BY S VENKAT NARAYAN
Our Special Correspondent
NEW DELHI, 17: The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is estimated to have sold about $13 billion in the spot market in August to defend the rupee from falling further against the US dollar, The Economic Times has reported quoting top dealers who cited the depletion in the country’s forex reserves.This is the highest monthly currency market intervention so far in 2022-23 as the central bank is said to be defending the psychological mark of 80. Foreign exchange reserves plunged by nearly $21 billion to $553.1 billion in five consecutive weeks between July 29 and September 2, latest data from RBI show. A stable exchange rate is quintessential for foreign portfolio investors who are flocking back to India, experts said.
“If India wants to be a destination of choice for overseas investors, we need to have a stable exchange rate. Also, higher oil prices and a falling rupee will only stoke inflation fear in a country, which is now aiming for higher economic growth,” said Bhaskar Panda, Executive Vice President at the National Stock Exchange (NSE). “Such a combination of factors including global volatility may have prompted the central bank to stabilise US$-INR in the currency market,” he added.
The RBI did not comment on the matter. On record, the central bank always denies protecting at any level but acts to dampen high volatility.Panda said the forex reserves depletion “can well be replenished once India is included in the global bond index.”
“The RBI is clearly protecting the 80 level as we could see aggressive dollar selling over the past one month,” a chief currency dealer at a large bank said on condition of anonymity. The rupee plunged to a lifetime low of 80.13 against the US dollar on August 29.
A majority of India’s foreign exchange reserves is held in US dollar-denominated currency while the rest comes from investment in non-dollar assets. Out of $21 billion forex reserves’ depletion between July 29 and September 2, a chunk of $7 billion can be attributed to the devaluation of non-dollar assets, internal estimates show.
During the period, the dollar index, which measures the US unit against other major currencies, gained 3.6%. The remaining over $13 billion the central bank had likely sold in the spot market, cutting the rupee’s wild move while draining India’s US dollar stock, dealers said. “RBI’s intervention intensified since July end as we observed,” said Amit Pabari, founder and managing director of CR Forex, a Mumbai-based foreign exchange firm.
“The central bank is clearly defending the psychological level at 80 as it triggers more panic than actual reality.” He said the forex reserves depletion “can well be replenished once India is included in the global bond index”.
While a part of the rupee outperformance is attributed to speculation of Indian government bonds in the JPMorgan Government Bond Index-Emerging Markets (GBI-EM) index, it now turns out that the interventions also helped, banking insiders said.
In a related development, Chief Economic Advisor V Anantha Nageswaran said on Tuesday that India is not defending the rupee. The RBI is taking steps to ensure that the movement of the rupee is gradual and in line with market trends, he added.
“India is not defending the rupee… I don’t think Indian fundamentals are such that we need to defend the rupee. The rupee can take care of itself,” he said at an event in New Delhi.
“The RBI is making sure that whatever direction the rupee is moving in line with the market trends is just gradual and doesn’t impose burdens either on the importers or the exporters,” Nageswaran added.
On declining foreign exchange reserves, he said, “Global risk aversion prevents capital from coming in. Naturally that is what (foreign) reserves are meant for.”
The fall in the reserves during the reporting week ended August 26 was on account of a dip in the foreign currency assets (FCA), a major component of the overall reserves, and the gold reserves, according to the Weekly Statistical Supplement released by the RBI on September 2.
Sri Lanka and Bangladesh shouldn’t compete for the same objective: Bangladesh HC
* Political stability has mainly driven the growth trajectory in Bangladesh
* Bangladesh is poised to capture a bigger share of the global apparel market
* More Sri Lankan businesses should tap the growth centre next door
* Draws attention to a great shortcoming in connectivity between the two countries
by Sanath Nanayakkare
Sri Lanka and Bangladesh can gain more from bilateral trade cooperation by strategically utilizing the two countries’ respective comparative advantages and strengths than from competing with each other for the same objective, Bangladesh High Commissioner in Sri Lanka, Tareq Md Ariful Islam said in Colombo recently.
“All the more so because the two countries have a similar product range which has led to a low bilateral trade volume of US$ 200-300 million,” he pointed out.
The High Commissioner made these remarks while addressing a bilateral trade and investment forum at the auditorium of the National Chamber of Commerce (NCCSL) where he was the special guest speaker.
“The similarity in our product range is the main reason behind low trade volume. However, there is a lot of scope for improvement in our trade ties. What we need to do is to couple our respective, comparative advantages and build resilient cooperation to be more competitive in the global market,” he observed.
“The two countries have just completed 50-years of diplomatic relationship.
It has been a long, enduring relationship based on friendship, goodwill and good neighborliness. Over these 50 years, we have enjoyed very strong bonds of solidarity and friendship. Our business ties are also very strong. Now we need to capitalize on our excellent political relations to make the business relationship stronger to make it more tangible, so that it can touch the lives of our people and also help Sri Lanka’s endeavors towards its economic recovery,” he said.
Presenting a comprehensive picture under the theme of the discussion, the High Commissioner went on to say:
“Sri Lankan business community would like to know what opportunities are available in Bangladesh for trade and investment, its government policies, macroeconomic data and how the Bangladesh High Commission in Sri Lanka can help them in this regard.”
“According to my view, preferential trade agreements (PTAs) or free trade agreements (FTAs) shouldn’t be seen through the lens of revenue earning or revenue loss. It means much more than that. While revenue loss and revenue gains are definitely important, there are many other benefits that PTAs and FTAs can bring to our economies; for example, creation of employment and enhancement of our respective competitiveness in the global market. So we should take a holistic approach to FTAs and PTAs. If we can judiciously select the respective tariff lines, then there is every possibility that a PTA or FTA between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka can be successful. We are very encouraged to see that the current government has put a lot of emphasis on PTAs and FTAs with bilateral partners. We started our negotiation late last year. So far we have made good progress, but we still have to do more.”
“Bangladesh initially received substantial investment from Sri Lanka; mostly in readymade garments sector and now Sri Lankan companies have extended into health, power, logistics, financial sector etc. Now they have diversified into investment banking, wealth management, paint, packaging, FMCG etc. This is an indication about the growing, diversified market in Bangladesh. Most of the conglomerates in Sri Lanka have very successful operations in Bangladesh and more Sri Lankan businesses are showing interest in doing business in Bangladesh.”
“Bangladesh has had consistently high economic growth. The average GDP growth in the last 30 years is 6.6% which is among the best in the world. In 2019, it reached 8.15% right before the pandemic. During the pandemic, Bangladesh had 5.4% growth which was among the highest in the world during Covid time. In financial year 2020-21 our growth was 6.9% according to the IMF. In 2021, it went up to 7.2%. The focus for 2022-23 according to the IMF is 6%, but we are hopeful of achieving higher growth. Our foreign debt to GDP is 11.86% and local debt to GDP is 31.42% which is the lowest in the region. Bangladesh is a USD 400 billion plus economy – 41 largest in terms of nominal GDP and 32 largest in terms of purchasing power parity. Per capita income has soared to USD 2,824. Foreign exchange reserves are now USD 34 billion. It was USD 44 billion last year and the decline was due to the rise in the prices of essential commodities in the global market.”
“We have sought an IMF package. We got USD 4.5 billion. This was not a bailout. It was to deal with balance of payment issues. Bangladesh’s Inflation is at a single digit of 8.9%. Remittance in 2019-2020 was USD 18 billion and even during the pandemic, it went up to USD 24 billion. Our exports crossed the USD 50 billion mark last year for the first time.”
“There is a winning combination of conditions for any potential investor or business house to do business in Bangladesh. The main driving force has been our political stability which has mainly helped the growth trajectory in Bangladesh. Ours is a domestic market with 165 million people and out of that, 37 million is the growing middle class whose per capita income is between USD 5,000 and 7,000. On top of that two million are joining the middle class each year.”
“Because Bangladesh has handled geo-politics well, it has become a sought-after destination for many regional business houses to relocate their establishments. We have special economic zones dedicated for Japan, India, China and South Korea. This shows that investment is safe and profitable in Bangladesh, therefore, Sri Lanka can further tap this growth centre next door.”
“Bangladesh is poised to capture a bigger share of the global apparel market. Sri Lanka can also contribute in that direction. Apparel industry of the two countries can utilize the comparative advantages in the production process, value addition in re-exports etc. We can utilize Sri Lankan expertise in this sector. Sri Lankans have helped take our readymade garments sector to where it’s today. Our apparel industry continues to benefit from your human resources.”
“Through cooperation, we can enhance our global competitiveness in our IT products. Manufacturing of pharmaceutical products and medical equipment also has more scope for investment.”
“About 700,000 Bangladeshis spend USD 3.5 million every year for overseas medical treatments. That’s a big market Sri Lanka can tap. Electronic components, agricultural food processing, leather and footwear, medical insurance, steel and cement, renewable energy, FMCG, retail operations, supply chain and logistics, financial sector are other sectors with opportunities for investment, supported by proactive policies of the Bangladesh government.”
“Although both countries are into tea, your global tea brands can partner with us in making fine blended tea, “he said.
The High Commissioner chose this forum to draw attention to a great shortcoming in connectivity between the two countries by sea and air which leads to the disadvantage of Sri Lanka tourism.
“Bangladeshis with disposable income travel to all regional destinations, but they are not coming to Sri Lanka because of the poor connectivity. If connectivity and affordability of air fares can be taken care of, Sri Lanka tourism can benefit from it,” he said.
In 2020, Bangladesh imported $153 million worth of goods from Sri Lanka while exports from Bangladesh to Sri Lanka stood at $ 48 million.
Share market edges–up on mid-market trade for third day running
By Hiran H. Senewiratne
The CSE began a fresh week on a strong note with sharp increase in both indices and an improved turnover yesterday. The market edged -up on mid- market trade for the third day driven by Expolanka, Lanka IOC and Browns Investment, analysts said.
“Market is still being pushed by Expolanka’s expansion news, while Lanka IOC is moving on higher valuation. But there is month- end profit taking in the market. The Central Bank Governor Dr Nandalal Weerasinghe’s recent positive remarks on the economy in many foras have resulted in the stock market moving well, analysts added.
Further, stock market investor sentiment improved when the Central Bank Governor hinted that the economy has achieved short term stability and that interest rates are to come down in the future.
The bourse commenced the week on a positive note and continued to see strength for the second consecutive day as investors expect interest rates to continue to fall in line with inflation in the upcoming months, stock market analysts opined.
Consequently, both indices moved upwards. The All- Share Price Index went up by 92.6 points and S and P SL20 rose by 43.1 points. Turnover stood at Rs 2.9 billion with a crossing. The crossing was reported in Melstacorp, which crossed 888,000 shares to the tune of Rs 39.6 million and its shares traded at Rs 45.50.
In the retail market top seven companies that mainly contributed to the turnover were, Expolanka Holdings Rs 1.2 billion (6.6 million shares traded), Lanka IOC Rs 381 million (two million shares traded), Browns Investments Rs 287 million (43.6 million shares traded), First Capital Holdings Rs 119.4 million (5.5 million shares traded), First Capital Treasuries Rs 87.5 million (four million shares traded), ACL Cables Rs 61.6 million (781,000 shares traded) and Melstacorp Rs 54.4 million (1.1 million shares traded). During the day 100 million shares changed hands in 23000 share transactions.
It is said that high net worth and institutional investor participation was noted in Lankem Developments and Lanka IOC. Mixed interest was observed in Expolanka Holdings, ACL Cables and First Capital Holdings, while retail interest was noted in Browns Investments, SMB Leasing and LOLC Finance.
The Transportation sector was the top contributor to the market turnover (due to Expolanka Holdings) while the sector index gained 11.62 per cent. The share price of Expolanka Holdings increased by Rs. 19 (11.64 percent) to close at Rs.182.25.
The Energy sector was the second highest contributor to the market turnover (due to Lanka IOC) while the sector index increased by 3.60 per cent. The share price of Lanka IOC gained Rs. 7.25 (3.98 per cent) to close at Rs. 189.50.
Yesterday, the Central Bank announced the US dollar buying rate as Rs 361.23 and the selling rate as Rs 371.71.
‘JAT posts stellar Q2 – doubles PBT and commences manufacturing in Bangladesh’
JAT Holdings PLC has posted exceptional financial performance for Q2 of FY 2022/23. During the Quarter, the Group also achieved a major milestone, delivering on its key IPO promise, by inaugurating its own end-to-end state-of-the art manufacturing facility in Bangladesh. Simultaneously, JAT Holdings PLC also recorded its highest-ever revenue for Q2 in history, doubling its profit before tax, compared with the corresponding period in the year prior.
Accordingly, JAT Holdings PLC noted a YTD revenue growth of 40% during the period, concurrently managing to increase gross profit margins amidst the most challenging economic environment in its history, clearly demonstrating the Group’s strategic and fiscal prowess.
Gross Profit margins grew during the period under review amidst a deepening economic crisis, material scarcity in global markets and foreign exchange outflow restrictions. The Group’s strategy of purchasing raw materials in bulk and maintaining adequate stocks for at least 6 months at all times, allowed the enterprise to benefit from economies of scale, while JAT Holdings’ prudent and effective waste management efforts helped to improve productivity and efficiency. As a result, operating profit also recorded a healthy growth of 111% during the period under review, supported by cost management efforts, which helped manage input cost inflation and foreign exchange volatility. Profit Before Tax (PBT) and Profit After Tax (PAT) also sustained their recovery momentum, while showing sharp rises in the quarter under review, contrasted with the corresponding period in the previous year.
Commenting on the business momentum, CEO Nishal Ferdinando said, “Supported by our new manufacturing facility in Bangladesh and expert manoeuvring in the Sri Lankan market amidst the toughest business environment we have endured to date, we are pleased to present rock solid financial performance to our investors, and exceptional value to all other stakeholders. Leveraging our excellent relationships with suppliers, we have secured raw materials and shored up our stocks to be able to meet upcoming seasonal demand. The capital raised at the IPO has enabled us to keep borrowing costs to a minimum amidst a tighter monetary environment, which has delivered a positive boost to our bottom line. We intend to move forward with the present momentum and continue to deliver exceptional performance during the remainder of FY 2022/23.”
The Group’s WHITE by JAT range of brilliant white paints grew rapidly, driven by a unique hybrid marketing strategy. Commencement of manufacturing in Bangladesh, coupled with the opening of JAT Holdings PLC’s R&D Centre, another fulfilment of an IPO pledge, helped to drive business momentum during the quarter
Discussing the Group’s strategy and future plans, Founder and Managing Director Aelian Gunawardene added, “Just over a year on from our IPO, I’m pleased to communicate to investors that we have fulfilled the pledges made in our prospectus. We have completed and commissioned our ultramodern end-to-end manufacturing and warehousing facility in Bangladesh, located strategically in close proximity to seaports and our key markets in that country, Dhaka and Chittagong. Our Research and Development Centre is now operational, staffed by teams of experts who will help us to engineer better, cleaner and more efficient products in the future. I am also very pleased to state that the Group as a whole has come together to look after our people amidst the present crises, providing relief allowances and other benefits to help cushion the blow. We are excited about the future and look forward to growing and defending our position as Sri Lanka’s market leader for wood coatings and an emerging giant in the region.”
Since its founding in 1993, JAT Holdings has established itself as a market leader in Sri Lanka for wood coatings and as one of the country’s most promising conglomerates. This is further attested to by accolades such as being ranked amongst Sri Lanka’s ‘Top 100 Most Respected Companies’ by LMD for four years consecutively and also ranking among the ‘Top 20 Conglomerate Brands’ by Brand Finance.
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