ECONOMYNEXT – Fitch has downgraded Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation Limited’s (SLIC) insurer Financial Strength (IFS) Rating to ‘CC’, from ‘CCC+’, and has placed the rating on watch for downgrade due to risk from forex shortages from a broken soft-peg.
“The downgrade reflects the probability that ceased or interrupted payments could occur on SLIC’s foreign-currency obligations due to weak foreign-currency liquidity in the local banking system,” Fitch said.
“Fitch believes counterparty risk of SLIC’s foreign-currency assets have risen following recent negative rating action on the Sri Lanka sovereign and various financial institutions.”
Sri Lanka has an intermediate regime central bank which has been triggering currency crises with increasing frequency since the end of a civil war (2011/12, 2015/16, 2018 and 2020/22) which sent the rupee from 113 to 340 so far.
Fitch said counterparty risk of SLIC’s foreign-currency assets have risen following recent negative rating action on the Sri Lanka sovereign and various financial institutions.
The rating agency said the heightened investment risks and earnings pressure could affect SLIC’s regulatory capital profile.
“SLIC’s Fitch-calculated risky asset ratio is partly driven by the insurer’s large investment in listed and unlisted equities'” Fitch said.
“Fitch believes the recent five-day closure of the Colombo Stock Exchange undermines the liquidity of SLIC’s listed investments, especially if such closures become recurrent,”
Fitch said, it weak operating environment will affect the firm’s earning and growth in motor insurance , the largest contributor to non-life premiums will remain subdued due to the continuation of the government’s ban on auto imports, imposed in 2020 to control currency depreciation is expected.
The full statement is reproduced below
Fitch Downgrades Sri Lanka Insurance Corp’s IFS to’CC’; Places IFS, ‘AA(lka)’ National IFS on RWN
Fitch Ratings – Sydney/Hong Kong – 21 Apr 2022: Fitch Ratings has downgraded Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation Limited’s (SLIC) Insurer Financial Strength (IFS) Rating to’CC’, from ‘CCC+’, and has placed the rating on Rating Watch Negative (RWN).
SLIC’s National IFS Rating of ‘AA(lka)’ has also been placed on RWN.
Fitch has also taken rating action on seven other Sri Lankan insurers; please see FitchPlaces Seven Sri Lankan Insurers on Rating Watch Negative, published 21 April 2022.
KEY RATING DRIVERS
The downgrade reflects the probability that ceased or interrupted payments could occur on SLIC’s foreign-currency obligations due to weak foreign-currency liquidity in the localbanking system.
Fitch believes counterparty risk of SLIC’s foreign-currency assets have risen following recent negative rating action on the Sri Lanka sovereign and various financial institutions.
The insurer has foreign-currency exposure via investments in SriLanka development bonds and deposits with local banks.
The RWN is driven by heightened near-term downside risks to the insurer’s credit profile,including elevated investment and liquidity risk, pressure on its regulatory capital positionand a weaker financial performance outlook.
The RWN also reflects potential pressure onSLIC’s foreign-currency obligations due to stretched foreign-currency liquidity in thelocal banking system and the uncertain impact from SLIC’s non-insurance subsidiaries.
Fitch believes the recent negative rating action on the Sri Lanka sovereign and various financial institutions underscores SLIC’s investment risks, as its investment portfolio isdominated by fixed-income securities issued or guaranteed by the government.
It also includes deposits and securities issued by local banks, non-bank financial institutions andcorporations; Fitch downgraded the Sri Lankan sovereign’s Long-Term Foreign-CurrencyIssuer Default Rating to ‘C’, from ‘CC’, and had placed the ratings of several financialinstitutions on RWN, see Fitch Places 13 Sri Lankan Banks on Rating WatchNegative and Fitch Places Bank of Ceylon on Rating Watch Negative.
Fitch assumes the Ministry of Finance’s 12 April 2022 announcement that the state andpublic sector borrowers will cease all foreign-currency debt payments on borrowings thatare governed by law other than Sri Lankan law will not apply to SLIC’s policyholderobligations or its subsidiaries’ debt obligations.
SLIC’s insurance operation does not haveany debt in its capital structure. However, one of its non-insurance subsidiaries hasforeign-currency borrowings from a state-owned bank, according to the latest annualreport. It is not clear if the subsidiary will have to stop payment on these borrowings or ifthis would become SLIC’s direct liability should the subsidiary be unable to pay, as theentity is ultimately owned by the state.
SLIC’s foreign-currency denominated insurance contract obligations tend to be small andlimited to certain non-motor classes, according to the company. The insurer, like otherdomestic insurers, relies on access to foreign-currency to make premium payments toforeign reinsurers and meet other costs that are typically sourced from overseas.
SLIC’s Fitch-calculated risky asset ratio (end-2020: 529%) is partly driven by the insurer’slarge investment in listed and unlisted equities. Fitch believes the recent five-day closureof the Colombo Stock Exchange undermines the liquidity of SLIC’s listed investments,especially if such closures become recurrent.
Fitch believes the heightened investment risks and earnings pressure could affect SLIC’sregulatory capital profile. A significant deterioration in the credit profiles of financialinstitutions could lead to lower regulatory risk-based capital (RBC) ratios, as investmentswill be subject to incremental risk charges according to local regulatory RBC rules.SLIC’s Fitch Prism Model score is ‘Somewhat Weak’, based on 2020 results, and is drivenby high asset risk charges.
Fitch expects the weak operating environment to affect SLIC’s earnings, similarly to therest of the industry. Growth in motor insurance – the largest contributor to non-lifepremiums – is likely to remain subdued, as Fitch expects the government’s ban on autoimports, imposed in 2020 to control currency depreciation, to continue. In addition,underwriting profit will be squeezed by rising motor spare-part costs due to currencydevaluation, while overall costs will climb with rising inflation. Insurers, including SLIC,also have limited ability to reprice policies, given the dent in customers’ disposableincomes.
SLIC, like other Sri Lankan non-life insurers, relies on international reinsurers to protectits non-motor businesses. Fitch thinks any material changes to reinsurance structures uponrenewal due to rising reinsurance costs could undermine the insurer’s risk managementpractices and ability to write new business.
Factors that could, individually or collectively, lead to negative rating action/downgrade:
Fitch expects to resolve the RWN in the next six months once the impact on the insurer’scredit profile becomes more apparent. Fitch also seeks greater clarity on the government’srestrictions on servicing foreign-currency obligations, including the impact on SLIC’spolicyholder obligations and the debt obligations of its non-insurance subsidiaries.
Potential triggers that could lead to a downgrade include:
– inability to access foreign- or local-currency assets to meet liabilities
– any government restrictions that impede the insurer’s ability, or that of subsidiaries, to
service foreign- or local-currency policyholder or debt obligations
– rising investment and asset risks, including a downgrade of the ratings of financial
– a sustained drop in the regulatory RBC ratio, with no plans to rectify the situation
– sustained weakness in financial performance and earnings or risk management practices
– a downgrade of the sovereign rating stemming from a default event.
Factors that could, individually or collectively, lead to positive rating action/upgrade:
– There is limited scope for upward rating action given the RWN.
BEST/WORST CASE RATING SCENARIO
International scale credit ratings of Financial Institutions and Covered Bond issuers have a best-case rating upgrade scenario (defined as the 99th percentile of rating transitions,measured in a positive direction) of three notches over a three-year rating horizon; and aworst-case rating downgrade scenario (defined as the 99th percentile of rating transitions,measured in a negative direction) of four notches over three years. The complete span ofbest- and worst-case scenario credit ratings for all rating categories ranges from ‘AAA’ to’D’. Best- and worst-case scenario credit ratings are based on historical performance. Formore information about the methodology used to determine sector-specific best- and worst-case scenario credit ratings, visit https://www.fitchratings.com/site/re/10111579
REFERENCES FOR SUBSTANTIALLY MATERIAL SOURCE CITED AS KEY DRIVER OF RATING
The principal sources of information used in the analysis are described in the
Unless otherwise disclosed in this section, the highest level of ESG credit relevance is ascore of ‘3’. This means ESG issues are credit-neutral or have only a minimal creditimpact on the entity, either due to their nature or the way in which they are beingmanaged by the entity.