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Saturday December 10th, 2022

Sri Lanka Covid-19 wave to hit output, more fiscal and monetary support needed: CBSL

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka will maintain its current policy corridor of 5.50 percent to inject overnight money while a worsening third Coronavirus wave will hurt economic output, requiring more fiscal and monetary stimulus’ the central bank said.

Sri Lanka is injecting overnight money into banks which are short at 5.50 percent and is also injecting permanent or longer term cash at a 5.18 percent ceiling rate set for Treasuries auctions, which is triggering a balance of payments troubles.

“The Sri Lankan economy, which rebounded notably during the second half of 2020 and early 2021 as per available indicators, is experiencing renewed disruptions due to the emergence of the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and related preventive measures, including isolations,” the central bank said in its May monetary policy review.

“While its adverse effects on economic activity are expected to be lesser than during the first two waves due to the selective nature of mobility restrictions and the ongoing vaccination drive, the third wave has once again highlighted the disruptive nature of the pandemic and the challenges faced in sustaining the economic recovery amidst the pandemic.

“It has also highlighted the need for continued fiscal and monetary support to place the recovery process on a firm footing.”

The call came as net credit to government from the credit system rose 54 percent and net foreign assets component was a negative 1,629 percent in the year to March 2021.

Covid lockdown in most countries lead to falls in consumption, credit and reduced currency pressure.

The central bank said inflation was low and expectations were “well anchored inflation” and the Monetary Board was “committed to maintaining the current accommodative monetary policy stance to support the sustained revival of the economy”.

The full statement is reproduced below:

The Central Bank of Sri Lanka continues its accommodative monetary policy stance to support the sustained recovery of the economy

The Monetary Board of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, at its meeting held on 19 May 2021, decided to maintain the Standing Deposit Facility Rate (SDFR) and the Standing Lending Facility Rate (SLFR) of the Central Bank at their current levels of 4.50 per cent and 5.50 per cent, respectively.

The Board arrived at this decision after carefully considering the macroeconomic conditions and expected developments on the domestic and global fronts.

In the context of the prevailing low inflation environment and well anchored inflation expectations, and the renewed challenges posed by the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Board remains committed to maintaining the current accommodative monetary policy stance to support the sustained revival of the economy.

The third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the ongoing recovery of economic activity

The Sri Lankan economy, which rebounded notably during the second half of 2020 and early 2021 as per available indicators, is experiencing renewed disruptions due to the emergence of the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and related preventive measures, including isolations.

While its adverse effects on economic activity are expected to be lesser than during the first two waves due to the selective nature of mobility restrictions and the ongoing vaccination drive, the third wave has once again highlighted the disruptive nature of the pandemic and the challenges faced in sustaining the economic recovery amidst the pandemic.

It has also highlighted the need for continued fiscal and monetary support to place the recovery process on a firm footing.

The external sector remains resilient despite a multitude of challenges

The merchandise trade deficit widened in March 2021, driven by a higher increase in expenditure on imports than the increase in earnings from exports. Meanwhile, the notable increase in workers’ remittances continued during the period from January to April 2021, over the corresponding period of the previous year. However, the recent surge in the global spread of COVID-19, could affect the recovery of the tourism industry, while posing renewed challenges to the external sector.

The Sri Lankan rupee depreciated by 6.6 per cent against the US dollar thus far in 2021, and the continuation of the existing restrictions on non-essential imports and selected foreign exchange outflows is expected to help ease the pressure on the domestic foreign exchange market.

Meanwhile, the measures taken by the Government and the Central Bank helped secure foreign exchange inflows into the country, with additional standby arrangements to bolster confidence in the Sri Lankan economy. As at end April 2021, gross official reserves were estimated at US dollars 4.5 billion, equivalent to 3.2 months of imports. This does not include the bilateral currency swap facility with the People’s Bank of China (PBoC). 2

Prevailing historically low interest rates have resulted in an acceleration of private sector credit

Reflecting the gradual transmission of the monetary policy easing measures adopted by the Central Bank thus far, market interest rates have displayed a broadbased decline to their historic low levels.

The prevailing accommodative monetary policy stance and the high level of rupee liquidity maintained in the domestic market are aimed at supporting the economic recovery through the provision of affordable credit to productive sectors of the economy. Accordingly, credit extended to the private sector increased notably during the first quarter of 2021, with increased credit disbursements to all key sectors of the economy.

The introduction of priority sector lending targets for banks on lending to the micro, small and medium scale enterprises (MSME) sector will continue to provide further support for promoting credit to the needy sectors of the economy. Meanwhile, credit obtained by the public sector from the banking system continued to rise during the first quarter of 2021.

Yields on government securities also showed some increase, reflecting the impact of the increased financing requirement of the Government amidst the decline in revenue and the increase in expenditure, including pandemic related expenses. The expansion of domestic credit caused the growth of broad money (M2b) to remain elevated.

Inflation is expected to remain within 4-6 per cent range in the near to medium term, while any pressures over the medium term will be addressed with appropriate measures

Inflation remained subdued thus far in 2021, supported by well anchored inflation expectations and subdued aggregate demand conditions. While some inflationary pressures could emerge in the near term driven by supply-side disruptions due to the third wave of the pandemic as well as adverse weather conditions, inflation is expected to remain broadly within the desired target range of 4-6 per cent during the remainder of the year.

Although the effects of the fiscal and monetary stimulus measures are expected to exert some upward pressure on inflation over the medium term with the envisaged improvements in aggregate demand conditions, such pressures will be mitigated through timely measures by the Central Bank, thereby ensuring the maintenance of inflation in mid-single digit levels in the medium term, while facilitating the sustained and high economic growth in the period ahead.

Policy rates are maintained at current levels

In consideration of the current and expected macroeconomic developments highlighted above, the Monetary Board was of the view that the current accommodative monetary policy stance is appropriate. Accordingly, the Board decided to maintain the policy interest rates, i.e., Standing Deposit Facility Rate (SDFR) and the Standing Lending Facility Rate (SLFR) of the Central Bank, at their current levels of 4.50 per cent and 5.50 per cent, respectively.

The Central Bank will continue to monitor domestic and global macroeconomic and financial market developments and stand ready to take proactive measures to help the economy to sustain the growth trajectory, while maintaining inflation in the targeted 4-6 per cent range under the flexible inflation targeting framework

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Sri Lanka opposition MP sees racist agenda behind behind pro-China demonstration

TNA MP Shanakiya Rasamanickam – Image credit: Facebook

ECONOMYNEXT – A protest held outside the Chinese embassy in Colombo against opposition legislator Shanakiyan Rasamanickam was likely the work of a paid group with little knowledge of Sri Lanka’s crisis and pushing someone else’s racist agenda, the MP said.

Rasamanickam told EconomyNext on Saturday December 10 that the protestors were peddling a familiar narrative of racism.

“These people are clearly on a racist agenda. We know how this agenda plays out and we know who is behind it from before, so it’s not anything new. People can connect the dots and figure out who might be behind this protest,” he said.

The hurriedly put together demonstration seemed to be against Rasamanickam’s controversial warnings of anti-China protests in Sri Lanka over Beijing’s purported reluctance to restructure the crisis-hit island nation’s debt.

A small group of protestors including a number of Buddhist monks had gathered outside the embassy premises on Friday December 09 condemning Rasamanickam’s statement in parliament that people will take to the streets against China in a “go home, China” wave of protests similar to the “go home, Gota” protests that unseated Sri Lanka’s powerful former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

“I was actually very happy to see a protest happening against me in Colombo. This is the first time there was a protest held against me,” said Rasamanickam.

I”f you look at the group that were protesting, they are quite unaware of the current economic situation in the island,” he added.

One banner displayed by the pro-China protestors contained the words “let us strongly condemn the ‘Go home China’ statement by separatist Rasamanickam” in Sinhala, though the organisers had been careful to omit the word ‘separatist’ in the English translation of the slogan.

It is unclear at present who was behind the protest, but a placard carried by one of the protestors read “is this going from anti-Gota to anti-China”, indicating the possible involvement of pro-Rajapaksa elements.

“It looked like a paid  group of people who came with no knowledge of the country’s situation and was completely under the agenda of somebody else,” said the MP.

The Batticaloa district lawmaker claimed that some people had offered to organise a counter-protest against the pro-China demonstrators but he declined the offer.

“I refused it because the citizens aren’t silly. They are aware of their surroundings and what is going on, so we need not protest in that way,” he said.

A commotion also ensued at the demonstration when a woman started recording it on her mobile phone, prompting some of the protestors to demand that she leave. Words were exchanged, with the visibly agitated woman yelling at the protestors that they were conspiring to sell Sri Lanka to China.

What triggered the protest was an explosive remark by MP Rasamanickam on December 02 that if China were a true friend of Sri Lanka’s, it would agree to either write off the island nation’s 7.4 billion dollar debt or at least help restructure it.

Nearly a fifth of Sri Lanka’s public external debt is held by China, according to one calculation.

“If China, who has nearly 20,000 billion dollars, is truly Sri Lanka’s friend… offering 9 million litres of diesel or half a million kilos of rice isn’t real help,” said Rasamanickam, speaking in Sinhala.

“I say to China and the Chinese embassy that, as 22 million Sri Lankans irrespective of ethnic or religious differences got together to say ‘Go home, Gota’, don’t push us to a place where we will be saying ‘China, go home’,” he said.

Whatever the agenda behind Friday’s protestors, they are not alone in their opposition to Rasamanickam’s strong words against China. Main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) MP Harsha de Silva was strongly critical of the statement, insisting that Sri Lanka cooperate with all countries.

Rasamanickam told EconomyNext that his words were misrepresented.

“What I said was ex President Gotabaya Rajapaksa didn’t listen to the voices of the people and people ended up saying ‘Gota Go Home’ and if the Chinese fail to address the issues and act in the interest of the Sri Lankan community, naturally people will start opposing them also. If that happens, I simply said that I will support them because for us our country and our people are the priority,” he said, adding that his speech had raised awareness among the public of the situation.

The MP has been raising his voice in parliament and elsewhere in recent days over what he claims is a hesitance on the part of China to assist in Sri Lanka’s debt restructuring efforts. The 2.9 billion dollar extended fund facility (EFF) that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has offered to extend to the island nation is contingent upon the successful restructure of this outstanding in addition some stringent reforms that experts say are long overdue.

Colombo has been vague at best on the status of ongoing restructure talks with Sri Lanka’s creditors, and opposition lawmakers and others have expressed concern over what seems to be a worrying delay. Rasamanickam and others have claimed that China, Sri Lanka’s largest bilateral creditor, is the reason for the apparent standstill.

Meanwhile, IMF Chief Kristalina Georgieva has called on China to speed up restructuring of debt in Sri Lanka and Zambia following a meeting with the leaders of the country.

“We had a very fruitful exchange, both on the G20 Common Framework and on some specific cases,” she said in a statement after the meeting.

“We need to build on the momentum of the agreement on Chad’s debt treatment and accelerate and finalize the debt treatments for Zambia and Sri Lanka, which would allow for disbursements from the IMF and multilateral development banks,” she said. (Colombo/Dec10/2022)

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IMF chief calls on China to speed up Sri Lanka, Zambia debt overhaul

ECONOMYYNEXT- International Monetary Fund Chief Kristalina Georgieva has called on China to speed up restructuring of debt in Sri Lanka and Zambia following a meeting with the leaders of the country.

“We had a very fruitful exchange, both on the G20 Common Framework and on some specific cases,” she said in a statement after the meeting.

“We need to build on the momentum of the agreement on Chad’s debt treatment and accelerate and finalize the debt treatments for Zambia and Sri Lanka, which would allow for disbursements from the IMF and multilateral development banks.”

Sri Lanka is discussions with the Export Import Bank of China as the lead lender to the island, State Minister Shehan Semasinghe told parliament.

China has informed Sri Lanka that they will also hold bilateral discussions with the IMF and World Bank he said.

China has been asking questions from Sri Lanka and lenders were trying to assess the impact on credits to other countries as well as the domestic economy, he said.

China is a top lender to Sri Lanka along with Japan, the Asian Development Bank and Japan.

Some of China’s infrastructure loans have also been questioned for lack of proper feasibility, though a coal plant is generally acknowledged to be best investment the country has made since the 1980s and is enough to cover many since.

But China gave several so-called ‘cover up loans’ to Sri Lanka which was not linked to infrastructure or economic reforms when the country ran into forex shortages under ‘flexible inflation targeting/output gap targeting’ compounding borrowings from sovereign bond investors.

Sri Lanka calls such monetary instability linked borrowings ‘bridging finance’.

The World Bank and Asian Development Bank or Japan does not give such ‘bridging finance’ or budget support loans without reforms to expand economic activities.

Sri Lanka central government net debt (after deducting foreign reserves) which was 17 billion US dollars after almost 65 years of foreign borrowings shot up to 32 billion US dollars over 7 years of extreme monetary instability. Meanwhile foreign reserves became negative.

Resorting foreign borrowings to meet foreign repayments comes from a Mercantilist fallacy known as the ‘transfer problem’, analysts have said.

Related

Sri Lanka debt crisis trapped in spurious Keynesian ‘transfer problem’ and MMT: Bellwether

Policy makers believe that a current account surplus is magically required to make foreign repayments and not higher interest rates to curtail domestic investments and consumption which make resources available to meet such payments which will in turn reduce the imports and any current account deficit. (Colombo/Dec10/2022)

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Sri Lanka has excess rice amid malnutrition: President

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka is to harvest a good rice harvest in the upcoming main (Maha) cultivation season but paddy stocks from two previous seasons are still with farmers and collectors, President Ranil Wickremesinghe said.

“I see now that we will get a good harvest in the Maha season,” President Ranil Wickremesinghe told parliament.

“That is also a problem, because we have some leftover rice stocks from the recent Yala (minor) season and the previous Maha season.”

“Now there can be situation of excess rice, we have to protect the farmers. On the other had we will have food to reduce malnutrition.”

Sri Lanka’s rice farmers do not grow and internationally traded grade of rice and bumper harvests do not lead to export booms but calls for trade restrictions on the hungry and helpless to ‘protect’ their incomes.

Rough rice (paddy) prices have fallen to around 80 rupees a kilogram, from over 120 rupees at the height of the crisis earlier in the year when large volumes of money was injected to the banking system to sterilize interventions and pay state workers.

Food Price Crisis

Though supplies are coming back to normal, because soft-pegging macro-economists destroyed the rupee from 200 to 360 to the US dollar by printing money for two years to keep interest rates down, prices are double before from the liquidity injections or ‘stimulus’ started.

The malnutrition is coming from monetary instability involving the collapse of the anchor-conflicting ‘flexible exchange rate and not a problem in the real economy as excess food supplies show.

Related Impoverished Sri Lankans are selling assets, eating less: WFP

Sri Lanka’s chicken farmers are also looking for export opportunities.

Related Sri Lanka chicken farmers eye exports as domestic prices drop

Sri Lanka is now in the worst the worst currency crisis triggered it the history of its intermediate regime (flexible exchange rate) central bank.

With salaries not keeping pace, incomes many sectors, mostly salaried workers including daily wage earners are too low to afford food whether or not they are plentiful, leading to malnutrition especially of the children of poor families.

The phenomenon has a been a recurring problem in the country after the soft-pegged central bank was set up 72 years ago.

Before 1980, when depreciation became fashionable in Washington policy making circles (now called a flexible exchange rate and BBC policy at that time), import controls were the main threat to food supplies, not soaring prices and lagging wages.

Food Trade Controls

In the 2022 currency crisis soft-pegging macro-economist in a mistaken strategy then banned ‘open account imports’ threatening food supplies ranging from lentils to onions and sugar to wheat that usually come from South Asia and Dubai, driving up prices.

But Wickremesinghe then opened account imports, preventing a real food crisis from taking place, allowing money flowing through traditional gross settlement systems (Undiyal/Hawala) to be easily prioritized for food.

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Sri Lanka can trigger food shortages as in medicines with new trade controls

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Food imports in Sri Lanka are only around 100 to 150 million dollars a month which is about third of monthly worker remittances and about 10 percent of total exports.

However the central bank under Governor Nandalal Weerasinghe took the required action to liberalize rates allowing credit to slow and stabilize the external sector.

The government also raised energy prices to keep in line with flexible exchange rate collapse (also a recurring phenomenon) and raised taxes to reduce domestic credit (also recurring action).

President Wickremesinghe and his advisors focused their efforts on getting loans from foreign lenders to buy fertilizer for farmers after he took over as Prime Minister and later President.

Fertilizer supplies are important in a currency crisis not just to produce food as normal but the construction sector usually has to be smashed to stop balance of payments deficits and to stop the rupee from falling further.

When rural workers engaged in construction return home to farming areas availability of fertilizer will help them keep in employment.

Open Market Injections

Construction and other sectors undergo an artificial boom when a soft-pegging central bank suppresses rates with its open market operations and sells downs reserves when the currency peg comes under pressure.

Selling reserves and printing money through open market operations to stop rates going up – an action called ‘sterilized intervention’ – effectively injects what classical economists called ‘fictitious capital’ into banks and artificially pushing up credit and imports further by effectively re-financing private sector activities with central bank credit.

The new money to sterilize interventions over-extending a credit cycle and encourages more imports.

In the current crisis Sri Lanka’s Consumer Affairs Authority, by imposing price controls, disrupted sectors like poultry sector and created black markets.

President Wickremesinghe has so far not taken any actions to abolish the CAA or its price controlling powers which goes against his ‘social market economy’ strategy. (Colombo/Dec09/2022)

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