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Thursday August 18th, 2022

Sri Lanka economy grinding to a halt as monetary meltdown bites fuel imports

ECONOMYNEXT – Activities at several key economic sectors requiring transport are slowly grinding to a halt as forex shortages from continued money printing is making it difficult to finance oil imports, hitting passenger, goods transport and fisheries.

Sri Lanka’s rupee collapsed from 200 to 360 to the US dollar after two years of money printing and a failed float with a surrender requirement. Liquidity injections and interventions are continuing at the lower level with dollars borrowed from India.

Fuel and gas queues are extending with exasperated customers clashing with police and others who jump the queues.

As passenger and goods transport is disrupted, economic sectors that depend on it including farming and tourism are feeling the pinch. While fishermen are provided some fuel on priority for boats are also depended on trucking and domestic.

Thousands of private buses are off the road without fuel. State-run trains which are supplied with fuel are filled to capacity.

It is not clear when the next petrol ship will come with banks unable to open letters of credit, as people using cars and motorcycles languish in queues, but the last diesel ship from an Indian credit line has now arrived in the country.

Sri Lanka has imported fuel for the past two months with an Indian credit line with without a credible peg or floating exchange rate making to buy dollars for rupees (transfer wealth from the credit system based on the rupee monetary base to the US dollar credit system linked to the Fed).

Related Sri Lanka fuel queues claim two new deaths, taking total to 10

At least two persons died in fuel queues on June 17.

Public Transport

To save fuel the government has closed state offices on Friday and asked them to grow vegetables instead with fertilizer and diesel imports hurting commercial agriculture.

RelatedSri Lanka state offices shut on Fridays for home garden leave

Minister of Transport Bandula Gunawardena told reporters Thursday, that fuel for private buses will be allocated from two fuel stations in Bastian Road in the capital Colombo but, television footage showed that buses in queues with no fuel.

Gemunu Wijeratne, President of Lanka Private Bus Owners Association says buses and drivers are spending most of their time on diesel queues instead of on the road carrying passengers.

Wijeratne said some priority has been promised for public transport and if state-run Ceylon Petroleum Corporation is able to allocate 600,000 liters of diesel per day for the buses, transportation can facilitate 40 million people while running at 50 percent of the capacity.

“With the ministry distributing the incoming fuel according to a priority list the diesel we are getting will be sufficient for the next two weeks,” Wijeratne told reporters on June 16.

“We heard that the CPC does not have any Petrol at the moment making the public transport the main transport for people. If we get 600,000 litres per day, we can facilitate 40 million people who use transport. That is also by operating only 50 percent of the capacity.”

There are emerging complaints of absenteeism and some firms are encouraging work from home.

CROWDED: An overloaded bus in a suburb of Colombo, leaning sideways with passengers clinging to the foot board.

Farming produce that is coming to main cities and economic centres are disrupted from diesel shortages.

Also hit are goods that move to the provinces from central wholesale markets in the capital, which includes imports.

“We are coming from Matara,” a crew member from a dry food truck operating from Colombo to the Southern Province, told EconomyNext.

“We stayed for several days to get the diesel to come on this trip from Matara, after we go today, we are cannot confirmation whether we will return tomorrow or not, because of diesel shortage”.

Sri Lanka’s food prices have risen 57 percent over a year according to official data and rice prices have doubled amid import restrictions.

Interventionist soft-peg

The prices of some fish prices have trebled in some cases after the rupee collapsed against the US dollar following monetary and fiscal ‘stimulus’.

The countries economic woes running back to 1950 can be traced to its intermediate regime central bank built by a US money doctor in the style of Argentina’s BCRA. (How Sri Lanka, Latin America was busted by Fed money doctors creating strongmen, anti-Americanism)

Under ‘flexible’ policy involving aggressive open market operations, anchor conflicts inherent in intermediate regimes (targeting exchange rates to collect or sell forex reserves while printing money to target interest rates) worsened from 2015.

Sri Lanka is undergoing the worst currency crisis in the history of its intermediate regime or soft-pegged central bank after it mis-targeted interest rates under ‘flexible inflation targeting’ with a ‘flexible exchange rate’.

The flexible exchange in Sri Lanka has turned out to be an extreme form of soft-peg with aggressive floating rate style monetary policy.

Since intensified flexible policy began in 2015 the rupee has fallen from 131 to 360 in three consecutive currency crises where forex shortages were covered by foreign borrowings.

Currency crise are peculiar to soft-pegs or flexible exchange rates they do not take place in single anchor regimes involving clean floats or currency boards.

However the country’s economists have stubbornly rejected either regimes sometimes spreading falsehoods to maintain an intermediate regime.

The central bank is negotiating its 17th program with the International Monetary Fund, since soft-pegging began in 1950.

For the duration of an IMF program, the central bank is forced to collect reserves to repay the Fund under a Net International Reserve target, making it impossible to run a clean float and operate a single anchor inflation targeting regime, analysts say.

Related

Sri Lanka facing 2021 with reckless MMT, stimulus mania: Bellwether

Sri Lanka’s monetary meltdown will accelerate unless quick action is taken: Bellwether

Sri Lanka is not Greece, it is a Latin America style soft-peg: Bellwether

In the latest crisis, after defaulting on foreign debt, authorities are looking for 6 billion dollars in new borrowings.

Fishing

Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera says fuel is distributed daily to fishery harbhours though it may not be the full requirement as each multi-day fishing boat requires several thousand litres for a trip.

When boats return, the transport of fish is also threatened.

The Ministry of Fisheries said all efforts were being made to supply kerosene and diesel to fishermen though the volumes were sharply below requirements.

“We are currently supplying fuel according to the stocks we receive, to the fishing fuel station around the country,” Nelson Edirisinghe, media secretary to the ministry of fisheries told EconomyNext.

“However, we doubt whether we can meet the entire demand”

Fishing boats need around 900,000 liters of kerosene a day but the Ceylon Fishery Harbhours Corporation gets only around 300,000, Edirisinghe said.

“So the distribution is being done according to the supply we get. Some harbors do not have a fuel station, so they are being supplied by other fuel stations or in alternative ways” Edirisinghe said.

Fish prices are moving up as the currency collapse by the soft-pegged central bank alters the price structure of the economy.

Minister of Fisheries, Douglas Devananda had discussed with the exporters in the industry to obtain the necessary dollars to purchase fuel needed by the fishing boats in an attempt to dollarize the sector.

Partial dollarization is already taking place in the economy.

This week Energy Minister Wijesekera said jet fuel imports and sales which are about 50 million US dollars will be outsourced to a third party reducing the foreign exchange burden on the CPC. (Colombo/June17/2022 – Update II)

Comments (1)

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  1. Trevor Jayetileke says:

    If I was still the Adviser to the Petroleum Resources Development Ministry, Sri Lanka would be having US$ coming through its ears, but I could not suffer fools.
    Oil Exploration program Phase 2, which started in 2001 has only drilled 4 oil wells. I quit in disgust in March 2014 and no wells have been drilled since? Fools can’t walk the talk??

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Comments (1)

Your email address will not be published.

  1. Trevor Jayetileke says:

    If I was still the Adviser to the Petroleum Resources Development Ministry, Sri Lanka would be having US$ coming through its ears, but I could not suffer fools.
    Oil Exploration program Phase 2, which started in 2001 has only drilled 4 oil wells. I quit in disgust in March 2014 and no wells have been drilled since? Fools can’t walk the talk??

Sri Lanka rupee, yields in govt securities slightly changed

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka Central Bank’s guidance peg for interbank transactions weakened on Thursday (18) and yields in Treasury bonds picked up slightly while in T-bill edged down in dull trade after the central bank kept key monetary policy rates steady, dealers said.

On Thursday, before the market opened, the central bank held its key policy rates steady at 15.50 percent, while data showed market interest rates are close to twice the rate of them while private credit and imports falling as a consequence.

The central bank is injecting 740 billion rupees of overnight money to banks at 15.50 percent, which were originally injected mostly after reserves were sold for imports (or debt repayments) to artificially keep down rates (sterilized interventions), effectively engaging in monetary financing of imports.

The injections (sterilizing outflows) prevent the credit system from adjusting to the outflows and encourage unsustainable credit without deposits, which is the core problem with soft-pegged central banks, triggering a high rate and an economic slowdown later.

A bond maturing on 01. 06. 2025 closed at 27.90/28.00 percent, slightly up from 27.75/90 percent on Wednesday.

The three-months bill closed at 28.30/29.25 percent, down from 29.25/30 percent on Wednesday.

Sri Lanka’s central bank announced a guidance peg for interbank transactions weakened by one cent to 360.97 rupees against the US dollar on Thursday from 360.96 rupees.

Data showed that commercial banks offered dollars for telegraphic transfers between 367.97 and 370.00 for small transactions.  (Colombo/ Aug 18/2022)

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Japan grants medical equipment worth 500-mn yen to Sri Lanka govt hospital

ECONOMYNEXT –  The  Japanese government has granted medical equipment worth 500 million Japanese yen to the Sri Jayawardenepura government hospital to improve the hospital’s treatment facilities under Japan’s Non-Project Grant Aid Programme.

A statement by the Department of External Resources said the grant was given in response to a request by Sri Lanka’s government.

Under the 500 million Japanese yen (approximately 1,265 million rupees) grant assistance, angio-CT machine, other radiology equipment, ophthalmic instruments, surgical instrument sets (stainless steel with satin finish), 15 dental units with accessories, liver transplant instrument sets, and a cardiac catheterization laboratory will be provided, a statement said on Thursday August 18.

Sri Lanka due to its worst economic crisis in its post-independence history is currently facing shortages of essential medicine, non-essential and lifesaving medicines pressuring the health sector to only attend to emergency cases to preserve available limited medicine stocks.

On Thursday at the policy rate announcement media briefing by the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL), Governor Nandalal Weerasinghe said, with the strict measures taken in the recent past, Sri Lanka is currently managing the limited forex income coming into the country to purchase essential goods such as fuel and medicine.

Sri Lanka has received various grants from several countries including China and India which gave a 200 million US dollar credit line to purchase medicine from India.

In June, Minister of Health Keheliya Rambukwella said there is no shortage of vital medicines in the country and all medicines will be restocked by August 2022. However, shortages of medicine aer still being reported in various hospitals islandwide.

“This improvement at the hospital will facilitate the enhancement of the quality of the care provided especially to the patients with non-communicable diseases while enabling high quality medical professional training to medical undergraduates and postgraduates from the National School of Nursing at the aculty of Medical Sciences of the University of Sri Jayawardenepura,” the External Resources Department statement said.

“This project will eventually assist the development of human resources of the health sector in Sri Lanka,” it said. (Colombo/Aug18/2022)

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Sri Lanka immigration on the hunt for Scotswoman who documented protests

Kayleigh Fraser via @kayzfraser Instagram

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Immigration and Emigration Department is attempting to track down Kayleigh Fraser, the Scotswoman who documented the country’s anti government protests.

Fraser was ordered to leave the island on or before Monday August 15 after officials cancelled her visa. She and her lawyer had filed a writ petition against her deportation with the Supreme Court, which was dismissed on the grounds that she was not being deported deported, only had her visa cancelled.

“The learned State Council submits that the impugned document ‘X4’ is not a deportation order as claimed by the petitioner and she confirmed that no deportation order has been made up to date by the authorities against the petitioner,” a court document shared by Fraser said.

Immigration officials stated that the police and SSD were on the lookout for Fraser.

“Her visa was cancelled on August 15, so we are looking to put her in a detention camp until she can get a ticket to leave the country,” the official told EconomyNext, confirming that Fraser was not getting deported but that her visa was cancelled.

“Legally we cannot give her a grace period, but on a humanitarian basis, we can give her the time to get a ticket,” the official said.

Fraser had used her social media to share pictures and videos of the anti-government protests in front of the Presidential Secretariat, and has been vocal against state sanctioned violence against protestors.

“Given what I have witnessed here in Colombo – the chemical weapons attacks on protestors, the government instructing the military to beat and torture protestors, the arbitrary arrests and blackmailing of prominent faces from the protests, intimidation tactics and threats etc – I should not be surprised at what has happened today,” she said, speaking to the Daily Record, a Scottish tabloid.

There were no reports of chemical weapons being used against any protestors in Sri Lanka, and it is unclear whether Fraser was erroneously referring to tear gas which was used to disperse crowds.

Fraser also called out media channels who she claimed had attempted to misrepresent peaceful protests as violent.

“It became very clear to me early on that this was not being reported. There was no international coverage on what was happening, and the media here were very much trying to say that it was violent, but that is the absolute opposite of what I saw,” she said over social media.

“What I saw was a beautiful union [of people] coming together in absolute unity. It was a beautiful movement and I’ve never seen anything like that in my life and that kept me coming back.”

However, Sri Lanka’s authorities maintain that the arrests so far have been legal and that violence did occur on the part of some protestors, though activists and some civil society groups disagree. On May 09, after supporters of then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa launched an unprovoked attack on peaceful protestors in Colombo, a wave of retaliatory mob-violence erupted across the country which saw the residences of some parliamentarians torched to the ground. One government MP was killed.

Authorities say many of the arrests so far have been of protestors who had violated court orders or had illegally occupied government buildings.

Fraser continues to post on her social media. (Colombo/Aug18/2022)

 

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