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Sri Lanka’s Sovereign Foreign Debt: to restructure or not?

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By Dr Dushni Weerakoon

Sovereign debt restructuring can be pre-emptive or post-default. A default is inherently costly as it can result in a sustained loss of access to capital markets. That leaves pre-emptive restructuring when a country deems itself unable to service outstanding debt.

The complex creditor landscape of today though makes governments reluctant to entertain sovereign debt restructuring. The landscape of sovereign borrowing has evolved from a small group made up of multilateral organisations, a few commercial banks, and the ‘Paris Club’ of rich countries to something much more complicated. In recent decades, emerging markets and developing economies have borrowed proportionately more from international bond markets with their dispersed private investors, and tapped new non-Paris Club lenders like China. From the sovereign’s perspective, this makes a potential debt restructuring operation particularly complicated.

The first step in any restructuring is calculating how much a country owes and to whom. This involves sharing detailed information on all categories of sovereign debt denominated in foreign currency, including collateralised liabilities and the debts of state-owned enterprises. The adoption of an IMF programme may be conditioned as a part of a restructuring to underwrite the data, economic plan and the promise of macroeconomic and fiscal supervision.

Lenders will weigh the upfront losses of a debt standstill and restructuring against the total magnitude of

losses in the event of a default. In entering restructuring talks, though, they will also demand to do so on the principle of comparable treatment of creditors in any proposed debt reprofilings and restructurings. Lenders will be mindful that any relief offered does not give preferential treatment to other creditors, especially in the face of new geopolitical power rivalries. This would typically mean that a country in distress asks for debt relief from friendly governments to whom it owes money and then seeks a comparable deal from private lenders.

The Holdout Problem

Over the past decades, there has been progress in governance frameworks to deal with sovereign debt crises, but considerable gaps persist. In the COVID-19 era, the G-20 Common Framework for Debt Treatments apply only to low-income countries (LICs), and even then, do not compel the participation of private creditors. Emerging markets that have undergone debt restructuring most recently (e.g. Argentina and Ecuador) are categorised in academic research as countries with a track record of serial default – i.e. more than two default spells or episodes. Given research evidence that countries that have defaulted on their debt obligations in the past are more likely to default again in the future, creditors have an added incentive to enter into negotiations in such cases.

All told, with the creditor landscape transformed, debt restructuring is still very much a matter of ad hoc negotiations between a sovereign and its creditors.

The creditors are aware of their special legal protection that comes down to a question of money due but not paid. At the same time, creditors too have virtually no choice but to negotiate as there will be inadequate assets to satisfy every creditor’s claims even with a successful legal remedy. In the extreme, ‘vulture funds’ have used litigation as an investment strategy to buy the debt at a hefty discount and pursue full payment through the courts. Confronted with this reality, a negotiated resolution should appeal to both creditors and debtor country.

At the centre of such a coordinated effort will be creditor (especially bondholder) committees. The composition of such committees – inclusive of large institutional investors, hedge funds, etc. – is critical to obtain a relatively quick resolution. However, there are no guarantees of fast and efficient mechanisms, and countries still risk fighting creditor lawsuits from those who may hold out.

Such potential holdout creditors may not necessarily take the view that what is good for the many is always good for the few. A disgruntled holdout creditor has the leverage to cause disturbing headlines, especially when countries resume bond market access once again at some point. Holdout creditors can be reined in through exit consents – where a majority of holders can amend terms, or as more commonly used now, employ collective action clauses (CACs) in bond agreements to bind minority holders. In the latter case, a specified supermajority of holders (usually 75%) can bind a minority to the terms of a debt restructuring. But much depends on whether a debtor country’s outstanding stock of international sovereign bonds contains these clauses. Some countries have also adopted anti-vulture fund legislation that limits holdout creditor recovery as a deterrent.

Net Benefit Calculation

High uncertainty during a restructuring, and the risk of prolonged negotiations means debt restructuring is still the last resort, to be done only if you must. A restructuring is a costly exercise with reputational downsides, loss of market access and more expensive debt issuances, weighed down further by concerns about adverse legal implications. For policymakers, a decisive step can be taken after a careful net benefit calculation of whether a country’s economic conditions are likely to deteriorate further without a restructuring, or whether a timely restructure may reduce the total magnitude of upfront losses and return debt to a sustainable level at the lowest cost to both the country and its creditors.

Link to Talking Economics blog: https://www.ips.lk/talkingeconomics/2022/01/12/sri-lankas-sovereign-foreign-debt-to-restructure-or-not/

Dr Dushni Weerakoon is the Executive Director of the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka (IPS) and Head of its Macroeconomic Policy research. She joined IPS in 1994 after obtaining her PhD, and has written and published widely on macroeconomic policy, regional trade integration and international economics. She has extensive experience working in policy development committees and official delegations of the Government of Sri Lanka. Dushni Weerakoon holds a BSc in Economics with First Class Honours from the Queen’s University of Belfast, U.K., and an MA and PhD in Economics from the University of Manchester, U.K. (Talk with Dr Dushni – dushni@ips.lk)



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Renewable energy producers say they can generate more power if govt and CEB support

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From Left: Manjula Perera, Wind Power Developers Association Secretary, Thusitha Peiris, Small Hydro Power Developers Association President, Lasith Wimalasena, Ground Mounted Solar Developers Association President, Chamil Silva, Bio Energy Developers Association President, Kushan Jayasuriya, Solar Industries Association President.

by Sanath Nanayakkare

In the backdrop of dwindling foreign currency reserves and capacity shortages, the only logical solution for Sri Lanka to take is to adopt renewable energy as the primary source of energy production, Manjula Perera, Secretary of the Wind Power Developers Association said in Colombo yesterday.

He said so speaking at a press conference held at the Hilton Colombo Residencies, convened by the associations of local entrepreneurs who have invested in the development of wind power, small hydro power, ground mounted solar power and bio energy.

Notably, the associations reiterated the fact that they want only the policy support and that they can provide themselves with necessary funding for the projects if the government, CEB and related line ministries act together to remove the bottlenecks which are there for no clear purpose.

“Sri Lanka is currently facing an acute energy crisis, primarily due to the country’s reliance on imported fossil fuel. The solution to this is for the country to move on to more renewable sources of energy such as wind, solar, bio-gas, biomass and hydro power. Renewable energy also presents a host of other benefits both socially and economically as well,” Manjula Perera said.

“Renewable energy can be generated using Sri Lanka’s ample natural resources. This would also offer some relief to Sri Lanka’s diminishing foreign reserves as renewable energy does not need to rely on fuel imports,” he noted.

‘However, one of the main issues which the renewable energy sector faces is the government approval process which can take years to complete. This process needs to be streamlined and implemented in an efficient manner as possible. Renewable energy developers also run into a myriad of challenges from the CEB that has delayed approval and grid connections, sometimes attributed to incorrect technical analysis. Bringing correct knowledge and international best practices to the CEB will help sort out these issues,” he pointed out.

Riyaz Sangani, Past President of Hydro Power Developers Association said, “Our goal as the renewable energy sector is to help the government and the people overcome the current energy crisis in the country. We believe that the key to this is to increase co-operation between the government and the private sector. Only then will we be able to successfully overcome all obstacles and make the switch to renewable energy.”

“There are currently a total of 294 private sector renewable energy developer projects which have been commissioned. These projects have combined capacity of 718.334 megawatts (MW). The total number of projects needs to increase drastically, for the country to truly reap the full benefits of renewable energy,” Thusitha Peiris, Small Hydro Power Developers Association President said.

He said that small hydro power projects have been brought to a halt for years now, and today the need is ever more acute for local entrepreneurs to be allowed to restart investing in this sector in a conducive operating environment.

“Another issue that has hampered the success of the renewable energy sector is the importation restrictions imposed on the sector, which has made it difficult to obtain the machinery necessary,” the associations said.

“In addition to the immediate benefits which the country will receive, renewable energy sources also pose less of a risk to the climate and environment. This will help protect the environment and ensure that the country’s development will not be hindered by any environmental issues in the future,” they observed.

“There have been many local and foreign investors who have shown interest in investing in renewable energy for Sri Lanka. These investors need to be shown that it is a worthwhile investment and that hindrances will be minimal. Only then can Sri Lanka overcome its socio-economic woes and continue with development,” they pointed out.

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Cargills Online becomes first ecommerce platform to integrate LANKAQR

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From left: Prabhu Mathavan - Executive Director, Cargills Bank, Roshan Dilruk – Operations Manager, Cargills Online, Asanka Mahanama – Senior Manager - IT, Cargills (Ceylon) PLC, Namal Rajapaksa, Minister of Youth & Sports, Minister of Development Co-ordination and Monitoring and State Minister of Digital Technology and Enterprise Development, Yohan Samuel- Delivery Agent, Cargills Online, D Kumaratunge- Assistant Governor, Central bank of Sri Lanka, Asoka Pieris - Managing Director, Cargills Retail, Cargills (Ceylon) PLC and Sanjeewa Premawaradana - General Manger - IT, Cargills (Ceylon) PLC

Cargills Online has become the first and currently the only e-commerce platform in Sri Lanka to integrate LANKAQR for delivery thereby providing greater convenience to its customer base together with its wide merchandise offering. LANKAQR is a project initiative from the Central Bank of Sri Lanka to ensure all QR codes and QR based transactions in Sri Lanka are standardized and interoperable.

How many of us have ordered groceries online and not received most of the order? Cargills Online revolutionised the grocery supply chain in Sri Lanka by introducing the dark store to solve this issue. Cargills Online offers the freshest produce and one of the range of products, providing a convenient, hassle-free delivery where customers can order weekly groceries in less than 2 minutes. Deliveries are efficiently carried out by professional delivery agents with consistent on time delivery. The dedicated customer experience team ensures that higher customer satisfaction at all times. In addition to LANKAQR, Cargills Online also offers cash and card on delivery and online payments. Cargills Online can be accessed via the App available on Android & iOS and the website https://cargillsonline.com/. Customers can use the mobile app or visit the website and select LANKAQR as the payment method. When the Cargills team delivers the order, the customer can use any payment app to make the payment using LANKAQR. Even if the payment option is selected as “Card On Delivery” or “Cash On Delivery”, the customer can pay via LANKAQR once the goods arrive.

Namal Rajapaksa – Minister of Youth & Sports, Minister of Development Co-ordination and Monitoring and State Minister of Digital Technology and Enterprise Development stated, “Sri Lanka is currently undergoing a revolution as we aim to deploy the latest technology so that we can increase financial inclusion in the country, strengthen trade and drive the economy towards prosperity. I am excited to see Cargills Ceylon coming forward to support us in this national effort. LANKAQR is one such initiative that we have conceptualized with the support of the Central Bank and Lanka Clear. A notable fact is that LANKAQR was entirely developed by using Sri Lankan expertise.”

From left: Senarath Bandara – Managing Director /CEO, Cargills Bank, Ranjit Page – Deputy Chairman / Group CEO, Cargills (Ceylon) PLC, D Kumaratunge – Assistant Governor, Central bank Of Sri Lanka, Ajith Nivard Cabraal – Governor, Central Bank of Sri Lanka, Yohan Samuel- Delivery Agent, Cargills Online, Sanjeewa Premawaradana – General Manger / IT, Cargills (Ceylon) PLC, Asanka Mahanama – Senior Manager – IT, Cargills (Ceylon) PLC and Roshan Dilruk – Operations Manager, Cargills Online

Ajith Nivard Cabraal – Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka commented, “The Central Bank of Sri Lanka introduced LANKAQR in partnership with LankaClear to fast track Sri Lanka’s journey towards becoming a cashless society while also boosting financial inclusion. SMEs are the engine of growth in the country and it is important for us to give them all the resources and support necessary to achieve their fullest potential. I thank Cargills Ceylon for joining hands with us to take this technology to its large, island wide customer base.”

Asoka Pieris – Managing Director Cargills Foods Company (Pvt) Ltd, “Cargills’ continued commitment and passion to improve the lives of all Sri Lankans led us to Cargills Online and ensured that customers can continue to purchase groceries at home while still enjoying the supermarket experience. By integrating LANKAQR, our valued customers will have even more flexibility when it comes to paying for their goods. We are proud to be the first and currently the only e-commerce platform in Sri Lanka to integrate LANKAQR for delivery.”

LANKAQR was introduced by the Central Bank together with licensed financial institutions and LankaClear (Pvt) Ltd with the aim of moving Sri Lanka towards a less-cash society and increasing financial inclusion across the country. LANKAQR allows customers to make payments, directly from their bank accounts to accounts of merchants or service providers, using payment apps of LANKAQR certified financial institutions. LANKAQR is a low-cost digital payment solution, which primarily targets small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

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Brantel appointed Sri Lanka distributor for ‘Oukitel’ and ‘Blackview’ smartphones

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Brantel Lanka Limited, the company that built the E-tel mobile phone brand in Sri Lanka, has secured the distributorship of two other smartphone brands that are in popular use in 80 countries worldwide, including in European hotspots.

With the appointment as the authorised distributor for the China manufactured ‘Oukitel’ and ‘Blackview’ smartphones, Brantel will initially retail select models of these warranty-backed phones which are known for their durability, exceptional battery life, high Random Access Memory (RAM) and Read Only Memory (ROM) capacities, superb cameras and the latest features including secure biometric authentication.

With both these brands, Brantel continues with its strategy of providing specifications and performance that match the latest smartphones in the market without the price tag associated with leading global brand names, the Company said.

Among the Oukitel models Brantel Lanka will offer is the C21 which is powered by a P60 octa-core processor that results in maximum operational speed and is known for its pro camera with an unprecedented 20 MP hole punch that enables the taking of high-quality selfies. Another is the entry level Oukitel C19 model which comes in vibrant colours and offers a 6.49-inch immersive HD+ experience in addition to impressive computing power. From Blackview, the company will offer the octa-core 4G fashion smartphone Blackview A90 model in multi colours and the quad camera, ‘budget king’ Blackview A80 Plus model. These models can be purchased at the Brantel showroom, by visiting www.brantelonline.com or its dealers island-wide. Online shoppers can enjoy discounts up to 15% and island-wide delivery, the company said.

Established in 2007, Oukitel is owned by a national high-tech company in China with an advanced and experienced Research & Development team, dedicated production crew, and technical services. Oukitel has a global presence including in countries in Europe, Asia, North and South Americas and has successfully developed over 130 distributors from 60 countries worldwide.

Blackview has an 8,500 square-meter factory in China and its customer base is spread across 80 countries and regions including Russia, Spain, Germany, Czech Republic, Ukraine, France, Italy, Turkey, Algeria, Colombia and South Africa. It has more than 100 authorised agents in over 80 countries and regions.

Brantel Lanka (Pvt) Ltd. delivers technology and value-added services to more than 2,000 business customers. The Company partners with leading technology brands from around the world to simplify and accelerate sales channels. With expert sales and technical support teams it has serviced its customers for the past 18 years from its branches and dealers island-wide.

Brantel’s range of products from leading global manufacturers include copper and fibre network cables, passive network components, solar inverters, PV modules, point-of-sale thermal printers, and digital smart board solutions. Brantel is also the national distributor for E-tel Mini Computers, Android smartphones, tablets and feature phones and Corning products in Sri Lanka.

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