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NPLs seen peaking around 13-pct, some sectors hit up to 30-pct

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ECONOMYNEXTSri Lanka’s non-performing loans after the latest currency crisis is showing signs of having peaked but some sectors are hit worse than others with problem loans dating back from Coronavirus moratoriums, a banking official said.

Hotels, transport and arts and entertainment sectors had bad loans of 30 to 20 percent, while the overall level was lower. There is a marginal set of borrowers whose loans had been re-structured at high rates and these could turn bad if no action is taken, they said.

“The good news is that our NPLs have now kind of slowed down,” Bingumal Thewarathanthri, who is chairman of Sri Lanka Banks’ Association, told the Sri Lanka Economic Summit 2023. “It was 13.6 percent. Now it is hovering around 13.1, 13.2 percent. The net is down to 7.2 from 7.8 percent. Very clearly we have come to the end of this process.”

Saying Sri Lanka’s NPLs were low around 2.5 percent in 2017, he added: “NPLs came down but suddenly went up in 2018 and 2019 because credit to private sector was double digit when the economy was growing at low single digits,” he said.

Meanwhile, Thewarathanthri said, Sri Lanka’s bad loans hit 15.8 percent in 1999, and that level was not reached in the current crisis. But some sectors are more badly affected than others

“In terms of sectors, tourism NPLs are 33 percent,” he said. “Very clearly some of the tourism sector enterprises will not recover. You can clearly see the stress in that sector. Transport and logistics is 30 percent. Disposable incomes have come down, less consumption, the sector is impacted. Some of our clients who went down during covid will never recover,” sadly.

“Interestingly arts and entertainment is also close to 20 percent. Again, when disposable income goes down there is an impact to arts and entertainment. You first eat.”

After the Easter Sunday blast, hotels were given relief. In 2020 more broad-based relief was given and extended.

“There are no standard moratoriums going forward,” Thewarathanthri said. “Banks are fully aware of who is in stress and there is a lot of restructuring happening as we speak.

There were three types of enterprises, that took moratoriums, he said. “Some took the moratoriums and somehow paid, They disposed some assets, they took cost action, they understood the size of the business what is possible, what is not possible. I would say close to half were actually have gone ahead and done that.

“There is a good 20 percent I would say who had taken the moratorium and done other things.They thought they can buy time and wait and they did not have to settle these loans. They are in stress. These firm with no cash flow are lobbying for more moratoriums.

There was a third sector which took moratoriums who were unable to settle due to due to inadequate cashflows. Some hotels had recovered close to 80 percent of pre-Covid level but were not fully recovered, but were managing to service the debt.

Many loans of the loans were restructured in the recent past at “very high rates”, which the banks had to look at again.

“That component I think all of us in the banking community will have to take a look at that component and see what more can be done,” he said.

“If there is no cashflow there is no payment. Period. We can celebrate the NPLs have come to the bottom but you never know. If that portfolio goes bad, that’s a good portfolio going bad.

“The promoters are good, the business models are good. But sadly the cashflows are not supporting. So that individual banks are actively looking at them and supporting them.”

Several other countries which had currency troubles are also hit.Ghana, a country which defaulted, amid a severe currency crisis, has about 20 percent bad loans.Bad loans in Bangladesh, which is going through ‘external stress’ was 10 percent, Thewarathanthri who is also Chief Executive of Sri Lanka’s Standard Chartered Bank said.

“There is stress in the banking systems post-Covid,” he said. “Central banks have done moratoriums. There is stress in the banking systems coming out of the moratoriums as well. What we have seen is actually larger companies have taken market share … and grown.”

Similar trends were seen in Sri Lanka, he said. “SME turnovers are down by seven to 30 percent in Asia. Some of our SMEs have completely gone down.”



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Contentious Chinese research vessel docks in Maldives

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Xiang Yang Hong 03 has previously visited Indian Ocean on several other occasions

A contentious Chinese research ship reached the Maldives on Thursday in the latest sign of the archipelago’s diplomatic reorientation towards Beijing and away from its traditional benefactor India.

Local residents said they had spotted China’s Xiang Yang Hong 3 at the Thilafushi industrial port near the capital Male.The 100-metre-long (328-foot) vessel was at an anchorage near Male on Thursday evening, according to the website Marinetraffic.

The Maldives’ pro-Beijing government said earlier the vessel was docking for a port call to rotate crew and take on supplies, on the condition that it would not conduct “research” while in its territorial waters.

Media reports in India had suggested that the vessel was conducting surveillance for Beijing.

India is suspicious of China’s increasing presence in the Indian Ocean and its influence in Sri Lanka and the Maldives, which are strategically placed halfway along key east-west international shipping routes.Relations between Male and New Delhi have chilled since pro-China President Mohamed Muizzu won elections last year.

Muizzu has asked India to withdraw 89 security personnel based in the Maldives to operate reconnaissance aircraft by March 15.But the president has also insisted he does not want to upend ties with New Delhi by replacing Indian troops with Chinese forces.

Sri Lanka refused entry to Xiang Yang Hong 3 after two other port calls from Chinese vessels since 2022 raised objections from India.That included the ship Yuan Wang 5, which specializes in spacecraft tracking and which New Delhi described as a spy ship. (AFP)

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MP Harsha in Australia as “Special visitor”

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Harsha de Silva

Opposition MP and Chairman of the Committee on Public Finance (COPF) Harsha de Silva is currently in Australia as a special visitor.

Taking to ‘X’, the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) MP said he had embarked on a nine-day visit on an invitation extended by the Government of Australia.

“My engagements with policymakers, academics, scientists and investment managers began in Melbourne and will continue in Adelaide and then public officials and politicians in Canberra,” he added.

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ADB country chief hopes Lanka could sustain policy reforms despite elections

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Takafumi Kadono

ECONOMYNEXT –The Asian Development Bank (ADB) expects Sri Lanka not to reverse its International Monetary Fund-led policy reforms despite elections soon, the ADB Country Director for Sri Lanka Takafumi Kadono said.

The island nation has witnessed repeated reversals of policy reforms in the past due to greedy politicians who misled  the people to vote for them by sowing the seeds of subsidy mentality with unsustainable debts at expensive borrowing costs, economists say.

That led the country into an unprecedented economic crisis in 2022 with a sovereign debt default. Sri Lanka is still struggling to come out of the crisis.

The IMF has strictly placed some reforms including in state sector enterprises, fiscal and monetary sectors.

Sri Lanka has implemented the painful IMF reforms so far including higher personal income taxes, but economists have raised concerns over the sustainability of the current reforms due to possible changes in the policies in the event of a new president or government comes to power after democratic elections.

“If that kind of reversal happens, we also cannot justify our support,” ADB Country Director for Sri Lanka Takafumi Kadono told EconomyNext on late on Wednesday.

“We do expect these policy reforms to be sustained. So that is our expectation. That is the premise which we are providing our budget support. If they reverse, the whole premise will be collapsed. That kind of policy reversal cannot happen.”

The island nation had sought IMF bailout package for 17 times including the ongoing support. However, the authorities have failed to complete most of the past IMF loan disbursements due to politically motivated contradiction with the global lender’s tight fiscal policies.

Sri Lanka has shown some signs of recovery in the third quarter of 2023 with the economic growth turned to positive from contraction for the first time in seven quarters.

However, opposition political parties have promised to revisit the IMF deal if they come to power.

Higher taxes, soaring cost of living, and lack of salary hike have made President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government unpopulour among the public, analysts say.

Wickremesinghe has said the country will hold both presidential and parliamentary election by 2025.

Some government politicians have told EconomyNext that the higher taxes would be eased from April and the authorities will try their best to meet the IMF conditions for the third disbursement in June this year.

The presidential polls should be held by October this year, but opposition parties have said President Wickremesinghe is in the process to delay the poll.

However, Wickremesinghe’s office last week said Presidential Election will be held “within the mandated period”, without giving an exact time.It also said the General Election will be held next year, “according to the current timeline”.

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