ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s central bank has bought 274.4 million US dollars in December 2022, and sold only 170.6 million US dollars through a peg operated around 360 to the US dollar, official data shows.
The central bank has operated a peg around 360 to the US dollar after allowing rates to go up in April 2022.
However, until around July, the agency sold dollars and sterilized them using dollars given by India by deferring money due through the Asian Clearing Union.
The peg is operated at 360/370 to the US dollar by purchasing dollars through a surrender rule and selling them for imports such as oil and other urgent purchases.
The 360 to the US dollar peg, has effectively externally anchored the monetary system and allowed 12-month inflation to fall rapidly, much faster than under a standard IMF program as prescribed now.
In countries such as Argentina, where the currency is collapsing under an International Monetary Fund program, a ‘flexible exchange rate’ is operated with a ‘rate of crawl’ of 6 percent a month fueling inflation, energy enterprise losses and putting further pressure on the hungry and helpless.
In 2023, Sri Lanka is set to legalize a ‘flexible exchange rate’, an impossible trinity intermediate regime which is neither clean float nor a hard peg, under a program with the IMF.
Though the central bank was running monetary policy consistent with a peg until December, there is not much market credibility.
December is a month where credit is usually weak but there are extra inflows from remittances and also exporters who pay early salaries to workers and is a good candidate month to float a currency, after hiking rates to get market credibility and re-peg.
From January 2023 the central bank has started liquidity operations injecting money through term auctions and also an outright auctions.
Analysts have cautioned against injections that will result in net excess liquidity at a time when foreign banks which are cash plus are buying up Treasury bills after window access was restricted.
The net purchases of 103 million dollars in December is the highest since a private credit collapse after lockdown in April 2020.
The central bank also has to settle loans to the International Monetary Fund, and service swaps if required. The government also has to settle loans coming due to the World Bank and Asian Development Bank which are not defaulted.
Since the ACU deferments ended Sri Lanka’s external sector has started to stabilize.
From August the central bank has bought 184.9 million US dollars on a net basis from commercial banks and gross reserves have been stable.
Commercial banks have also settled over 500 million US dollars in credit over the latter part of 2022, data showed. (Sri Lanka commercial banks repay foreign credits)
Soft-pegged countries get into to trouble due to liquidity injections made to suppress rates, which trigger extra imports and reserve losses.
In such third world unstable countries there is a belief that reserves can be used for imports, without allowing rates to go up.
But by injecting money to sterilize interventions, the central bank effectively engages in re-financing private credit with what classical economists called ‘fictitious capital’, allowing banks to lend without taking deposit from customers, firing unsustainable outflows.
Due to the use of Treasury bills for open market operations, such injections are mis-classified as credit to government (deficit monetization) and politicians are blamed. (Colombo/Jan22/2022)