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Sunday July 14th, 2024

Sri Lanka Insurance ‘CCC+’ rating confirmed, new Grand Hyatt investment to weaken RBC

ECONOMYNEXT – Fitch Ratings has confirmed a ‘CCC+’ rating of state-run Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation saying proposed ‘super gains tax’ will reduce profits and a 6 billion rupee investment in Grand Hyatt will reduce risk based capital ratios.

Sri Lanka Insurance had strong risk based capital (RBC) ratios of of 434 percent for life and 241 percent for non-life which were above industry average and regulatory requirements.

“Fitch believes SLIC’s additional investment of LKR6 billion in the Grand Hyatt project, as directed by the Sri Lankan government, will weaken the RBC ratios,” the rating agency said.

“…[H]owever, the impact will be manageable because of the insurer’s large total available capital base.”

SLIC had invested two billion rupees out of the six by May 2021.

The Grand Hyatt project was one of several private firms expropriated by the government in 2011, undermining Sri Lanka’s investment framework.

Fitch Affirms Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation’s IFS Ratings at ‘CCC+’/’AA(lka)’

Fitch Ratings – Colombo/Sydney – 24 Nov 2021: Fitch Ratings has affirmed the Insurer Financial Strength (IFS) Rating of Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation Limited (SLIC) at ‘CCC+’. Fitch typically does not apply Outlooks to ratings in the ‘CCC’ category or below.

The agency has simultaneously affirmed SLIC’s National IFS Rating at ‘AA(lka)’ with a Stable Outlook.

KEY RATING DRIVERS

SLIC’s ratings reflect its ‘Favourable’ business profile and its high exposure to sovereign-related investments, equity securities and non-core subsidiaries. The ratings also factor in the insurer’s capital position and financial performance that are better than that of the domestic insurance industry.

Fitch assesses SLIC’s business profile as ‘Favourable’ compared with other Sri Lankan insurance companies because of the leading business franchise, diversified participation and stable business lines across life and non-life insurance sectors, and the large domestic operating scale. SLIC was Sri Lanka’s second-largest life and non-life insurer, based on gross premiums in 1H21 and the largest in terms of total assets. In light of the market rankings, Fitch scores SLIC’s business profile at ‘b-‘ under our credit-factor scoring guidelines on the international rating scale.

SLIC’s high exposure to sovereign and sovereign-related investments caps its investment and asset risk score on the international rating scale at ‘cc’ under Fitch’s credit-factor scoring guidelines. The insurer’s Fitch-calculated risky assets ratio on the international rating scale was 529% in 2020 (2019: 275%), an increase due mainly to the downgrade of the Sri Lankan sovereign rating to ‘CCC’ from ‘B-‘ on 27 November 2020.

SLIC’s regulatory risk-based capital (RBC) ratios of 434% for life and 241% for non-life at end-1H21 were well above the industry average and the 120% regulatory minimum.

Fitch believes SLIC’s additional investment of LKR6 billion in the Grand Hyatt project, as directed by the Sri Lankan government, will weaken the RBC ratios; however, the impact will be manageable because of the insurer’s large total available capital base. The insurer had already invested LKR2 billion out of the total additional requirement of LKR6 billion in May 2021.

Fitch’s Prism Model score dropped one level to ‘Somewhat Weak’ in 2020, from ‘Adequate’ in 2019, due mainly to the increased investment risks on the international rating scale as a result of the downgrade of the sovereign rating. Fitch views SLIC’s Prism Model score as commensurate with the international IFS Rating.

Fitch expects the government’s proposal on 12 November 2021 to introduce a 25% one-off tax on companies with taxable income over LKR2 billion for the fiscal year ended 31 March 2021, if implemented, may put pressure on near-term earnings and limit capital accumulation.

In addition, the government’s proposed introduction in 2022 of the 2.5% social security contribution on annual turnover exceeding LKR120 million, may affect earnings.

SLIC’s underwriting profitability, however, is supported by its scale advantages and prudent underwriting practices. The insurer has consistently maintained its Fitch-calculated non-life
combined ratio below 100% for the past six years. The ratio improved to 88% in 2020 (2019: 95%) before normalising to 98% in 1H21. The improvement in 2020 was due mainly to reduced non-life insurance claims following Covid-19 lockdowns. SLIC’s three-year average return on equity of 10% was satisfactory.

RATING SENSITIVITIES

Factors that could, individually or collectively, lead to negative rating action/downgrade:

IFS Rating

– A further increase in SLIC’s investment and asset risks on a sustained basis;

– Significant weakening in SLIC’s business profile, for instance, due to a weaker franchise, operating scale or business risk profile;

– Deterioration in the Fitch Prism Model score to well below ‘Somewhat Weak’ for a sustained period;

– Failure to maintain underwriting profitability for a sustained period.
National IFS Rating

– Significant weakening in SLIC’s business profile, for instance, due to a weaker franchise, operating scale or business risk profile;

– Deterioration in the RBC ratio below 350% for life and 200% for non-life for a sustained period;

– Deterioration in the non-life combined ratio well above 100% for a sustained period.

Factors that could, individually or collectively, lead to positive rating action/upgrade:

IFS Rating

– Significant reduction in SLIC’s investment and asset risks on a sustained basis;

– Sustained maintenance of SLIC’s ‘Favourable’ business profile;

– Maintenance of the Fitch Prism Model score well into the ‘Somewhat Weak’ level on a sustained basis.
National IFS Rating

– Significant reduction in SLIC’s investment and asset risks on a sustained basis while maintaining its ‘Favourable’ business profile and capitalisation at current levels.

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UNESCO DG to discuss archaeological endeavours in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka: President

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s president has said that he will discuss initiatives for long-term archaeological endeavours in the Anuradhapura city with visiting UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay.

Azoulay will visit Sri Lanka from July 16-19 and take part at the celebration of the 75th Anniversary of Sri Lanka’s membership of UNESCO at the Nelum Pokuna Theatre in Colombo.

She will also travel to UNESCO World Heritage Sites around the island, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.

“I have invited the Director General of UNESCO to visit Sri Lanka and discuss initiatives for long-term archaeological endeavours in the Anuradhapura city. Several universities overseas have shown interest in supporting us for these activities, and we are moving forward with their collaboration,” Ranil Wickremesinghe said.

“Anuradhapura boasts a rich history spanning over a millennium, once renowned as a hub of trade and economics. Preserving and exploring this ancient city’s archaeological treasures remains a significant endeavour.”

“New archaeological efforts in the Anuradhapura district are now imperative,” Wickremesinghe said during a ceremony to inaugurate a 150-kilowatt solar power system installed by the LTL Group at the Sri Maha Bodhiya premises in Anuradhapura on Saturday (13).

Wickremesinghe pointed out that UNESCO has undertaken extensive archaeological projects in Angkor Thom in Cambodia, and Luang Prabang in Laos.

“However, we have not taken the necessary steps to implement these activities in Anuradhapura city. Therefore, I have advised both the Department of Archaeology and the Cultural Triangle to undertake these initiatives.”

These efforts are part of a comprehensive program aimed at establishing Anuradhapura as a globally renowned city, Wickremesinghe said.

While Sigiriya has gained international fame, Sri Lanka has not adequately highlighted Anuradhapura’s historical significance as a major trade and economic center in the past, the president pointed out.

“Cities like Tanjore (Thanjavur), Madurai, and Sanchipuram are often discussed, yet Anuradhapura, the fourth city, has been overlooked. Therefore, it is crucial to develop Anuradhapura city.”

As part of these initiatives, preparations are underway to establish new hotels in Anuradhapura, which will contribute significantly to its development, Wickremesinghe said. (Colombo/Jul13/2024)

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Government committed to improving living conditions in Jaffna: Sri Lanka PM

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s prime minister, who is in Jaffna “to monitor the progress” and “get a little feedback” has said the government is committed to improving living conditions of the people in the northern peninsula.

“This government is dedicated to improving the living conditions of the Jaffna Peninsula,” Dinesh Gunawardena told a Jaffna District Coordinating Committee meeting on Friday, according to a statement by his media division.

“In order to increase the living conditions, we have embarked on an increase in most of the expenditure needed by the departments, and also special allocations for rural and urban development in the local government area.”

Nationalist Gunawardena met with Tamil politicians at the Jaffna Divisional Secretariat Office and participated in the distribution of rice and egg incubators for low income families.

“A special privilege to be with you all, in order to monitor the progress made by all of you, as well as to get a little feedback where we stand today in relation to the reports given.”

Gunawardena joins a string of leading political figures who have visited the north ahead of upcoming polls.

The government was, he said, “committed to improve the services and living conditions, therefore, to provide the necessary infrastructure for developments, which means much to your area.”

The prime minister said he appreciated the efforts of farmers because “farmers are all private sector, I would say. Let us not forget, farmers are all in the private sector, either in the ownership or in the tenancy. They are private contributors to the national development of the economy.”

The poverty numbers are “fairly managed” in the country. Gunawardena said, pointing out that poverty was a key problems in any economy. “Any country, you would agree with me, the richest country, in the United States even, food stamps have been given. So all economies the world are going through difficult situations in relation to the poor.

“We have to look after the poor especially in these remote villages of the Northern Province…”

Minister Douglas Devanada, MPs M A Sumanthiran, Angajan Ramanathan, C Vigneshwaran, Dharmalingam Siddharthan, and other officials participated in the meeting. (Colombo/Jul13/2024)

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Sri Lanka leader’s presidential campaign faces dilemma over coalition: sources

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka leader Ranil Wickremesinghe’s presidential election campaign is facing a dilemma over coalition due to rivalry parties with different political ideologies, sources said.

President Wickremesinghe is yet to announce his candidacy for the presidential poll which is expected to be declared by the island nation’s Election Commission after July 17.

However, his close allies and some ministers in the current coalition government have already started a campaign to promote him assuming that President Wickremesinghe will declare his candidacy.

Three sources who spoke to EconomyNext said legislators from the main opposition center-right Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) are ready to join, but they do not want to be in coalition with the ruling Sri Lanka Podujna Peramuna (SLPP).

“SJB members who want to join Wickremesinghe are bit nervous because people wanted to oust SLPP in 2022 for their past sins including corruption and wrong economic policies,” on source who is in a member in the core campaign strategy group told EconomyNext.

Another source said majority of nationalist party SLPP are with the president, but a few key SLPP leaders do not want to back Wickremesinghe because of his market-led economic policies.

“SLPP does not want to be seen as backing Wickremesinghe’s privatization moves. So a few leaders are worried to join the campaign and have different idea of fielding their own campaign,” the second source who is indirectly involved with facilitating meeting between Wickremesinghe and legislators said.

The SJB is leaned towards somewhat liberal economic policies and has ensured to treat all ethnic people equally, while SLPP has backed a state-controlled economy and has given priority for ethnic majority Sinhala Buddhists.

UNDECIDED VOTERS

There is no formal and transparent survey to assess the popularity of possible presidential candidates.

However, an informal survey shows Opposition and SJB leader Sajith Premadasa is leading followed by Marxists Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna leader Anura Kumara Dissanayaka.

The same survey has shown a gradual gain for Wickremesinghe in the last three months.

“He is confident of winning, but he has to win most of the undecided voters for that,” a third source, who is in the campaign planning team, said.

“Still things are very fluid. Majority of the people still don’t understand the benefits of economic recovery and the country getting out of the debt default under the current president. We will have a clear picture by end of next month.”

Wickremesinghe was elected as the president in July 2022 by the parliament after his predecessor Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country in fear of his life amid mass protests and outside the presidential palace.

Wickremesinghe has implemented some tough economic reforms including raising taxes, imposing new taxes, freezing recruitments to state-owned companies, and privatizing loss making government-owned entities in line with commitments agreed with the IMF.

UNPOPULOUR REFORMS

Those reforms have made him unpopulour mainly among government employees and lower income groups.

He has raised the salaries of government employees from April this year while has introduced a new transfer payment called Aswesuma for lower income and vulnerable groups.

Sri Lanka faced an unprecedented economic crisis with a sovereign debt default in 2022. But it has recovered faster than expected under Wickremesinghe administration with difficult and unpopulour reforms.

People protested against the SLPP-led government in 2022 and ousted then leader Gotabaya Rajapaksa and all his relatives from the key ministerial positions for their alleged involvement in corruption and wrong economic policies.

The SLPP which had more than two-third majority in the parliament after 2020 general election, is worried about its perception and electoral performance after the economic crisis.

Analysts say Wickremesinghe has a greater chance to win if he join with SJB than SLPP because of the SLPP’s negative perception.

Sources, however, said they are in discussions with both SLPP and SJB legislators to agree on a common programme for Wickremesinghe’s presidency.

Presidential election is likely to be held either in October first week or second week, Election Commission officials say.

Wickremesinghe lost the parliamentary election in 2020, but entered the parliament in 2021 using the solo seat his party won through the national list.  (Colombo/July 13/2024)

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