improve services, efficiency and quality, though under regulation and with attention to ensuring equity, are some measures that could be taken to address the challenges faced by Sri Lanka’s non-state education sector, Dr. Arunatilaka added. She was addressing an IPS and UNESCO-initiated panel discussion titled, ‘Non-State Actors in Sri Lanka’s Education Sector’, on January 24, at the IPS’s Dr. Saman Kelegama auditorium, to mark International Day of Education.

The event was aimed at raising public awareness on the findings of the ‘Global Education Monitoring Report 2022 South Asia’, which draws on the global comparative research by the ‘Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report at UNESCO’. The IPS is one of six regional partners who contributed to the report on the basis of Sri Lanka’s experiences in the relevant areas of interest, IPS sources said.

Earlier, addressing the audience online, Senior Project Officer (Research), Global Education Monitoring Report, UNESCO, Dr. Priyadarshani Joshi said: ‘The 2022 GEM Report demonstrates inadequate public provision in South Asia and discusses the different contributions to education made by the region’s diverse non-state providers. To strengthen South Asia’s education sector, we suggest bringing all actors under one umbrella to work towards achieving educational goals by creating an enabling policy and regulatory environment, built on standards, information, incentives and accountability.’

The IPS-UNESCO panel brought together some key figures in Sri Lanka’s educational sphere from the state and non-state sectors. Following their presentations a Q&A session with the audience followed.

Chairman, National Education Commission Professor Harishchandra Abeygunawardena said in his presentation and in response to issues raised by the audience: ‘There is certainly a role for non-state actors in Sri Lanka’s education sector. We need to improve non-state access to the lower levels of education and to the tertiary level of the structure. Currently, resource constraints face the government. Here’s where the private sector could come in and help meet this shortfall in resource-allocation. In these efforts we need to keep in mind the primary aims in education: Providing universal access to education, irrespective of creed, ethnicity, language and other differences and bringing out good citizens. The promotion of patriotism among students is important.

‘However, there is no accountability on the part of some private schools. Many private schools do not get registered with the authorities. The impression that one gets with regard to many institutions in this sector is that ‘education is up for sale’. The number of students “passing out” with “top degrees” is astounding. The quality of teaching and the educational qualifications of many teachers leave much to be desired.’

Chairman, Gateway Group, Dr. Harsha Alles said: ‘There is no support for the private sector in education. There are no loans for us free of charge but we have to pay all taxes without fail. Currently, there are 140,000 students in private schools. However, there are some 1,500 state schools with less than 50 students.

‘But private educational institutions could to do things differently. For example, through the use of modern technology in teaching. The public and private sectors have to work together. But the monitoring of private schools is important. The entirety of the latter institutions need to register with the authorities but this has not happened. We need to work out the cost per student. When this is done it will be found that the cost per private sector student is lower than that of his counterparts in the public sector.’

Senior Manager, Social Innovations, Dialog Axiata PLC, Asith de Silva stressed the need for up-skilling teachers. They need to acquire the ability to teach with the aid of modern technology. At present there is a lack of awareness among many teachers on the need for such abilities. They and the general public should be made aware of the importance of IT technology, if not such technology would be a like a new car that has been for bought for running but left completely unused. It is unfortunate that some school administrators and teachers have a misleading view on IT technology. Prejudices to the effect that the use of IT in teaching could lead to harmful consequences need to be dispelled.

Outlining some ways in which Dialog is helping in achieving educational goals, De Silva said that under its ‘Nenasa’ program eight channels are dedicated to teaching students from Years 1 to 13. There are four such dedicated channels in Tamil.

Former Additional Secretary (Policy, Planning and Review), Ministry of Education Dr. Madura M. Wehella focusing on existing gaps in educational regulations drew attention in particular to the 1961 Education Act which does not recognize non-state actors in local education. She said, among other things, that ‘state and non-state actors could collectively overcome regulatory constraints and strengthen the education system holistically’. For example, the two actors could collaborate in introducing innovations in the area of teacher training.

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Share market pulls back from green territory; mid-day trade slumps

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By Hiran H.Senewiratne

The CSE fell in mid-day trade yesterday, having pulled back after continuously being on the green in the past sessions. But banking sector counters showed some selling pressure due to certain comments in the media during the weekend on domestic debt restructuring, analysts said.

The market moved to green with a leap on Friday, generating over Rs 4 billion due to credit assurance from the Paris Club, Non Paris Club and bond holders on the matter of obtaining the IMF bail-out package, market analysts opined.

However, there’s a pull- back consequent to certain media articles on domestic debt restructuring, which resulted in impairing investor perception to greater extent, especially in the banking sector, market analysts added.

Consequently, both indices moved downwards. The All- Share Price Index went down by 78.4 points and S and P SL20 declined by 20.2 points. Turnover stood at Rs 2.3 billion with five crossings. Those crossings accounted for 30 per cent of revenue, analysts explained.

The companies that mainly contributed to the turnover were, Expolanka Holdings, which crossed 900,000 shares to the tune of Rs 172.8 million, its shares traded at Rs 492, JKH 1 million shares crossed to the tune of Rs 145 million, its shares fetched Rs 145, Sampath Bank one million shares crossed for Rs 45.5 million, its shares traded at Rs 45.50, Dialog Axiata 2.6 million shares crossed for Rs 26 million, its shares fetched Rs 10 and Agstar PLC 1.48 million shares crossed for Rs 23 million, its shares traded at Rs 15.60.

In the retail market top seven companies that mainly contributed to the turnover were, JKH Rs 308 million (2.1 million shares traded), Expolanka Holdings Rs 288 million (1.5 million shares traded), Aitken Spence Rs 119 million (794,000 shares traded), Lanka IOC Rs 87.1 million (434,000 shares traded), Expact Corrugated Cartons Rs 75.5 million (4.5 million shares traded) and Softlogic Capital Rs 70.6 million (4.2 million shares traded). During the day 73.8 million share volumes changed hands in 17000 transactions.

The banking sector should explore restructuring loans of salaried employees hit by progressive tax, Central Bank Governor Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe said as progressive income taxes were imposed at lower thresholds amid high inflation following a sovereign default.

There have been complaints mainly by picketing state enterprise executives and also other workers of such agencies, such Sri Lanka Port Authority, that high progressive taxes were putting their bank accounts into overdraft after loan installments were cut.

Yesterday, the Central Bank announced the US dollar buying rate as Rs 359.99 and selling rate as Rs 370.18.

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