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Thursday February 29th, 2024

Some Sri Lanka firms could be hit on import controls as reserves fall: Fitch

ECONOMYNEXT – Some Sri Lanka firms could be hit while firms in essential goods may be less affected and import substitution firms could benefit if import controls are tightened on weak external finances, Fitch, a rating agency said.

“…Sri Lanka sovereign’s weak external finances will affect corporates importing non-essential finished goods such as consumer durables more than corporates importing essential finished goods such as pharmaceuticals, food or clothing,” Fitch said.

“At the same time, we believe restrictions are less likely in the near term on the importation of raw materials for the domestic manufacture of essential products such as personal care, or for those industries serving as import-substitutes such as tyre and footwear manufacturers.”

Inflated Reserve Money

Sri Lanka’s central bank has been injecting liquidity (inflating reserve money supply in excess of the external monetary anchor or peg) keeping interest rates and credit out of line with the balance of payments and triggering forex shortages.

The central bank has lost foreign reserves as the liquidity was used in state salaries and later in cascading bank credit, and the news money redeemed against foreign reserves for imports or debt payments at a non-credible peg (convertibility undertaking).

The convertibility undertaking has far shifted from around 185 to 203 to the US dollar since early 2020. After convertibility was restricted for trade transactions, as well as some capital transfers banks started to ration dollars.

Parallel exchange rates have also risen as a result.

Due to Mercantilist beliefs – which are also taught in Keynesian universities – monetary instability has been blamed on imports, and authorities tried to control imports.

In Sri Lanka oil often is blamed for currency falls, though liquidity injections in 2015 created a currency crisis as global oil prices collapsed.

However as credit driven by the new liquidity shifted to permitted areas, the trade deficit had exceeded the 2019 levels by May 2021.

In June some import restrictions were relaxed.

Non-Essential

Among Fitch Rated firms, consumer durables sellers were likely to be most affected.

“Singer (Sri Lanka) PLC (AA(lka)/Stable) and Abans PLC (AA(lka)/Stable) are the most exposed among Fitch-rated corporates to tighter import controls, due to the discretionary nature of their products,” the rating agency said.

“A tightening in import controls may exert pressure on both entities’ ratings, owing to low headroom. However, the availability of buffer inventories, a degree of local manufacturing, and potential group synergies in the case of Singer, could help mitigate the impact in the near term.”

Meanwhile firms that critics call crony import substitution firms which have actively lobbied politicians for protection in the past to create a domestic ‘black market’ at high prices could benefit.

“We expect sales volumes for domestic manufacturers to rise in the near term as they attempt to fill shortages created by import restrictions,” Fitch said.

“Therefore, corporates such as the domestic tyre manufacturer Ceat Kelani Holdings (Private) Limited (CKH, AA+(lka)/Stable), footwear manufacture and retailer DSI Samson Group (Private) Limited (DSG, AA(lka)/Stable), as well as electric cable producer Sierra Cables PLC (AA-(lka)/Negative), may be long-term beneficiaries as their products serve as import substitutes.”

Neutral

The impact on alcohol, beverage and phamarceuticals may be neutral.

“We believe pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors such as Hemas Holdings PLC (AAA(lka)/Stable) and Sunshine Holdings PLC (AA+(lka)/Stable) are less likely to see tighter import restrictions despite significant import exposure,” Fitch said.

“This is because of the essential nature of their goods, and limited availability of their products in the local market.

“Hemas and Sunshine have limited domestic manufacturing capabilities for certain generic drugs, while around 90% of the pharmaceutical products they sell are imported.

“This is because domestic pharmaceutical manufacturing is at a nascent stage, with producers lacking the technological know-how and infrastructure near term as they attempt to fill shortages created by import restrictions.”

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Sri Lanka’s RAMIS online tax collection system “not operatable”: IT Minister

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s online tax collection system RAMIS is “not operatable”, and the Ministry of Information Technology is ready to do for an independent audit to find the shortcomings, State IT Minister Kanaka Herath said.

The Revenue Administration Management Information System (RAMIS) was introduced to the Inland Revenue Department (IRD) when the island nation signed for its 16th International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme in 2016.

However, trade unions at the IRD protested the move, claiming that the system was malfunctioning despite billions being spent for it amid allegations that the new system was reducing the direct contacts between taxpayers and the IRD to reduce corruption.

The RAMIS had to be stopped after taxpayers faced massive penalties because of blunders made by heads of the IT division, computer operators and system errors at the IRD, government officials have said.

“The whole of Sri Lanka admits RAMIS is a failure. The annual fee is very high for that. This should be told in public,” Herath told reporters at a media briefing in Colombo on Thursday (29)

“In future, we want all the ministries to get the guidelines from our ministry when they go for ERP (Enterprise resource planning).”

President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government said the RAMIS system will be operational from December last year.

However, the failure has delayed some tax collection which could have been paid via online.

“It is not under our ministry. It is under the finance ministry. We have no involvement with it, but still, it is not operatable,” Herath said.

“So, there are so many issues going on and I have no idea what the technical part of it. We can carry out an independent audit to find out the shortcomings of the software.”

Finance Ministry officials say IRD employees and trade unions had been resisting the RAMIS because it prevents direct interactions with taxpayers and possible bribes for defaulting or under paying taxes.

The crisis-hit island nation is struggling to boost its revenue in line with the target it has committed to the IMF in return for a 3 billion-dollar extended fund facility. (Colombo/Feb 29/2024) 

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Sri Lanka aims to boost SME with Sancharaka Udawa tourism expo

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka is hosting Sancharaka Udawa, a tourism industry exhibition which will bring together businesses ranging from hotels to travel agents and airlines, and will allow the small and medium sector build links with the rest of the industry, officials said.

There will be over 250 exhibitors, with the annual event held for the 11th time expected to draw around 10,000 visitors, the organizers said.

“SMEs play a big role, from homestays to under three-star categories,” Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau Chairman, Chalaka Gajabahu told reporters.

“It is very important that we develop those markets as well.”

The Sancharaka Udawa fair comes as the Indian Ocean island is experiencing a tourism revival.

Sri Lanka had welcomed 191,000 tourists up to February 25, compared to 107,639 in February 2023.

“We have been hitting back-to-back double centuries,” Gajabahu said. “January was over 200,000.”

The exhibition to be held on May 17-18, is organized by the Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators.

It aims to establish a networking platform for small and medium sized service providers within the industry including the smallest sector.

“Homestays have been increasingly popular in areas such as Ella, Down South, Knuckles and Kandy,” SLAITO President, Nishad Wijethunga, said.

In the northern Jaffna peninsula, both domestic and international tourism was helping hotels.

A representative of the Northern Province Tourism Sector said that the Northern Province has 170 hotels, all of which have 60-70 percent occupancy.

Further, domestic airlines from Colombo to Palali and the inter-city train have been popular with local and international visitors, especially Indian tourists. (Colombo/Feb29/2024)

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Sri Lanka rupee closes at 309.50/70 to the US dollar

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s rupee closed at 309.50/70 to the US dollar Thursday, from 310.00/15 on Wednesday, dealers said.

Bond yields were slightly higher.

A bond maturing on 01.02.2026 closed at 10.50/70 percent down from 10.60/80 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.09.2027 closed at 11.90/12.10 percent from 11.90/12.00 percent.

A bond maturing on 01.07.2028 closed at 12.20/25 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.07.2029 closed at 12.30/45 percent up from 12.20/50 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.05.2030 closed at 12.35/50 percent up from 12.25/40 percent.

A bond maturing on 01.07.2032 closed at 12.55/13.00 percent up from 12.50/90 percent. (Colombo/Feb29/2024)

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