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Stagflation in Sri Lanka? Risks and policy responses

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By Binura Seneviratne

The world economy is showing signs of a serious slowdown due to overlapping crises including the Russia-Ukraine War, the COVID-19 pandemic, China’s real estate crisis and the global tightening of monetary policy.

In June, the World Bank revised the 2022 growth prediction downward to 2.9% from its January forecast of 4.1%. The slowdown has come along with a decade-high bout of inflation worldwide with the global median Consumer Price Inflation (CPI) inflation rising to around 7.8% on a year-on-year (YoY) basis, the highest since 2008, according to April 2022 data (Figure 1). The emergence of a low-growth international environment together with a significant rise in inflation has raised concerns of stagflation; a period of low growth combined with high inflation.Monthly CPI Inflation, Year-On-Year The Effects of Stagflation

A global stagflationary environment could further weaken global economic growth while increasing inflation. To combat inflation, many central banks including the US Federal Reserve, the Bank of England and the European Central Bank have resorted to monetary tightening measures. The rise in global interest rates as a direct attempt to anchor inflation expectations will further subdue economic growth thereby increasing borrowing costs globally. This results in a downward economic cycle as rising borrowing costs will reflect in lower investments. The effects for developing countries could be more pronounced as inflation will hit the poorest and the marginalised the most. Weak global growth will decrease export income in these markets while higher global commodity prices will increase import expenditure leading to macroeconomic imbalances.

Risks for Sri Lanka

A global stagflationary environment can worsen Sri Lanka’s current economic crisis restricting growth and increasing inflation. Higher global borrowing costs will be detrimental to Sri Lanka’s future growth when the country resumes international borrowing once an IMF agreement is in place. The rise in commodity prices could further increase the country’s worsening food insecurity, with the World Food Programme reporting that 25% of the population is food insecure. Higher commodity costs will also increase import expenditure while lower global demand could reduce export revenue thus expanding the current account deficit. However, if global inflation is transient, the effects on the current account would be ambiguous. The global economic downturn will spark lower demand for commodities such as oil which could lower import expenditure but also reduce the demand for Sri Lankan exports.

Due to rising inflation and lower growth, the Sri Lankan economy is approaching stagflation. Growth expectations for the country have nosedived after the sovereign default with the economy projected to decline by -7.8% in 2022 and -3.7% in 2023 according to the World Bank. The combination of a myopic “organic” agricultural policy, the inflation pass through from the depreciation of the Sri Lankan Rupee by 80%, an expansionary monetary policy and global market conditions have resulted in inflation surging to 59% in June (YOY) (Figure 2).

Consumer Price Inflation (Jan 20 – May 22)

The tightening global economic conditions along with domestic supply-side factors such as shortages in food and fuel will continue to drive inflation in the country. Increased policy rates to combat inflation will result in lower investments. These factors, combined with political instability, lower than expected remittances, and lower productivity due to acute shortages of essential items will further constrict the Sri Lankan economy, pushing it into stagflation.Change in Policy Interest Rates of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka Policy Options

Sri Lankan policymakers are constrained within this economic environment. The country will need to impose austerity measures to receive an extended fund facility from the IMF. These measures will include tax reforms to increase government revenue, curtailing non-essential government spending and reducing subsidies. While a fiscal stimulus package is out of the equation, the country needs to target the most vulnerable groups in providing emergency subsidies, as rising inflation and job losses have led to lower standards of living, especially among the vulnerable segments of the population. Due to financing constraints, Sri Lanka will have to look for further bilateral and multilateral aid in securing funding for short term, targeted “in-kind” transfers such as food stamps. It is also imperative to have a bridge financing arrangement, to import essential commodities like fuel, so that supply shortages reduce. This should help in keeping productivity intact and inflationary pressure in check.

Monetary tightening should also continue. The CBSL hiked interest rates by 700 basis points in April this year. Interest rates were increased by another 100 basis points in July to control the rising inflation (Figure 3). Monetary policy decisions need to be communicated very clearly so that there is a stronger anchoring of inflation expectations. Anchored inflation expectations would limit a wage-price spiral to control inflationary pressure so that production costs do not rise further. Due to a global economic downturn, rising commodity prices and high rates of borrowing, Sri Lanka can expect a challenging external sector environment next year. Policymakers will need to understand these global challenges and make pragmatic economic decisions to minimise further damage to the economy.

Link to the blog https://www.ips.lk/talkingeconomics/2022/08/10/stagflation-in-sri-lanka-risks-and-policy-responses/

Author

Binura Seneviratne is a Research Officer working on macroeconomic policy, poverty and social welfare research at IPS. He holds a Master of Economic Policy from the Australian National University and a BSc in Economics and Finance from the University of York. (Talk with Binura: binura@ips.lk)



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Lanka inflation hit 70.2% in August

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Food prices climbed 84.6 percent, while prices of non-food items rose 57.1 percent in the crisis-hit island nation.

(Al Jazeera) Consumer inflation in Sri Lanka accelerated to 70.2 percent in August, the statistics department has said, as the island nation reels under its worst economic crisis in decades.The National Consumer Price Index (NCPI) rose 70.2 percent last month from a year earlier, after a 66.7 percent increase in July, the Department of Census and Statistics said in a statement on Wednesday.

Food prices climbed 84.6 percent, while prices of non-food items rose 57.1 percent in the tourism-dependent South Asian country of 22 million people.The Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) in August said the inflation rate would moderate after peaking at about 70 percent as the country’s economy slowed.

The NCPI captures broader retail price inflation and is released with a lag of 21 days every month.The more closely monitored Colombo Consumer Price Index (CCPI), released at the end of each month, rose 64.3 percent in August. It acts as a leading indicator for national prices and shows how inflation is evolving in Sri Lanka’s biggest city.

Sri Lanka’s economy shrank 8.4 percent in the quarter through June from a year ago in one of the steepest declines seen in a three-month period, amid fertiliser and fuel shortages.

“Inflation is expected to taper from September,” said Dimantha Mathew, head of research for Colombo-based investment firm First Capital. “However, inflation is only likely to moderate and reach single digits in the second half of 2023.”

An acute dollar shortage, caused by economic mismanagement and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, has left Sri Lanka struggling to pay for essential imports including food, fuel, fertiliser and medicine.

The country earlier this month reached a preliminary deal with the International Monetary Fund for a loan of about $2.9bn, contingent on it receiving financing assurances from official creditors and negotiations with private creditors.

India on Tuesday said it had begun talks with Sri Lanka on restructuring its debt and promised to support the crisis-hit neighbour mainly through long-term investments after providing nearly $4bn of financial aid.

The High Commission of India in Colombo said it held the first round of debt talks with Sri Lankan officials on September 16.

“The discussions held in a cordial atmosphere symbolise India’s support to early conclusion and approval of a suitable IMF programme for Sri Lanka,” the High Commission said.

Sri Lanka will make a presentation to its international creditors on Friday, laying out the full extent of its economic troubles and plans for a debt restructuring.

The Indian High Commission also said New Delhi would continue to support Colombo “in all possible ways, in particular by promoting long-term investments from India in key economic sectors”.

India’s support to Sri Lanka this year has included a $400m currency swap, a $1bn credit line for essential goods and a $500m line for fuel. In addition, India has also deferred payment on Sri Lankan imports of about $1.2bn and given a credit line of $55m for fertiliser imports.

The High Commission said India had continuing development projects worth about $3.5bn in Sri Lanka, whose president earlier this month asked his officials to resolve obstacles to projects backed by India. He did not specify the obstacles or the projects.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe has said Sri Lanka will turn a free trade agreement with India into a comprehensive economic and technological partnership.

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Raigam Wayamba Salterns Group turnover tops 1 bn

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Raigam Wayamba Salterns PLC saw its group turnover increase from Rs. 959.6 million to Rs. 1,147 million recording a growth rate of 19.5% year on year.Despite the fact that the financial year 2021/2022 was filled with many challenges, as a result of prudent management practices implemented and followed, the Raigam Wayamba Group was capable of reporting its ever-highest growth in 2021/2022,” said Chairman, Raigam Group, Dr. Ravi Liyanage.

Raigam Wayamba Salterns PLC, which was listed in the Colombo Stock Exchange (CSE) in 2010 is the front line player in the value added salt market in Sri Lanka and it supplies a range of consumer salt products under the popular brands “Isi”, “Ruchi”, “Welcome” and “Triple Washed” as well as various salt products used as an input for different industries in bulk form.All the consumer products of Raigam Wayamba Salters are SLS certified for its quality and consistency and the processes are ISO certified.’8

The Raigam Wayamba Salterns Group is equipped with salterns, salt refineries and processing plants located in Puttalam and Hambantota districts. In addition to that the raw material supply for these operations has been ensured by the 1,800 Acre saltern established in Kuchchaweli in Trincomalee District by the parent company of the Raigam Group. Further the Puttalam Salt Limited (one of the successor to the National Salt Corporation) is also an associate company of the Raigam Group.

The well-known Raigam brand and state of the art island wide distribution network are distinct strengths of the Raigam Group. The Raigam distribution network operates on a latest IT platform and also includes distribution channels for modern trade, industry and bakery sectors.

Sri Lanka’s economy which was under-performed for two years due to COVID pandemic situation was experiencing the impacts of the foreign exchange crisis in the latter part of the financial year 2021/2022. Despite the fact that the financial year 2021/2022 was filled with many challenges, as a result of prudent management practices implemented and followed, the Raigam Waymba Group was capable of reporting its ever-highest growth in 2021/2022.

The group turnover increased from Rs. 959.6 million to Rs. 1,147 million recording a growth rate of 19.5% Y to Y. At the same time the Profit after Tax grew from Rs. 149.7 million to Rs. 215.6 million at an annual growth rate of 44%. As a result of these successful financial performances the Earning Per share for the year stood at Rs. 0.76 compared to Rs. 0.53 in the corresponding year. This has made a significant impact on the value of the shareholders’ investment increasing the Net Asset Value Per Share form Rs. 5.06 to Rs. 5.74.

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Singer’s legendry sewing industry and Academies developing skills and entrepreneurship in Sri Lanka

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A name synonymous with Singer (Sri Lanka), Singer sewing machine has over the years become an indispensable product at local households, helping thousands of women and men to make a living through a sewing business. For over six decades, Singer has been manufacturing its trademark sewing machines in Sri Lanka. Singer brand has claimed many firsts in sewing machine innovations including the world’s first zig-zag machine and the first electronic sewing machine.

Singer Industries, a subsidiary of Singer (Sri Lanka) manufactures traditional, portable and digital sewing machines at a fully-fledged facility, where it provides direct employment for over 100 factory workers and accommodates around 150 service agents. The traditional sewing machines are of two variants such as the straight stich and the zig-zag sewing machine, while the portable and digital sewing machines cater to the modern customers. Singer Industries is mandated with assembly of sewing machines and manufacturing of cabinets and stands for sewing machines.

The sewing machine stands and cabinets are 100% locally manufactured with the help of local suppliers who also depend from sewing machine manufacturing. Singer Industries also consists of a strong R&D section for sewing machine innovations. All the sewing machines produced by Singer Industries are distributed by its parent company, Singer (Sri Lanka) through their 431 distribution touch points. Currently, Singer sustains its dominance as the market leader for domestic sewing machine industry with a market share of 85%. Among the facilities, Singer Industries provides to its customers, it has deployed special service technicians at island wide service centres for technical assistance and support related to sewing machines. Its YouTube channel has access to over 130 technical assistance videos to further support its valued customers.

The name ‘’Singer’’ is closely associated with sewing. One of its major contributions to the local sewing industry is the Singer Fashion Academy. For more than 60 years, the Academy has helped thousands of individuals to develop sewing skills and become entrepreneurs. The Fashion Academy conducts sewing courses and diplomas while a degree pathway is to be implemented soon to further support students. The Academy is also the first and only institute in the country to receive course validation status from the Chartered Society of Designers (CSD) in the UK.

As of today, the academy consists of 54 branches Island wide and offers 22 sewing courses, 2 diplomas and another 10 courses as part of its Diwi Saviya program for low-income families. Annually, over 5000 – 6000 students get enrolled in Singer Fashion Academy’s courses. In addition to the physical classes, the academy conducts online courses and also provides a recorded version of lessons to further facilitate students. During the last decade, over 60,000 students have successfully completed the Fashion Academy’s courses and some of these students have already started their own sewing businesses. The Fashion Academy has helped in developing the passion of sewing among Sri Lankans and as a result, sewing has become a hobby among many.

Sewing can be considered one of the most feasible self-employment opportunities with its potential to generate a good income. A business of one’s own is a luxury at present due to current economic crisis. Many individuals who started their sewing businesses from scratch have developed their businesses to highly profitable ones. Singer Fashion Academy has all the resources ready to help develop sewing skills and is committed to develop a skilled workforce for the betterment of the country.

(Company news release)

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