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Monday April 22nd, 2024

Merchant Bank of Sri Lanka and Finance given ‘BBB+(lka)’ rating by Fitch

ECONOMYNEXT – Fitch Ratings said it assigned Merchant Bank of Sri Lanka and Finance Plc (MBSL) a first-time national long-term rating of ‘BBB+(lka)’.

“MBSL’s rating is driven by our view that the parent, BOC, would provide extraordinary support to MBSL, if required,” the rating agency said.

“We assess MBSL’s standalone credit profile as being weaker than its support-driven rating because of its small franchise with 1.8% market share of sector loans, evolving business model, and weak financial profile, which is reflected in its poor asset-quality metrics, weak profitability and high leverage.”

The full statement is reproduced below:

Fitch Ratings – Mumbai – 22 Feb 2024: Fitch Ratings has assigned Merchant Bank of Sri Lanka & Finance PLC (MBSL) a first-time National Long-Term Rating of ‘BBB+(lka)’.
The Outlook is Stable.

MBSL is 84.5% owned by Bank of Ceylon (BOC, A(lka)/Stable) and other BOC group entities. BOC is the largest banking group in the country.

Key Rating Drivers

Shareholder Support Drives Ratings: MBSL’s rating is driven by our view that the parent, BOC, would provide extraordinary support to MBSL, if required. BOC’s ability to support MBSL is reflected in its credit profile, which is underpinned by its standalone strength. We believe that any required support for MBSL would be manageable relative to BOC’s financial capacity.

Our support assessment also takes into consideration BOC’s majority shareholding in MBSL, increasing product offerings by MBSL that are complementary to those provided by BOC, the parent’s oversight of MBSL’s policies and strategy through board representation, and the usage of the BOC brand by MBSL in its business operations, which raises reputational risk for BOC should MBSL default.

Limited Importance to Parent: MBSL is rated two notches below BOC due to its limited importance to the group. MBSL mainly serves high-yielding, under-banked segments that have limited overlap with BOC’s core customer base, but this is partly offset by BOC’s focus on increasing merchant banking via MBSL to strengthen group feebased revenue. MBSL made up 0.8% of BOC’s consolidated assets at end-September 2023, and makes negligible contribution to group profitability. MBSL also has considerable management independence and there is limited operational integration between the entities.

Weak Standalone Profile: We assess MBSL’s standalone credit profile as being weaker than its support-driven rating because of its small franchise with 1.8% market share of sector loans, evolving business model, and weak financial profile, which is reflected in its poor asset-quality metrics, weak profitability and high leverage. MBSL focuses on vehicle leasing, and gold- and property-backed loans. It has a high risk profile stemming from its significant exposure to borrower segments that are highly susceptible to economic and interest rate cycles.

Stabilising Economic Outlook: We expect the operating environment for Sri Lankan finance and leasing companies (FLCs) to continue to stabilise following the inflation and interest-rate shocks over the past two years. Easing inflation and interest-rate pressures should provide steadier conditions for FLC sector performance. Some headwinds linger, as higher taxes will continue to weigh on household finances in 2024. Investor confidence will also take time to recover. Nonetheless, we expect economic activity in Sri Lanka to improve in the financial year ending March 2025 as GDP growth recovers.

Asset Quality Pressure: The company’s loans that are more than three months past due were high at 25.3% of total loans at end-September 2023 (end-2022: 24.3%) due to its high risk profile. Nonetheless, MBSL’s focus on bad debt recovery has resulted in a decline in the non-performing loan ratio from a much higher level in previous years. We expect a pick-up in borrowers’ business activity and declining interest rates to aid loan collections in the medium term.

Weaker Profitability: MBSL’s pre-tax profit/average asset ratio was low at 0.9% in 9M23 and -0.9% in 2022, primarily due to the sharp reduction in its net interest margin and increase in operating costs on lower business volumes. We expect MBSL’s profitability to improve in the near to medium term, though it will likely remain weaker than that of peers, as its lending operations pick up, borrowing costs decline, and bad debt recovery improves.

History of Capital Shortfalls: MBSL’s capital adequacy ratio (CAR) rose to 16.9% (equity Tier 1 ratio at 13.4%) by end-September 2023 from 12.3% (11.7%) at end-2022, and against the regulatory minimum CAR of 12.5%. MBSL suffered significant capital shortfalls in 2020, with CAR at end-2020 of 5.6% below the minimum required 10.5% due to losses. BOC injected equity into MBSL in 2021 to improve its capitalisation. The breaches resulted in the regulator limiting MBSL’s deposit and lending balances, which affected its business franchise. The caps were removed after its capital ratios increased.

The recent improvement in CAR was due to significant reduction in total gross loans, an increase in gold loans, which carry lower risk weights, in the lending mix, and an increase in Tier 2 capital. We expect capitalisation pressure to ease in the medium term due to improved profitability prospects.

Rating Sensitivities

Factors that Could, Individually or Collectively, Lead to Negative Rating Action/Downgrade

MBSL’s rating is sensitive to changes in BOC’s credit profile, as reflected in BOC’s National Long-Term Rating, as well as Fitch’s opinion around BOC’s ability and propensity to extend timely extraordinary support. Developments that could lead to a downgrade include:

– meaningful reduction in the parent’s ownership, control or influence that could weaken its propensity to support the subsidiary

– notable decline in MBSL’s capital buffers, indicating reduced timeliness in financial support to back growth or meet regulatory norms

– insufficient or delayed liquidity support from the parent relative to MBSL’s needs, which hinders MBSL’s ability to meet its obligations in a timely manner

– sustained weak performance of MBSL that we believe will weaken the parent’s propensity to support the subsidiary

– a material increase in size relative to the parent that makes extraordinary support more onerous for the parent.

Factors that Could, Individually or Collectively, Lead to Positive Rating Action/Upgrade

An upgrade is less likely in the near term. However, a significantly greater strategic role for MBSL within the BOC group, along with closer integration with BOC across broader functional areas and greater sharing of the BOC brand name besides the operational usage of brand, could be positive for the rating in the long term.

Date of Relevant Committee
19 February 2024

References For Substantially Material Source Cited As Key Driver Of Rating
The principal sources of information used in the analysis are described in the Applicable Criteria.

Public Ratings With Credit Linkage To Other Ratings
The rating is linked to rating on the parent, BOC.

This report was prepared by Fitch in English only. The company may prepare or arrange for translated versions of this report. In the event of any inconsistency between the English version and any translated version, the former shall always prevail. Fitch is not responsible for any translated version of this report.

Additional information is available on www.fitchratings.com

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IMF official: Sri Lanka’s road ahead is challenging, critical to keep up with reform momentum

ECONOMYNEXT –International Monetary Fund’s First Deputy Managing Director Gita Gopinath said Sri Lanka’s future with many reforms are challenging, but it is critical to keep up with the reform momentum.

Gopinath stated this after meeting the island nation’s State Finance Minister Shehan Semasinghe Central Bank Governor Nandalal Weerasinghe, and Treasury Secretary Mahinda Siriwardena on the sideline of the IMF/World Bank Spring Meetings in Washington.

“I commended them on hard-won economic gains in the past year. The road ahead is challenging and it’s critical to keep up with the reform momentum,” Gopinath wrote on her X platform.

Under IMF programme, President Ranil Wickremesinghe has implemented a raft of hard reforms including higher taxes.

Sri Lanka agreed to the IMF programme after it declared bankruptcy with sovereign debt default in April 2022.

Semasinghe after the meeting tanks Gopinath for acknowledging Sri Lanka’s economic progress.

“Our discussion was insightful and productive, and we appreciate the opportunity to delve into the challenges and opportunities ahead,” the State Finance minister said in his X platform.

“We remain steadfast in our commitment to our reform agenda and eagerly anticipate continued collaboration with the IMF to advance our shared goals.”

Sri Lanka was compelled to go for IMF after the unprecedented economic crisis which was followed by a political crisis that ousted former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his government who were legitimately elected.

The IMF programme has included reforms in state-owned enterprises, fiscal sector and financial sectors to ensure debt sustainability.

The global lender also has pledged its support to speed up the island nation’s lingering debt restructuring process with private creditors including sovereign bond holders. (Colombo/April 22/2021)

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Sri Lanka motor racing crash claims 7 lives, 4 critical

ECONOMYNEXT – A deadly accident at motor Race Sri Lanka’s hill country town of Diyathalawa has claimed at least 7 lives police said, after a racing vehicle, in the seasonal Fox Hill Super Cross ploughed in to spectators after running off the track.

Another 21 spectators were injured Sunday, and hospitalized and at least four were critical, police said.

Thousands of people come to watch the Fox Hill Super Cross race, which is usually held in April, as large numbers of people head to the cooler climes in the hills.

According to footage taken by spectators one car overturned on the side of the track.

Sri Lanka’s Newsfirst television said Marshalls were waving flags to caution other vehicles, when another car went off the track and crashed into spectators. (Colombo/April21/2024)

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Widespread support for Sri Lanka debt workout, reform progress at IMF/WB meet: Minister

ECONOMYNEXT – There was widespread support for Sri Lanka’s debt restructuring and acknowledgement of progress made under an International Monetary Fund program, at meeting of the fund and World Bank, State Minister for Finance Shehan Semasinghe said.

“The strides made in our economic recovery and financial stability have been acknowledged as significant advancements towards our country’s prosperity by our stakeholders and international partners,” Minister Semasinghe said in an x.com (twitter) post after attending the meetings.

“Further, it was heartening to note the widespread appreciation and support for Sri Lanka’s debt restructuring process.

“We remain steadfast in our commitment to reaching the restructuring targets and confident of smooth progress in the continued good-faith engagements for a speedy debt resolution that will ensure debt sustainability and comparability of debt treatment.”

Sri Lanka ended a first round of talks with sovereign bondholders in March without striking a deal but some agreement on the basis for a deal.

An initial deal with bilateral creditors have been reached, but they may be awaiting a deal with private creditors to sign formal agreements.

International partners have appreciated reforms made under President Ranil Wickremesinghe, Minister Semasinghe said.

“It was great to engage in productive bilateral discussions with all of whom appreciated the recent economic developments, progress in debt restructuring, strengthening of tax administration, and ongoing governance reforms,” he said.

Sri Lanka’s rupee has been allowed to re-appreciate by the central bank amid deflationary monetary policy, bringing tangible benefits to people in the form of lower energy and food prices, unlike in past IMF programs.

Electricity prices were cut as a strengthening currency helped reduce the cost of coal imports.

Related Sri Lanka central bank mainly responsible for electricity price cut

The currency appreciation has also allowed losses to the Employment Provident Fund imposed to be partially recouped, helping old workers near retirement, as well as raising disposable incomes of current wage earners on fixed salaries.

Related Sri Lanka EPF gets US$1.85bn in value back as central bank strengthens rupee

The IMF, which was set up after World War II to end devaluations seen in the 1930s after the Fed’s policy rate infected other key central banks, started to actively encourage depreciation after a change to its founding articles in 1978 (the Second Amendment).

The usefulness of money as a store of value, or a denominator of current and future values then decline, leading to loss of real savings, real wages and increases in social unrest.

Before that, members who devalued more than 10 percent after printing money for growth or any other reason, faced the threat of suspension from the organization as punishment.

Sri Lanka’s rupee has appreciated to around 300 to the US dollar now from 370 after a surrender rule was lifted in March 2023.

But there is no transparency on the basis that economic bureaucrats are allowing the currency to gain against the US dollar (the intervention currency of the central bank).

The rupee is currently under pressure, despite broadly prudent monetary policy, due to an ‘oversold position’ in the market after recent appreciation made importers and banks to run negative open positions as the usefulness of the currency as a denominator of future value declined with sudden strenghtening. (Colombo/Apr21/2024)

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