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Wednesday June 7th, 2023

Sri Lanka CB aggressive dollar buying prevented sharp rupee appreciation – dealers

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Central Bank’s “aggressive” dollar buying has prevented sharp appreciation of the rupee, dealers say, as the rupee is under upward pressure amid negative credit and the lifting of a surrender rule.

The rupee is trading between 312-318 against the US dollar compared to 360 level a week ago, showing a near 15 percent rise.

The sharp appreciation comes amid speculation over dollar inflows from International Financial Corporation into three private banks and further inflows soon after the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Executive Board approval of a $2.9 billion loan later this month.

The IMF money however does not flow to the market but to the central bank itself and has no effect on the domestic forex market. IMF also does not give any money until monetary policy is tightened and the exchange rate is floated prior actions, to make sure that reserves it gives are not used for imports.

The IFC money is however is a swap for import financing which cannot be sold in the domestic market.

“The rupee would have easily hit 275 rupees against the dollar if not for the central bank’s aggressive buying,” a currency dealer told EconomyNext asking not to be named.

“This is mainly due to exporters selling their dollar holdings to have cash inflows for the future without borrowing at a high cost after the central bank raised the interest rates.”

“The volume of dollar conversion has declined today and I think the rupee will stabilize somewhere around 310 level. But it all depends on where the central bank wants the rupee.

The central bank in a surprise move raised the policy rates by 100 basis points on Friday (3), a move backed by the IMF.

Other analysts said the central bank has bought more than $100 million from the market in the last three days.

“The appreciation will continue as long as the central bank’s import ban and non-repayment of foreign loans continues,” another currency dealer said.

However Sri Lanka had tighter import controls in 2020 and it failed to stop the pressure on the rupee or loss of foreign reserves.

“Balance of Payments difficulties cannot be solved by intensifying the rigorous of exchange control and
import restrictions; nor by extending the schemes for expanding domestic production to substitute import goods — the so called measures for “economising” on foreign exchange,” classical economist B R Shenoy told President J R Jayewardene in a report in 1966 when the country had experienced forex troubles.

“The remedy to this problem lies in putting a stop to inflationary financing, not in tampering with the normal course of international trade.”

Sri Lanka has now tightened monetary policy and hiked rates to halt inflationary financing generally known as money printing.

The current rupee also appreciation comes amid a fall in exports. In January 2023, exports fell to 978 million US dollars from 1,103 million US dollars. In 2022 when the country experienced severe forex shortages, exports went up.

Related Sri Lanka exports rise 20-pct in June 2022 amid forex shortages

The rupee rise has led to a reduction in the price of several imported goods including wheat flour and sugar.

The currency, which became the world’s best performing currency so far this year, is expected to decline and lose almost a fourth of its value against the dollar by end-2023, Fitch Solutions has predicted, Bloomberg has reported.

Currency dealers, however, said the 390 rupee per dollar year-end estimation by Fitch “may be unlikely”.

“The same rating agency gave a high rating for banks which faced closure in 2008 due to subprime mortgages. However, the rupee may come under pressure when the import ban is removed, but we do not see it going to the level Fitch has expected,” a third dealer said.

Sri Lanka’s rupee collapsed from around 200 against US dollar to 370 within a few weeks last year after the central bank artificially kept the rupee down printing trillions of rupees in 2020 and 2021.

Analysts say exporters can still hold the dollars in their foreign account for import requirements though the central bank has asked them to convert all the dollars within 180 days.

Many Sri Lankan businesses have opened branches in Dubai, Singapore, and Hong Kong among many other foreign countries since the unprecedented economic crisis started in mid 2022.  (Colombo/March09/2023 – Updated with economists comments)

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Sri Lanka’s shares slip on profit taking and selling pressure

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s shares closed lower on Wednesday after four consecutive gains in previous sessions spiraled into selling interest and profit taking, an analyst said.

The main All Share Price Index was down 0.28 percent or 24.39 points to 8,722.06, this is the lowest the index has been since May 02, while the most liquid index S&P SL20 was down 0.40 percent or 9.92 points to 2,468.44.

“The market was gaining in the previous sessions and there is selling and profit taking present today, due to continuously being on green,” an analyst said.

In the previous sessions the market was seeing gains, due to lowered policy rates and low inflation stimulating buying interest and driving the sentiment up, an analyst said.

Sri Lanka’s inflation in the 12-months to May 2023 has eased to 25.2 percent from 35.3 percent a month earlier according to a revised Colombo Consumer Price Index calculated by the state statistics office.

The central bank cut the key policy rates by 250 basis points to spur a faltering economic growth as inflation was decelerating faster than it projected.

“There are gradual improvements in the market sentiment, with positive sentiments coming in from lowered policy rates and inflation,” an analyst said.

The market generated foreign inflows of 12 million rupees and received a net foreign inflow of 18 million rupees, due to low share prices and discounted shares followed by a dividend announcement.

The market generated a revenue of 554 million rupees, this is the lowest the turnover has been since May 10, while the daily turnover average was 1 billion rupees. From the total generated revenue, the banking sector contributed 120 million rupees, Diversified Banks contributed 115 million rupees and the Capital Goods Industry generated 78 million rupees.

Top losers during trade were Sampath Bank, Commercial Bank and Aitken Spence. (Colombo/June06/2023)

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Sri Lanka Treasuries yields plunge, 12-month down 318bp

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Treasuries yields plunged across maturities at Wednesday’s auction with the 12-month yield falling 318 basis points, in one of the biggest one day falls, data from the state debt office showed.

The 3-month yield fell 244 basis points to 23.21 percent.

The 6-mont yield fell 339 basis points to 21.90 percent, along with the 12 months to 19.10 percent.

The short-term yield curve is inverted.

The central bank last week cut its policy rate 250 basis points in a signaling move but is not printing money to enforce the rate cut.

The debt office sold all 140 billion rupees of offered securities. (Colombo/June07/2023)

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Sri Lanka forex reserves rise US$722mn in May 2023

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s foreign reserves grew 722 million US dollars to 3,483 million US dollars in May 2023 from 2,761 million US dollars in April, official data showed amid weak credit and better inflows.

Sri Lanka lost almost all its reserve in over two years as the central bank sold reserves and printed money to keep rates down (sterilized reserves sales) including borrowed dollars from India.

Gross official reserves fell to a low of 1,705 million US dollars in September 2022.

Sri Lanka’s central bank hiked rates in April 2022 to slow credit and also stopped printing money after it ran out of borrowed Asian Clearing Union dollars from India.

Sri Lanka’s gross official reserves are made up of both monetary reserves of the central bank and any balances of the Treasury account from loans or grants it gets.

The central bank’s net foreign reserves are still negative after busting up borrowed reserves to suppress rates. By April (before the collection of reserves in May) the central bank’s net reserves were negative by 3.7 billion US dollars.

In May alone 662 million US dollars were bought from the market, Central Bank Governor Nandalal Weerasinghe said.


No pre-determined level to stop Sri Lanka rupee appreciation: CB Governor

Borrowing dollars through swaps and busting them up, was invented by the US Federal Reserve as it was printing money and breaking the Bretton Woods system in the early 1970s.

Sri Lanka received a 350 million US dollar tranche from the Asian Development Bank and 331 million US dollars from the IMF to the Treasury for budget support.

The loans can be sold to the central bank by the government to generate rupees and spend. However, since credit is weak, not all the inflows go out of the country particularly as the central bank is conducting deflationary open market operations on a net basis.

By allowing the rupee to appreciate unlike in previous episodes of recovery in an IMF program, after a bout of money printing, the central bank is bringing down inflation – in some cases absolute prices – and restoring confidence and easing the ‘pain’ of ‘monetary policy’ or stimulus.


Why is Sri Lanka’s rupee appreciating?

Though exports are falling, tourism revenues are also picking up.

The budget support loans, tourism receipts less the reserve collected will widen the trade deficit. Building foreign reserves involves lending money to the US or other western nations and is similar to repaying foreign debt. (Colombo/June07/2023)

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