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Tuesday January 31st, 2023

Sri Lanka CPC demand end to circular debt in power amid forex crisis

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s state run Ceylon Petroleum Corporation is seeking an end to ‘circular debt’ from the island’s power utility as losses of the utility due to controlled prices is landing on the petroleum firm as unpaid debt.

Sri Lanka is facing sporadic power cuts in January as the utility runs out of fuel with a 300 MegaWatt coal plant out of commission, while its debt to the CPC is mounting due to losses.

The losses are then funded by borrowings from state banks or suppliers.

Circular Debt

Energy utility debt ratchets up every time the Central Bank prints money to keep interest rates down, which also cause forex shortages and eventually currency collapses, adding to the loses and never ending ‘SOE price reforms’.

In countries with soft-dollar pegs that print money and run into forex crises and end up in the International Monetary Fund, ‘circular debt’ between petroleum and power utilities and the power utilities, and the Independent Power Producers continue to build up in each credit cycle.

The losses of the utilities mount as the Fed prints money and drives energy prices up in loose policy. As the Fed later tightens policy the currency of a soft-pegged central bank collapses, adding more losses to the state owned power and petroleum utilities.

Energy prices are then hiked in ‘SOE pricing reforms’ and two to three years later the central bank again prints money to keep rates down and the rupee falls again, leading to never ending ‘price reforms’ amid forex crises.

With no political will or knowledge to reform the central bank to restrain the arbitrary powers of the Monetary Board to keep rates down, the cycle keeps repeating with the currency peg usually collapsing each time US Federal Reserve tightens policy – which is usually every 4 to 5 years.

Pakistan and Sri Lanka, which have the worst central banks in the region are the top victims of circular debt.

Sri Lanka again facing forex shortages as money is printed to keep interest rates at 6.0 percent, which is half the 12.1 percent inflation seen in the 12 months ending December 2021.

Most of the money is now being printed to sterilize interventions in the forex market to clear fuel and other items (giving reserves for imports).

Sri Lanka central bank’s inflation is currently is just that of the State Bank of Pakistan.

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In Sri Lanka however the losses are now coming mostly from the power sector and not fuel, which has seen two price increases, despite the current administration coming to power based on a promise to fix fuel prices.

Sri Lanka’s power regulator has failed to raise tariffs of the Ceylon Electricity Board or have a mechanism to pass on higher fuel costs when liquid fuel plants are used or global prices go up.

Sri Lanka has also blocked a cheaper coal plant partly egged on by renewable energy activists undermining the long term generation plan of the utility and landing the country in a crisis, critics say.

Lack of price hikes in recent years to compensate for the loss of the coal plant has further worsened the finances of the CEB.

In an unusual cascading policy error, which has been repeated in Sri Lanka CPC has in the past funded its losses with dollar debt when the central bank prints money to create forex shortages, with the utility also barred from buying dollars.

As a result the CPC ran massive ‘Nick Leeson losses’ each time the currency collapses due to money printing. In the 2018 money printing cycle, it ran up dollar debt when the central bank printed money and a massive forex loss when the rupee collapsed.

Energy Prices

Unlike the regulated prices of the CEB, the CPC whose pricing is under the control of the Treasury has made multiple price hikes as money printing depreciated the rupee and global prices went up in the intervening period.

The CPC has in the past also kept furnace oil to CEB fixed, when global prices fell.

The CEB has overdue payments of 91 billion rupees to Ceylon Petroleum Corporation.

“By April – May 2020, CEB had to settle around 86 billion rupees for the fuel they purchased,” CPC Chairman Sumith Wijesinghe told reporters.

“With the Covid situation, the Finance Ministry provided 50 billion rupees to the CEB to settle their debts. CEB used some of that money to settle the debt to us and with that the debt decreased to around 41- 45 billion rupees in 2020.

“But in 2021, with the amount they purchased on credit, now have a debt of 91 billion rupees’ debt to the CEYPETCO. We were discussion on how they can settle this. But now we are discussing on how to get the diesel to the CEB.”

Wijesinghe said, despite the debt, CEYPETCO will provide the necessary amount of diesel to generate power for the next four days; however they have asked the CEB to provide money to purchase diesel they want in future weeks.

“Today to import one litre of diesel it cost 146 rupees. But we sell it to 121 rupees, even for the CEB. So we are having a loss of 25 rupees per litre when selling,” Wijesinghe said.

“CEB is also running on loss when they sell electricity. So they have to calculate how much money is needed to import diesel and the loss will make by both state owned companies.”

Wijesinghe said, CEYPETCO is supplying 1500 metric tons of diesel per day for electricity generation.

Not Original Plan

However the state-run Ceylon Petroleum Corporation said the CEB had not originally asked for furnace oil in January 2021. CPC had earlier shut down its refinery saying furnace oil was not required.

“The CEB plan for the January, 2022, was to generate power through hydro, solar wind and coal,” Ceylon Petroleum Corporation Chairman Sumith Wijesinghe told reporters.

“That was their expectation. However, with the sudden break down in Norochcholai coal power plant, 300 MegaWatts of power was lost to the main grid.

“To fulfill that they needed to start the Kelanitissa power plant. That is why a demand for fuel increased.”

Sri Lanka has been facing sporadic power cuts as fuel to the Kelanissa Combined Cycle Plant ran out. On Tuesday a gas turbine also tripped due suspected low fuel pressure.
(Colombo/ Jan 14/2021)

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Sri Lanka shares down for 2nd day as tax hike, delay in Chinese debt assurance weigh

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s shares edged down on Tuesday as worries over delay in financial assurances from China which is mandatory for a $2.9 billion dollar IMF loan and rise in protests against tax hike kept investors in check, analysts said.

The main All Share Price Index (ASPI) edged down by 0.28 percent or 24.62 points to 8,865.05. It fell for the second session after hitting more than three-month high.

“The market is looking for more macro cues because of faster Chinese debt assurance was expected. The market is also hit by fall in corporate earnings due to high taxes,” an analyst said.

China has given an initial response on debt re-structuring to Sri Lanka though analysts familiar with the process say it is not a ‘hard assurance’ sufficient for the IMF program to go through.

The International Monetary Fund is working with China on extending maturities of Chinese loans to defaulted countries like Sri Lanka, as there is resistance to hair-cuts, Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva told reporters on January 14.
The earnings for first quarter are expected to be negative for many corporates with higher taxes and rising costs. However, investors had not expected earnings to be low in the December quarter because of year end pick ups on heavy counters, the analyst said.
Earnings in the second quarter of 2023 are expected to be more positive with the anticipation of IMF loan and possible reduction in the market interest rates as the tax revenue has started to generate funds.

However, the central bank said the IMF deal is likely in the first quarter or in the first month of the second quarter.

The most liquid index S&P SL20 dropped by 0.64 percent or 17.74 points to 2,764.51 points.

The central bank has said it could cut interest rates in future when the country sees fall in inflation, which has already started decelerating.

The market saw a turnover of 1.7 billion rupees, slightly lower than the month’s daily average of 1.8 billion rupees and while being significantly lower than 2022’s daily average turnover of 2.9 billion rupees.

The bourse saw a net foreign inflow (NFI) of 93 million rupees extending the net offshore buying to 413 million rupees so far this year.

Top losers were LOLC, Royal Ceramics Limited and Hayleys. (Colombo/Jan31/2023)

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Sri Lanka exports fall in December as global recession weighs

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s merchandise exports earnings fell 9.7 percent in December year-on-year as the island nation saw a drop in buying from its key export destinations which are facing a looming recession after the Russia-Ukraine war.

The earnings from the merchandise exports recorded $1.04 billion  in December 2022 compared to the same month in the previous year as per the data released by the Sri Lanka Customs.

“This was mainly due to the decrease in export earnings from Apparel & Textiles, Tea, Rubber based Products, and Coconut based Products, Food & Beverages, Spices & Essential Oils and Fisheries products,” the Export Development Board (EDB) said in a statement.

“The reason for this decline was due to the ongoing recession in major markets due to rising cost of production, energy etc. Imports declined sharply due to inflation and demand for goods and services are reduced.”

However, Sri Lanka saw a record export earning of $13.1 billion in 2022 due to increased demand in the key exports throughout the year

Earnings from all major product sectors except Electrical & Electronic components as well as Diamonds, Gems & Jewellery fell in December.

Exports of Apparel & Textiles decreased by 9.6 percent to $480.3 million in December 2022.  Export earnings from Tea fell by 3 percent to $107.3 million, Rubber and Rubber Finished products dropped 20.3 percent to $74.5 million,

However, export earnings from the Electrical & Electronics Components increased by 16.18 percent to $42.9 million in December 2022, while Diamond, Gems & Jewelry jumped 35.7 percent to $30.8 million. (Colombo/Jan31/2023)

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Sri Lanka records over 6,000 dengue cases in first three weeks of January

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka recorded over than 6,000 dengue cases in the first three weeks of January 2023 after a spell of heavy monsoon rain though a drop in cases is likely from February, officials said.

Health officials identified 6,204 dengue patients by January 22, up from 5,793 recorded in the corresponding period last year.

“A rise in cases can be observed in the November-January period with the heavy rain due to the northeast monsoon,” an official from the National Dengue Control Unit told EconomyNext.

Of all reported cases, 46.3 percent were from the Western Province, official reports showed.

Akuressa, Batticaloa, Eravur, Trincomalee, Madampe, Badulla, Eheliyagoda, Kegalle, Kalmunai North and Alayadivembu MOH areas were identified as high-risk areas for dengue during the third week of January by the health officials.

“We are expecting a decline in dengue cases soon. The Western province is always in the top position with the highest number of dengue cases. Apart from that, we are seeing a higher number of cases during this period in areas like Puttalam, Jaffna districts. A certain number of cases have also been recorded in the Kandy district,” the official said.

“Usually the cases peak in December, but they decline by February. This year, too, we are facing this scenario. There is an increase of dengue during the months of November, December and January”.

Due to the economic situation in the country, the Public Health Inspectors (PHIs) in an earlier report said, diesel and pesticides are not being provided by the ministry.

However, rejecting the allegation, the official from the NDCU said the government has provided enough funds for get the necessary pesticides but it is being used according to a scientific method to avoid building a resistance in the dengue mosquito.

“The recommendation is to do the fogging if there is a dengue outbreak or if there are few patients reported from the same locality.

“If you use this pesticide haphazardly, the mosquitos will develop resistance against it,” the official said, adding that there are adequate stocks of the chemical available. (Colombo/ Jan 31/2023)

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