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Friday February 23rd, 2024

Sri Lanka central bank cuts policy rate 100bp to 10-pct

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s central bank has cut its policy rate at which money is injected in to the banking system to 10 percent, and the lower corridor to 9 percent in a monetary policy meeting in November 2023.

The central bank said there are likely to be no immediate rate cuts.

“..the Board viewed that with this reduction of policy interest rates, along with the monetary policy measures carried out since June 2023, sufficient monetary easing has been effected in order to stabilise inflation over the medium term,” the statement said.

“Hence, the Monetary Policy Board underscored the need for a swift and full passthrough of monetary easing measures to market interest rates, particularly lending rates, by the financial institutions, thereby accelerating the normalisation of market interest rates in the period ahead.”

The central bank wants market rates to follow.

“The Board anticipates a swift, sizeable and broad-based reduction in overall market lending interest rates in line with the monetary policy easing measures effected since June 2023,” the statement said.

“Such adjustment in interest rates is imperative to ease the domestic monetary conditions further.

“The Board stressed the need for all licensed banks to take swift measures to reduce market lending interest rates to ensure that the benefits of the series of monetary policy easing measures are adequately passed on to businesses and households.”

Sri Lanka’s private credit has been slightly positive in recent months.

In October the central bank was still a net buyer in forex markets with broadly deflationary policy involving selling down its Treasuries stock to the banking system.

In the past policy rates enforced with inflationary open market operations amid a recovery in private credit in the past on the claim that inflation was low has led to renewed balance of payments deficits, missed IMF reserve targets, currency depreciation which push up food and energy prices leading to the ouster of incumbent administrations, analysts have pointed out.

In January value added tax is to be hiked further, which can reduce pressure on the credit system though state salary hikes are kicking in from April.

The full statement is reproduced below:

The Central Bank of Sri Lanka further reduces policy interest rates

The Monetary Policy Board of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, at its meeting held on 23 November 2023, decided to reduce the Standing Deposit Facility Rate (SDFR) and the Standing Lending Facility Rate (SLFR) of the Central Bank by 100 basis points (bps) to 9.00 per cent and 10.00 per cent, respectively.

The Board arrived at this decision following a careful analysis of the current and expected developments in the domestic and global economy, with the aim of achieving and maintaining inflation at the targeted level of 5 per cent over the medium term, while enabling the economy to reach and stabilise at the potential level. The Board took note of possible upside risks to inflation projections in the near term due to supply-side factors stemming from the expected developments domestically and globally. However, the Board viewed that such nearterm risks would not materially change the medium-term inflation outlook, as inflation expectations of the public remain anchored and economic activity is projected to remain below par in the near to medium term.

Further, the Board viewed that with this reduction of policy interest rates, along with the monetary policy measures carried out since June 2023, sufficient monetary easing has been effected in order to stabilise inflation over the medium term. Hence, the Monetary Policy Board underscored the need for a swift and full passthrough of monetary easing measures to market interest rates, particularly lending rates, by the financial institutions, thereby accelerating the normalisation of market interest rates in the period ahead.

Headline inflation continues to remain low, reflecting subdued demand conditions. Headline inflation, as measured by the year-on-year change in the Colombo Consumer Price Index (CCPI, 2021=100), was recorded at 1.5 per cent in October 2023, compared to 1.3 per cent in September 2023.

Food inflation continued to be negative (year-on-year) for the fourth consecutive month in October 2023. The National Consumer Price Index (NCPI, 2021=100) based headline inflation (year-on-year) was recorded at 1.0 per cent in October 2023, compared to 0.8 per cent in September 2023. Both CCPI and NCPI based core inflation (year-on-year), which reflects underlying demand pressures in the economy, moderated further in October 2023, reflecting the subdued demand pressures in the economy.

A one-off upward movement in inflation is expected in the near term, driven mainly by the changes to the Value Added Tax (VAT) proposed by the Government effective January 2024.

The spillover effects of tax measures and other developments are likely to be muted due to subdued underlying demand pressures; hence, this rise in inflation is expected to be transitory. Accordingly, headline inflation over the medium term is expected to converge towards the targeted level of 5 per cent, supported by appropriate policy measures.

Market interest rates are expected to normalise in the period ahead. Market interest rates continued to adjust downwards, and most benchmark interest rates have declined significantly.

Meanwhile, the yields on government securities are also adjusting downwards with falling risk premia.

The reduction of policy interest rates by 100 bps in this monetary policy review is expected to create further space for market interest rates to adjust downward and normalise in the period ahead.

Reflecting the transmission of the relaxed monetary policy stance, outstanding credit to the private sector by the banking sector expanded on a monthly basis in September as well as in October 2023 based on provisional data. With the moderation of market lending interest rates, credit to the private sector is expected to increase further in the period ahead, thereby supporting the envisaged rebound of domestic economic activity.

Policy interest rates are further reduced in view of the stable inflation outlook over the
medium term and subdued demand pressures

In consideration of the current and expected macroeconomic developments highlighted above, the Monetary Policy Board of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, at its meeting held on 23 November 2023, decided to reduce the Standing Deposit Facility Rate (SDFR) and the Standing Lending Facility Rate (SLFR) of the Central Bank by 100 bps to 9.00 per cent and 10.00 per cent, respectively. The Board viewed that, with this reduction of policy interest rates and based on the available information, further monetary policy easing will be paused in the near term, given the space for market interest rates to adjust downwards in line with the current and past monetary policy easing measures.

The Board anticipates a swift, sizeable and broad-based reduction in overall market lending interest rates in line with the monetary policy easing measures effected since June 2023. Such adjustment in interest rates is imperative to ease the domestic monetary conditions further. The Board stressed the need for all licensed banks to take swift measures to reduce market lending interest rates to ensure that the benefits of the series of monetary policy easing measures are adequately passed on to businesses and households.

The Monetary Policy Board will continue to assess risks to inflation projections, among others, and stand ready to take appropriate measures to maintain domestic price stability in the period ahead while supporting the economy to reach its potential.

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Sri Lankans may need to wait for Monetary Board meeting minutes despite new Act

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lankans may have to wait more time to read the meeting minutes of the Central Bank’s Monetary Board, a top official said, despite a new act that has made the central bank to be more transparent and accountable for its decisions.

Many central banks including the United States’ Federal Reserve, India’s Reserve Bank, and Bank of Mexico release the minutes of their monetary policy meeting to ensure transparency.

The new Central Bank Act passed by the Parliament in line with the guidance by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) includes measures for Sri Lanka’s central bank to be more transparent and accountable.

These measures include releasing the Monetary Policy Report every six months and the first such report was released on February 15.

However, the central bank has not taken a decision to release the minutes of the Monetary Board meetings on the monetary policy.

“Going forward, one day this could happen,” Chandranath Amarasekara, Assistant Governor at the Central Bank told reporters on Wednesday (21) at a media briefing.

“Right now, we have just started working on the new Central Bank Act. We are not there yet. There is no such decision on releasing minutes yet.”

The central bank in the past printed billions of rupees to keep the market interest rates artificially low and provide cheap funding for successive governments to propel a debt-driven economy.

It’s decision, however, led Sri Lanka into an unprecedented economic crisis in 2022 with sovereign debt default.

It also propped up the rupee currency artificially in the past to maintain a stable exchange rate at the expense of billions of US dollars. The move also contributed for the economic crisis and later the central bank was forced to allow over 60 percent depreciation in the rupee in March 2022.

However, none of the top central bank officials was held responsible for wrong decisions to hold interest rates artificially low with money printing and propping up the rupee. (Colombo/Feb 23/2024)

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Amid mass migration, Sri Lanka to recruit volunteers as English teachers

ECONOMYNEXT- Sri Lanka is planning to appoint foreign and expatriate volunteers to teach English for Sri Lanka students, the Ministry of Higher Education said, amid thousand of teachers migrating to other countries after the island nation’s unprecedented economic crisis.

Over five thousand teachers have left the country with the Education Ministry permission using the government’s circular of temporarily leaving state jobs while tens of thousands of teachers have left the country without informing the relevant authorities, Education Ministry officials say.

That had led to an acute teacher shortage in the country.

Suren Raghavan, the State Minister for Higher Education said the shortage has aggravated because most of the graduates who have an English degree become writers and join the private sector due to higher salary.

“They do not join government schools. This is a problem all over the country which is why we need to have an online system,” Raghavan told EconomyNext.

Separately he said on Thursday at a press conference that he had spoken to Canadian and Australian High Commissions to get the assistance of where their English teachers who have experience in teaching English as a second language in South Asia.

He also said that there is a number of teachers in the Unite Kingdom have shown interest in teaching English and they have experience in teaching in other Asian countries such as Burma and India while the teaching would be done free of charge.

The new move also comes at a time when the country’s English literacy rate is on the decline, according to the Minister.

President Ranil Wickramasinghe announced the English-for-all initiative three months ago with plans to improve English literacy at school and university level. (Colombo/Feb 23/2024)

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Sri Lanka tea production up 1.4-pct in Jan 2024, exports up 6.8-pct

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s tea production was up 1.4 percent to 18.73 million kilograms in January 2024, with high growns falling and low and mid growns rising, industry data shows.

High grown tea in January 2024 was 3.56 million kilograms, down from 3.36 million, medium growns were 2.6, up from 2.5 million kilograms and low growns were 12.56 million, up from 12.32 million kilograms last year.

Exports, including re-exports were up 6.88 percent to 18.76 million kilograms, industry data published by Ceylon Tea Brokers show.

Export earnings were reported at 102 million US dollars, up from 99.5 million dollars last year. The average FOB price was 5.45 US dollars a kilo down from 5.67 dollars last year.

Tea in bulk was 8.5 million kilograms valued at 12.79 billion rupees, tea in packets was 7.8 million kilograms valued at 13.1 billion rupees and tea in bags was 1.8 million kilos, valued at 5.06 billion rupees.

The top buyer was Iraq with 2.5 million kilos, up from 2.1 million last year followed by the UAE with 1.99 kilos, up from 1.86 million last year.

Russia bought 1.98 million kilos, down from 2.0 last year, Turkey bought 1.72 million kilos, from 2.3 million last year, while Iran bought 1.32 million, up from 614 million last year. (Colombo/Feb23/2024)

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