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Thursday May 23rd, 2024

Sri Lanka choices recalled in Vietnam debate on monetary and fiscal options to target output

FIRST SIGNS: Fuel queues and shortages were developing in Vietnam in 2022 with a BOP deficit of $15.6bn in 3Q when rates were hiked to stop inflationary sterilization. Photo/Vietnamnet.vn

ECONOMYNEXT – Vietnam can grow 6.0 percent in 2024, with ‘policy support’ but there is a debate whether it should be done through fiscal (widening deficits/worsening debt or state spending) or monetary means, a top International Monetary Fund official said.

The IMF projects 6.0 percent growth for Vietnam in 2024 “as it rebounds from a challenging 2023,” Krishna Srinivasan, Director of the Asia and Pacific Department told reporters during the Spring Meetings in Washington.

Western Statism

“Now, in the case of Vietnam, I would say that there’s an issue about policy mix, whether you could get more support from the fiscal and rely less on monetary,” Srinivasan said.

“So there is an issue of policy mix which we’re talking, which we’ve been engaging the authorities with.

“I would say that policy support should be more favorable and that should, and along with external demand, help raise growth to 6 percent.”

Sri Lanka used both fiscal and monetary mix to boost growth from December 2019, triggering an external default two and a half years later.

Vietnam’s forex reserves fell below 3 months of imports in 2022 after the State Bank kept policy rates down by inflationary sterilization of forex market interventions.

The currency was then stabilized with rapid fire rate hikes and credit controls to dial back inflationary policy, just as long fuel ques started to form at petrol sheds, with angry riders already hit by rising prices due to Dong weakness. 
The return to market interest rates averted wider social unrest from being triggered by depreciation and further losses at state energy utility EVN, due to fixed prices amid soaring coal prices.

The State Bank of Vietnam later cut rates and relaxed credit controls as the BOP shifted to a surplus.

The government has since cut value added taxes. Public sector salaries are set to rise further this year, possibly as much as 30 percent, after earlier wage restraint. (Related Link: Public employee’s salaries to increase by 30 per cent from July 1: Minister)

State Driven Growth Options

The IMF also said in an Article IV consultation report released in October 2023, that fiscal metrics should be effectively undermined for ‘growth’ but more through income redistribution, and possible support for a fallout from a weak property sector.

Some Vietnamese property companies are reeling from expansion during earlier low rates and Covid-linked construction delays, which could also hit banks.

“Building on successful fiscal consolidation in recent years, there is fiscal space to provide further support,” an IMF Article IV consultation report released in October 2023 said.

“The government could scale up social safety nets that would boost growth and protect the most vulnerable households.

“Given the slowdown and the constraints faced by monetary policy, going forward, fiscal policy can take a leading role in supporting aggregate demand.

“For instance, the government could scale up social safety nets—and consider cash transfers to provide swift relief to poorer households.

“If the current turmoil proves more damaging to the economy and the financial sector, targeted support could be considered, including to help real estate developers restructure.”

Dong on thin ice

In 2023, Vietnam’s balance of payments was only marginally in surplus by 1 to 3 billion dollars a quarter, indicating that credit was still resilient after a successful ‘soft-landing’, and any further shocks from macro-economists can destabilize the external sector easily.

In the fourth quarter of 2024, Vietnam’s BOP was only 2.4 billion dollars in surplus.

Any extra spending or tax cuts which boosts the deficit due to attempts to engage in ‘macro-economic policy’ and expand government borrowings would lead to money printing under a fixed policy rate, reversing gains made by the State Bank over 2023, and pushing the Dong down, analysts say.

Western macro-economists believe that expanding government action (through the Treasury or central banks) to tinker with ‘aggregate demand’ can boost growth numbers instead of giving a chance for people and businesses to engage in real production of goods and services by providing monetary stability.

Collapsing currencies and external imbalances are then blamed on ‘current account deficits’ and ‘structural deficiencies’.

Such Keynesian and post-Keynesian beliefs have worsened since quantitative easing was normalized in the US after the Great Recession and ‘stimulus’ re-captured Western media attention despite the hard lessons of the 1960s and 1970s, critics say.

In Sri Lanka, the IMF taught a central bank that had already busted the currency from 4.70 to 131 to the dollar to calculate ‘potential output’ just as the country was barely recovering from a 30-year civil war.

Sri Lanka defaulted within 7 years of ‘data driven monetary policy’ (flexible inflation targeting with output gap targeting) and three currency crises later in peacetime amid increasingly aggressive macro-economic policy as consecutive stabilization programs reduced growth numbers.

Aggressive Macro-economic Policy

After using higher deficits and inflationary rate cuts in 2015 amid low inflation, inflationary rate cuts despite tax hikes in 2018 (fiscal policy is tight therefore monetary has to be loose mantra), macro-economists took a proverbial Keynesian bull by the horns and cut both taxes and rates from December 2019 saying there was a ‘persistent output gap’.

Related Sri Lanka fiscal stimulus to close output gap

Analysts say there is no real choice between monetary or fiscal deterioration to achieve macroeconomic policy desires of interventionists, in a country with a bureaucratic interest rate.

A policy rate, unless hiked, will automatically result in inflationary monetary operations as domestic credit picks up, irrespective of whether it is driven by private or state credit.

Any so-called ‘fiscal support’ can only be given without harming the exchange rate in a country that has a reserve collecting central bank with a policy rate, by liquidating any sovereign wealth funds or borrowing abroad and pushing up net external debt, analysts say.

By worsening external net debt levels, desires of macro-economists can be satisfied without harming monetary stability and the living standards of the population in general or nutrition of the children of the poorest sections of society by so-called exchange rate flexibility or debasement.

In Sri Lanka, potential output is now written into a brand new IMF-backed monetary law even before the first default workout is complete. Potential output is mentioned in every monetary policy statement, not stability. (Colombo/Apr20/2024)

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Sri Lanka has power breakdowns amidst extreme weather

ECONOMYNEXT – The state-owned power utility, the Ceylon Electricity Board has reported over 36,900 breakdowns resulting in power interruptions to more than 300,000 consumers in the last three days due to inclement weather in the island, the power minister said.

“Additional service staff has been assigned to attend the breakdowns and the CEB management & service staff are working 24 hours to restore power to the affected consumers,” Minister of Power and Energy, Kanchana Wijesekera said on social media platform X (twitter).

Wijesekera said consumers could report power interruptions through the CEB hotline 1987, via SMS to 1987 with BD and the electricity consumer number to follow, or use the CEB Care app, or through http://cebcare.ceb.lk.

The South-East monsoon has seen floods, landslides and strong winds do damage to the utility provider’s infrastructure in the last week. (Colombo/May23?2024)

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Sri Lanka President calls for unity, sacrificing for a better tomorrow on Vesak day

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka President Ranil Wickremesinghe has recalled a sermon from the Buddha about sacrificing for a better tomorrow, and called for unity to heal and rebuild the country, as Buddhists celebrate Vesak.

Buddhists celebrate Vesak as commemorating the birth, enlightenment and passing away of the Buddha.

“At this challenging moment, we as a nation should cultivate the same great zeal for enlightenment that Buddha exemplified, inspired by his sermon, “Maththasukha parichchaga- passé che vipulan sukhan” – to sacrifice today for a better tomorrow,” President Wickremesinghe said in his Vesak day message.

“We must remember the advice of Lord Buddha, “Sabbattha Sammanaso,” to treat everyone equally and ensure we put it into practice as a country. This is the greatest offering we can present to the Buddha on this Vesak day.

“Regardless of race, religion, caste, or political affiliation, we must all unite to heal and rebuild our country. ”

The full statement is reproduced below:

The Vesak festival is a profoundly sacred day for Buddhists worldwide, commemorating the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, and passing. Buddhists in Sri Lanka, along with their brethren around the globe, celebrate Vesak with deep devotion. They spend this period engaging in religious observances and venerating the Buddha with fervent devotion.

At this challenging moment, we as a nation should cultivate the same great zeal for enlightenment that Buddha exemplified, inspired by his sermon, “Maththasukha parichchaga- passé che vipulan sukhan” – to sacrifice today for a better tomorrow.

We must remember the advice of Lord Buddha, “Sabbattha Sammanaso,” to treat everyone equally and ensure we put it into practice as a country. This is the greatest offering we can present to the Buddha on this Vesak day. Regardless of race, religion, caste, or political affiliation, we must all unite to heal and rebuild our country. The principles of Lichchavi Raja Dharmaya will guide us in this endeavour.

Let us keep in mind that the primary aim of the Vesak festival is to foster spiritual growth and character development in a world rapidly advancing physically. I wish everyone a blessed Vesak festival.

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Sri Lanka to host foreign artistes, Sigiriya fashion show to promote tourism

ECONOMYNEXT- Sri Lanka plans to bring down international artistes, and hold water festivals to boost tourists, Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau Chairman, Chalaka Gajabahu said.

“We will be hosting a few international artists in September to December,” Gajabahu told EconomyNext.

“We would also be having a fashion show in Sigiriya.”

Sri Lanka is targeting 2.3 million tourists in the year 2024 with expectations that it may go up to 2.5 million Gajabahu said.

Sri Lanka is also planning on having a water festival in coastal towns such as Trincomalee, Arugambay  and Kalpitiya in order to showcase Sri Lanka’s capacity for watersports, Gajabahu said. (Colombo/May22/2024)

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