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Sunday June 16th, 2024

Sri Lanka CEB’s rating outlook lifted to positive by Fitch

ECONOMYNEXT – Fitch Ratings said it was lifting an outlook on state-run Ceylon Electricity Board to positive from stable, and was confirming a ‘B(lka)’ rating, which is currently de-linked from the state.

Fitch downgraded Sri Lanka’s long term local rating to ‘C’ from ‘CC’ on July 2023, but the CEB itself is rated higher at ‘B(lka)’

“This is because, despite the government’s selective default on some of its local currency debt, we do not believe CEB has entered a default or default-like process requiring a similar rating action,” Fitch said.

“In addition, CEB’s current rating already reflects a probable near-term default, as the company’s ability to service debt depends on the continuity of government support.”

The full statement is reproduced below:

Fitch Revises Outlook on Ceylon Electricity Board to Positive; Affirms at ‘B(lka)’

Fitch Ratings – Colombo – 12 Jul 2023: Fitch Ratings has revised the Outlook on Ceylon Electricity Board’s (CEB) National Long-Term Rating to Positive, from Stable, and has simultaneously affirmed the rating at ‘B(lka)’. Fitch also affirmed the National Long-Term Rating of CEB’s outstanding senior unsecured debentures at ‘B(lka)’.

The Positive Outlook reflects the likely upgrade of the Sri Lankan sovereign’s Long-Term Local-Currency Issuer Default Rating (IDR) to reflect the sovereign’s prospects following the completion of a domestic debt exchange (DDE).

We will equalise CEB’s ratings with that of the sovereign if the sovereign’s Long-Term Local-Currency IDR is upgraded to above ‘CC’, in line with our Government-Related Entities (GRE) Rating Criteria, resulting in a rating upgrade on the national scale.

This is based on our assessment of a strong likelihood of support from the state.

The affirmation follows our de-linking of CEB’s rating from that of the sovereign after we downgraded Sri Lanka’s Long-Term Local-Currency IDR to ‘C’, from ‘CC’ on 5 July 2023.

This is because, despite the government’s selective default on some of its localcurrency debt, we do not believe CEB has entered a default or default-like process requiring a similar rating action. In addition, CEB’s current rating already reflects a probable near-term default, as the company’s ability to service debt depends on the continuity of government support.

KEY RATING DRIVERS

State Support Intact: The government continues to provide financial support to CEB to sustain its operations, which would have been otherwise challenging. The government converted a LKR200 billion project loan, amounting to 35% of CEB’s outstanding debt as at 30 September 2022, to equity late last year, while state banks continued to provide working capital funding to secure feedstock. The government has also facilitated uninterrupted fuel supply to CEB’s thermal power plants from state-owned Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC), despite CEB having large dues to CPC.

We believe state support will be forthcoming, despite the state’s weak financial profile, as CEB fulfils an essential service for the country. A default of CEB would disrupt this service, as the company accounts for most of Sri Lanka’s power-generation capacity. It would also make it difficult for CEB to source imported feedstock for power generation, such as heavy oil and coal. CEB’s independent power producer (IPP) agreements, which account for around 20% of the power generated, would also be affected, as they are external arrangements with no clear alternatives.

Cost Reflective Tariff Mechanism:Indeterminate Standalone Profile: We don’t believe ascertaining standalone credit profile of CEB is possible in the foreseeable future, as its ability to operate depends on continued state support and it cannot be meaningfully delinked from the government.

CEB had LKR284 billion of debt equally spread across working capital and project loans as at end-April 2023. We expect CEB to generate negative free cash flow in the medium term, despite the tariff mechanism, and to depend on the state for expansion and refinancing.

We may provide a standalone credit view should CEB maintain a record of profitable operation that improves its access to external funding with less reliance on the state.

Large Dues to Operating Creditors: CEB owed LKR208 billion to CPC, IPPs and renewable energy generators as of end-April 2023, up by 20% from November 2022. CEB expects to settle its debt to CPC and some IPPs with support from the government, while the renewable producers will be settled incrementally with cash generated from operations. CEB plans to settle part of the dues owed to renewables producers through new funding lines, but approvals are taking time. Consequently, we do not expect a material reduction CEB’s trade payable position in 2023.

CEB Restructure: The government is looking at unbundling CEB’s generation, transmission and distribution process by transferring CEB’s resources to 14 companies established under the Companies Act as part of the country’s energy sector reforms.

We expect the unbundling to provide autonomy and flexibility for CEB operations, while improving its efficiency and competitiveness, but it is too early to ascertain how the proposed restructure would affect CEB’s credit profile, as the plan’s details are still vague.

DERIVATION SUMMARY

CEB’s ratings reflect a probable near-term default, as it relies on the Sri Lankan government, which has begun a local-currency debt restructuring process, to continue its operations. However, CEB itself has not begun a default or default-like process.

KEY ASSUMPTIONS

Fitch’s Key Assumptions Within Our Rating Case for the Issuer
– Sri Lanka’s annual electricity demand growth to average around 6% over 2023-2026
– Generation mix to remain at 50% thermal, 30% hydro and 20% other over 2023-2026
– Tariff to be adjusted every six months to cover CEB’s operating costs and interest obligations
– Annual capex of LKR90 billion over the next two years for maintenance and building new generation capacity

RATING SENSITIVITIES

Factors that could, individually or collectively, lead to positive rating action/upgrade:
– the Sri Lankan sovereign’s Long-Term Local-Currency IDR being upgraded to above ‘CC’ after the completion of the DDE could result in corresponding action on CEB’s National Long-Term Rating.
Factors that could, individually or collectively, lead to negative rating action/downgrade:
– the Sri Lankan sovereign’s Long-Term Local-Currency IDR being rated at ‘CC’ after the completion of the DDE would result in the Outlook on CEB being revised to Stable.

For the sovereign rating of Sri Lanka, the following sensitivities were outlined by Fitch in the agency’s Rating Action Commentary on 5 July 2023:

Factors that could, individually or collectively, lead to positive rating action/upgrade:

– Following completion of the DDE, the sovereign LTLC IDR will likely be lifted out of ‘RD’ to a rating that appropriately reflects its prospects.

– For the LTFC IDR, completion of the foreign-currency commercial debt restructuring that Fitch judges to have normalised relationship with private-sector creditors may result in an upgrade.
Factors that could, individually or collectively, lead to negative rating action/downgrade:
– The LTLC IDR will be further downgraded once the government executes its domestic debt restructuring.

LIQUIDITY AND DEBT STRUCTURE

Liquidity Support from Government: CEB had LKR17 billion in unrestricted cash at end-March 2023, against LKR128 billion in debt due in the next 12 months. More than 90% of the outstanding debt is for working capital, which we believe will be rolled over in the normal course of business. We believe the government will continue to provide funding support for CEB to meet its contractual maturities amid the company’s weak liquidity.

CEB also has significant payments due to feedstock suppliers, including CPC and IPPs. CEB plans to settle the debt by using additional cash flow from the increased electricity tariff and by securing new funding facilities from banks. CEB received LKR80 billion in funding in 2022 from the Ministry of Finance to settle its dues to CPC, and we expect similar liquidity support from the government, given the essential service that CEB provides.

ISSUER PROFILE

CEB is Sri Lanka’s sole electricity transmitter and distributor. It is a fully owned state entity and accounts for 75% of domestic electricity generation through its network of hydro and thermal power plants.

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Sri Lanka state airport agency swimming in cash after sovereign default

ECONOMYNEXT – State-run Airport and Aviation Services (Sri Lanka) Ltd is swimming in cash after a sovereign default halted debt repayments allowing it to post a profit of 29.7 billion rupees with 10.4 billion rupees in interest income, official data showed.

In April 2022 Sri Lanka declared a sovereign default after printing large volumes of money over more than two years to enforce rate cuts and blowing the biggest hole in the balance of payments in the history of the island’s money printing central bank.

Interest earnings of Airport and Aviation Services also shot up to 10.4 billion rupees in 2023 from 6.1 billion in 2022 and 3.3 billion rupees in 2021 before the sovereign default.

Under the terms of the default or ‘debt suspension’, state agencies like the Airport and Aviation Services, and Sri Lanka Port Authority were also not required to service loans, even if they had the cash to repay loans.

AASL’s finance income shot up in 2023 “mainly because the company has invested surplus cash saved by not servicing the foreign loans obtained by the company due to the temporary debt moratorium policy of the country,” the Finance Ministry said in a report.

Sri Lanka’s rupee and foreign currency interest rates also shot up in 2022 and 2023 as rate cuts enforced by money printing were lifted to clear anchor conflicts.

After inflationary rate cuts kill confidence in a currency triggering capital flight and parallel exchange rates, excessively high rates are needed to kill domestic credit and stabilize the currency.

Countries with such flawed operating frameworks in central banks tend to have chronic high nominal interest rates in any case.

AASL’s rupee revenues went up to 48.8 billion rupees in 2023 from 32.2 billion rupees in 2022 as passenger movements increased to 7.5 million from 5.5 million with a recovery in tourism and local traffic.

Sri Lanka’s currency crisis hit in 2022 just as the island was recovering from Coronavirus pandemic triggering fuel shortages and power cuts as money printing triggered forex shortages.

From 2022 March the rupee collapsed from 200 to 370 levels an attempt to float the rupee was failed by a surrender rule (a type of buy-side pegging which pushes the exchange rate down).

In 2023, after hiking rates to kill credit, the surrender rule was removed, leading to a currency appreciation.

The airport agency also made an exchange gain of 6.1 billion rupees in 2023 against an exchange loss of 10.5 billion rupees in 2022 the rupee appreciated. (Colombo/June16/2024)

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Sri Lanka car import relaxing roadmap given to IMF: State Minister

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka has submitted a roadmap on relaxing vehicle imports to the International Monetary Fund, State Minister of Finance Ranjith Siymabalapitiya said as the country recovers from the worst currency crises in the history of its central bank.

The import relaxation will allow vehicles for public transport, goods transport, then motor cycles and cars use by private individuals and after that, luxury cars, Minister Siyambalapitiya said.

Luxury cars however attract the highest taxes for each dollar spent on imports.

Economic analysts have characterized vehicle import controls as a ‘cascading policy error’ that follows inflationary rate cuts, which then deprive taxes to the state and triggers more money printing and more forex shortages, requiring even higher corrective interest rates and a contraction of economic activities to save the rupee.

According to the latest IMF report car import controls may have led to revenue losses of 0.7 to 0.9 percent of GDP.

Sri Lanka started controlling imports few years after a central bank was set up in 1950 and also tightened exchange controls progressively, so that macroeconomists using post-1920 spurious monetary doctrines taught at Anglophone universities could print money through various mechanisms to suppress rates.

Sri Lanka is working with the IMF as a guide on many issues and the roadmap was submitted to the agency on June 14, Minister Siyambalapitiya said.

The IMF in an economic report released last week the plan was expected to be submitted by June 15.

Whatever the IMF’s faults, which some wags have called ‘progressive Saltwaterism’, the agency does not advocate import controls as solution to balance of payments problems, despite a Mercantilist fixation with the current account deficit in countries with reserve collecting central banks, analysts say.

Import controls have the same effect as import substation on the balance of payments, which is none, classical economists have pointed out and is now mainly a problem associated with macro economists and economic bureaucrats of so-called basket case countries.

Any pressure on the currency or missed reserves targets in the IMF program has come in the past only if the central bank printed money to suppress rates as credit growth picked up from car imports.

Sri Lanka had 3,000 items under import controls when rates were suppressed with printed money from 2020 to 2022 but eventually ended up with the worst currency crisis triggered by macro economists in the history of the country and eventual external default.

A committee made up of the Department of Trade and Fiscal Policy of the Finance Ministry, the Department of Registration of Motor Vehicles, the Central Bank and two associations representing vehicle imports were appointed to come up with the roadmap, he said. (Colombo/June15/2024)

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Chitrasiri Committee presents draft constitution for Sri Lanka Cricket

ECONOMYNEXT – A draft constitution for Sri Lanka Cricket, the governing body for cricket in the island, prepared by a committee headed by retired Supreme Court judge K T Chitrasiri, was presented to President Ranil Wickremesinghe today (15).

The Sri Lanka team were ignominiously knocked out of the Men’s T20 World Cup tournament this week, sparking renewed criticism of the team and the governing body.

Last November, a cabinet sub-committee was appointed to address challenges faced by Sri Lanka Cricket and provide recommendations after consecutive losses became a hot topic in parliament.

After parliament decided to remove the administrators of the sport, the International Cricket Council (ICC) Board suspended Sri Lanka Cricket’s membership.

Based on the sub-committee’s recommendations in its report, the Cabinet then appointed an expert committee to draft a new constitution for Sri Lanka Cricket.

The committee headed by judge K T Chitrasiri includes President’s Counsel Harsha Amarasekara, Attorney-at-Law Dr Aritha Wickramanayake and Chairman of the Sri Lanka Chamber of Commerce Duminda Hulangamuwa.

Deputy Solicitor General Manohara Jayasinghe, and Shamila Krishanthi, Assistant Draftsman representing the Legal Draftsman’s Department, and Loshini Peiris, Additional Secretary to the President were also on the committee. (Colombo/Jun14/2024)

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