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Friday June 21st, 2024

Sri Lanka keeps overnight policy rates unchanged, market rates move up

MORE REALISTIC: Market rates have been moving up since price controls were lifted

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s central bank has kept its policy rate unchanged at 6.0 percent while market rates have started to move up in line with budget deficit and private credit, though bond and forex markets are still not fully functional.

Sri Lanka’s is facing severe external difficulties after more than a year of liquidity injections by the central bank from de facto policy rates opened through price controlled auction yields across the yield curve.

Meanwhile inflation is also moving up, partly due to a commodity bubble fired by the Federal Reserve. Sri Lanka does not have an independently floating exchange rate to ward off Fed inflation.

But its soft-peg has depreciated amid money printing, amplifying the effect.

During the year to September 2021 the rupee has fallen from around 186 to 203 to the US dollar, indicating that the currency has inflated around 9.1 percent against the US dollar, though there is no official spot rate to compare.

Some importers however are paying higher rates.

“Inflation accelerated in recent months due to high food inflation and some acceleration in non-food inflation,” the central bank said.

“The surge in global commodity prices prompted the Government to remove maximum retail prices on several essential commodities.

“Along with resultant upward adjustments in other market prices, this is likely to cause headline inflation to deviate somewhat from the targeted levels in the near term.”

The central bank claimed the rising commodity price was “supply side”.

Agriculture sector officials however are warning of supply shocks from a fertilizer ban.

Central bank kept money markets flushed with excess liquidity until August 13, pumping hundreds of billions of rupees through failed bond auctions as money flowed out as reserve losses.

Though rates have moved up, following the lifting of price controls, bond auctions are still not fully successful though the volumes printed are smaller than earlier.

At current rates savers are also getting interested in three month bills and some money has started to shift from fixed deposits.

The central bank has also been buying bonds into its balance sheet, which analysts say is a questionable activity given its monetary law.

When money is printed and the credibility of the dollar peg is undermined, the government cannot generate dollars to repay debt and as the excess rupees drive excess imports, there are also forex shortages for current imports.

The Central Bank said it “continued to intervene in the foreign exchange market to provide liquidity for essential imports, including fuel.”

The central bank said it expects the external sector to strengthen with inflows. However analysts say successful bond auctions are vital to stem the excess rupees, which creates a dollar shortages.

All Sri Lanka’s money supply measures are growing at double or triple digits. Reserve money or the monetary base is up 23 percent by August despite reserve ratio cuts, M1 up 28 percent, M2 is up 19.8 percent.

Central bank credit to government (printed money) which includes the result of reserve appropriations was up 187 percent by August, credit to government from commercial banks were up 25 percent.

The full statement is reproduced below:

The Central Bank of Sri Lanka maintains policy interest rates at their current levels

The Monetary Board of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, at its meeting held on 13 October 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 5.00 per cent and 6.00 per cent, respectively.

The Board arrived at this decision after carefully considering the macroeconomic conditions and expected developments on the domestic and global fronts. The Board reiterated its commitment to maintaining inflation at the targeted levels over the medium term with appropriate measures, while supporting the economy to reach its potential in the period ahead.

The global economy continues to recover

The global economic recovery is expected to continue despite large disparities across countries. As per the World Economic Outlook (WEO) of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) released on 12 October 2021, the global economy is projected to grow by 5.9 per cent in 2021 and 4.9 per cent in 2022. Economic prospects remain divergent across countries, mainly due to disparities in access to COVID-19 vaccines and policy support. Consumer price inflation in most countries increased significantly, reflecting the impact of pandemic related supply-demand mismatches and the surge in commodity prices, compared to their low base from a year ago.

The Sri Lankan economy is making headway, despite the pandemic related disruptions

As per the estimates of the Department of Census and Statistics (DCS), the Sri Lankan economy witnessed a strong recovery during the second quarter of 2021, recording a real growth of 12.3 per cent, year-on-year, following the growth of 4.3 per cent, year-on-year, in the first quarter of 2021. With the gradual return to normalcy after phasing out the COVID-19 related lockdown measures, alongside the successful rolling out of the COVID-19 vaccination programme and growth supportive policy measures, the momentum of economic activity is expected to sustain in the period ahead.

Available indicators and projections suggest that the real economy would grow by around 5 per cent in 2021, and gradually traverse to a high and sustained growth trajectory over the medium term, following near-term stabilisation measures that are being put in place by the Government and the Central Bank.

The planned coordinated efforts by the Government and the Central Bank are expected to strengthen the external sector in the period ahead

Earnings from exports marked a notable improvement and recorded over US dollars 1 billion for the third consecutive month in August 2021. Expenditure on imports has also increased, partly reflecting the surge in global commodity prices, resulting in an expansion in the trade deficit during the eight months ending August 2021, over the corresponding period of last year. Outlook for tourism improved with the easing of travel restrictions globally and the successful vaccination drive domestically.

Despite the moderation of workers’ remittances observed in recent months, a rebound is expected in the period ahead with the improved growth outlook for major foreign employment source countries and greater stability in the domestic foreign exchange market.

The realisation of foreign investments in the real sector and the timely adoption of remedial measures by the Central Bank as enunciated in ‘The Six-month Road Map for Ensuring Macroeconomic and Financial System Stability’ are gradually easing pressures in the domestic foreign exchange market.

Furthermore, the Central Bank continued to intervene in the foreign exchange market to provide liquidity for essential imports, including fuel. The depreciation of the Sri Lankan rupee against the US dollar is recorded at 6.8 per cent thus far in 2021. The Sri Lankan rupee remains largely undervalued as reflected by the real effective exchange rate (REER) indices.

In the meantime, gross official reserves were estimated at US dollars 2.6 billion by end September 2021. This, however, does not include the bilateral currency swap facility with the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) of CNY 10 billion (equivalent to approximately US dollars 1.5 billion). Gross official reserves are expected to improve with the measures that are being pursued by the Government and the Central Bank to attract fresh foreign exchange inflows, as outlined in the Six-month Road Map, thereby reinforcing the stability of the external sector in the period ahead.

Market interest rates have adjusted upwards in response to the tightening of monetary and liquidity conditions, while credit and monetary expansion remained elevated

In response to the tightening of monetary policy in August 2021, most market deposit and lending rates have adjusted upwards. Further, yields on government securities witnessed a sharp upward adjustment with the removal of maximum yield rates for acceptance at primary auctions.

Following these upward adjustments, greater stability is expected in market interest rates in the period ahead. Reflecting the increased demand for credit amidst the low interest rate environment, credit extended to the private sector expanded as envisaged during the eight months ending August 2021. The momentum of credit expansion is expected to continue during the remainder of the year, with the recovery in economic activity and continued efforts to channel credit flows to productive and needy sectors of the economy. Meanwhile, credit obtained by the public sector from the banking system, particularly net credit to the Government, also increased notably during the eight months ending August 2021. With increased domestic credit, the growth of broad money (M2b) continued to remain elevated.

Some inflationary pressures are observed, particularly due to emerging global price developments

Inflation accelerated in recent months due to high food inflation and some acceleration in non-food inflation. The surge in global commodity prices prompted the Government to remove maximum retail prices on several essential commodities. Along with resultant upward adjustments in other market prices, this is likely to cause headline inflation to deviate somewhat from the targeted levels in the near term.

While such supply side developments in the near term do not warrant monetary policy tightening, measures already taken by the Central Bank in relation to interest rates and market liquidity would help stabilise demand pressures over the medium term.

Policy rates are maintained at current levels

In consideration of the current and expected macroeconomic developments as highlighted above, the Monetary Board was of the view that the current level of policy interest rates is appropriate. The Central Bank will continue to monitor domestic and global macroeconomic and financial market developments and stand ready to take appropriate measures, as and when necessary, with the aim of maintaining inflation in the desired range under the flexible inflation targeting framework in the medium term, while supporting and sustaining the economic recovery.

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Indian FM meets Sri Lanka political leaders; focuses on committed deals

ECONOMYNEXT – Indian External Affairs Minister (EAM) S. Jaishankar met President Ranil Wickremesinghe and a range of political leaders during his visit to Sri Lanka, focusing on commitments made by Sri Lanka to India, including land and energy pipeline connectivity.

Sri Lanka has committed to renewable energy deals for the Indian Adani group, Trincomalee port development, an investment zone around the port, a bridge between the island nation’s Northern Mannar and South India’s Rameshwaram, a power grid, and an oil and gas pipeline between the two nations.

Though most of the committed projects have been discussed and some already signed, they face delays amid public protests, court cases on environmental concerns, anti-Indian sentiments triggered by high prices of renewable projects, local politicians as well as perceived Chinese influence, analysts say.

India has been pushing Sri Lanka to fast-track these deals under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.Jaishankar’s visit also comes ahead of Sri Lanka’s presidential polls later this year.

Jaishankar met President Wickremesinghe in a one-on-one meeting, Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, and Foreign Minister Ali Sabry before delegation-level talks with Ports, Shipping and Aviation Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva, Agriculture and Plantation Industries Minister Mahinda Amaraweera, and Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera.

“Appreciated the progress made on various bilateral projects and initiatives. Under President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s guidance, we discussed the way forward for India-Sri Lanka cooperation, especially in power, energy, connectivity, port infrastructure, aviation, digital, health, food security, education, and tourism sectors,” Jaishankar said on his official Twitter platform.

He also met former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, opposition leader Sajith Premadasa, and leaders of various political parties from the North, East, and the upcountry region.

“Interaction of EAM with the leadership of the Government of Sri Lanka provided an opportunity to review and accelerate progress in the multifaceted India-Sri Lanka partnership,” the Indian External Affairs Ministry said in a statement.

One of the key focus areas of discussion was the Vision Document adopted by President Wickremesinghe and Prime Minister Modi during the Sri Lankan leader’s visit to India in July 2023.

“Discussions added momentum to the ongoing projects as well as initiatives for promoting connectivity in all its dimensions, particularly in domains of energy, physical infrastructure as well as economic and people-to-people ties.”

Jaishankar also met leaders of Sri Lanka’s upcountry Tamils, who originally came from India as plantation workers. He discussed development and devolution of power with an eight-member delegation of Tamil leaders from the Northern and Eastern provinces, including Shanakiyan Rasamanikkam and M. A. Sumanthiran.

India helped Sri Lanka with financial and humanitarian aid when the island nation faced an unprecedented economic crisis amid delays by the International Monetary Fund loan to rescue Sri Lanka.

“Following Sri Lanka’s economic recovery and stabilization, forging deeper long-term economic cooperation was underlined as a priority for sustainable and equitable growth of Sri Lanka, and mutual prosperity in the Indian Ocean Region,” the Indian External Affairs Ministry said.

Though the Sri Lankan government has claimed that Jaishankar’s visit was a precursor to Indian Prime Minister’s visit, the Indian External Affairs Ministry did not mention anything about a possible Modi visit.

This visit is Jaishankar’s first bilateral visit after the formation of the new government.

The Adani wind power project in the Northern district of Mannar has seen some public protests over environmental concerns after some experts said the project has failed to conduct a proper Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). Critics also protest against its transparency.

President Wickremesinghe, opposition leader Premadasa, and Marxist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) leader Anura Kumara Dissanayaka are expected to contest in the election to choose the island nation’s 8th leader.

Sri Lankan leaders have been under pressure from India in the past two decades amid increasing Chinese influence in the island nation, seen as a security threat to India, analysts say.

The docking of a Chinese nuclear submarine in 2014 led to a dramatic government change in the 2015 presidential poll with the ousting of former leader Mahinda Rajapaksa, who later accused India of orchestrating his defeat.

Rajapaksa’s brother Gotabaya in 2021 unilaterally canceled a key port terminal project given to India’s Adani group after promising Jaishankar to sign the deal.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa was later forced to flee the country in 2022 after mass protests due to his economic policies. (Colombo/June 21/2024)

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Sri Lanka car permit tax losses Rs14bn in two years of partial disclosure

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka has lost 14.3 billion rupees in taxes from car permits given to public servants, including doctors, military officers, central bankers, finance ministry and tax officials, in 2019 and 2020 information disclosed by the finance ministry shows.

Inclusive of some 2021 tax losses when imports were banned for the rest of the year, 14.4 billion rupees of foregone revenue from a waived luxury tax is shown.

The list only shows waivers of a so-called ‘luxury tax’ imposed on larger vehicles above a certain value and size.

The list does not show other vehicles imported under car permits such as double cabs or cars below a certain size.

The list also does not seem to include tax free cars imported by politicians.

In 2019, Sri Lanka has lost 8.3 billion rupees from the luxury tax on car permits and in 2019 the loss 5.92 billion rupees.

In 2021 when car imports were stopped as the central bank started printing money to cut rates and target ‘potential output’ only 85.6 million rupees were lost.

Among the biggest tax waivers of over 10 million rupees went to some doctors and military officers. Doctors were among the biggest users of tax slashed car permits in the list.

Sri Lanka at one time did not allow cars imported by state workers to be transferred for many years.

But reportedly after Customs raided a finance company involving a fleet of vehicles, the rule was relaxed by the then President.

Among the largest tax waivers listed were given to Rolls Royce and Maclaren assigned to Melwire Rolling (Pvt) Ltd.

The 45.6 million rupee Rolls Royce was given a 42.1 million rupee tax waiver.

The 41.46 million McLaren was given a 37.9 million tax waiver.

There were also a large number of Audi A5 and Q2 vehicles listed at prices over 80 million rupee. It is not clear whether the disclosure is an error. The market value of the A5 and Q2 are much lower.

Up to end 2023, 138 cars imported under a migrant worker remittance scheme was listed to lose 436 million rupees in luxury taxes.
The total for the three years was listed at 14.86 billion rupees, involving 2,034 cars in 2019 and 1,470 cars in 2020.

It is not known how much the total tax losses or total vehicle imported through ‘car permits’ is. (Colombo/June20/2024)

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Construction of Sampur solar power plant to begin mid-July

ECONOMYNEXT – Joint energy projects between India and Sri Lanka, including the Sampur solar power plant due to begin next month, took centre stage during bilateral discussions between president Ranil Wickremesinghe and visiting Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Thursday.

Wickremesinghe and Jaishankar discussed initiatives aimed at enhancing energy connectivity and developing the renewable energy sector, a statement by his media division said.

“Significant attention was given to plans for an LNG supply, a proposed petroleum pipeline linking the two countries, and advancing oil and gas exploration projects. Additionally, it was announced that construction of the Sampur Solar Power Plant is set to commence in July 2024.”

The visit comes amid delays in key Indian projects including land, oil and gas pipe, and grid connectivity deals, Adani’s wind power plant deals which are facing a legal battle, and port and investment zone projects in the Eastern port district of Trincomalee.

Indian supported projects for developing Trincomalee and expanding the Kankasanthurai port, the ongoing development of Jaffna Airport and Colombo Airport, and the expediting the unique digital identity card project were discussed.

The efficiency of projects supported by the Indian government aimed at bolstering Sri Lanka’s liquid milk industry and fertilizer production, were also examined.

Sri Lankan leaders have been under pressure from India in the past two decades amid increasing Chinese influence in the island nation as the move is seen as a security threat to India, analysts say. (Colombo/Jun20/2024)

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