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Tuesday April 16th, 2024

Sri Lanka keeps policy rates unchanged

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’ central bank said it is keeping policy rates, saying market rates have room to fall and fiscal measures have also been announced to boost growth.

Though annual credit growth numbers are low, there has been higher volumes of credit being given to the private borrowers in recent months.

“Going forward, money and credit aggregates are expected to recover gradually, with the expected continued decline in lending rates, and other mechanisms that are being introduced to revive economic activity,” the central bank said in its November policy announcement.

During November 2019, private credit has grown 47 billion rupees to 5,753 billion rupees.

The average weighted new lending rate calculated by the central bank had fallen to 12.87 percent from 13.19 percent.

The central bank has slapped broad price controls on lending rates, for the first time.

The average weighted new deposit rate however has moved up to 8.78 percent from 8.66 percent by end November, after price controls were lifted.

The deposit rates bottomed out at 8.40 percent in August.

Credit to the central government from the banking system was flat in November. But credit to state enterprises rose 14 billion rupees to 803 billion rupees.

The central bank said it was keeping its 8.0 percent ceiling rate of the policy corridor at which money is injected to the banking system unchanged.

However the agency had been injecting cash below the ceiling rate at around 7.50 percent in December, to sterilize and exceed a seasonal demand for cash drowns, making some banks place over 50 billion rupees of excess money in the central bank at the floor 7.0 percent rate.

While the 12-month inflation number had eased to 4.4 percent in November from 5.4 percent in October, the underlying index has started to pick up steadily from around August.

The full statement is reproduced below:

Policy interest rates of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka to remain unchanged

The Monetary Board of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, at its meeting held on 26 December 2019, decided to maintain its accommodative monetary policy stance with the Standing Deposit Facility Rate (SDFR) and the Standing Lending Facility Rate (SLFR) of the Central Bank remaining at their current levels of 7.00 per cent and 8.00 per cent, respectively.

The Board arrived at this decision following a careful analysis of current and expected developments in the domestic economy and the financial market as well as the global economy. The decision of the Monetary Board is consistent with the aim of maintaining inflation in the 4-6 per cent range while supporting economic growth to reach its potential over the medium term.

The pace of monetary policy easing in advanced economies appears to be slowing

Most advanced economies, which followed a monetary easing path owing to the general economic slowdown and muted inflation expectations, appear to have paused further monetary easing. However, most of the emerging market policymakers remained open to further accommodation in the period ahead in order to stimulate activity in their economies. 2

Domestic economic activity to recover gradually

As per the provisional estimates released by the Department of Census and Statistics, the Sri Lankan economy grew at the slow pace of 2.7 per cent during the third quarter of 2019 following the growth of 1.5 per cent in the second quarter of the year. Agriculture related activities grew marginally by 0.4 per cent, while Services and Industry related activities expanded by 2.8 per cent and 3.3 per cent, respectively.

Going forward, a steady revival of economic activity is envisaged, supported by improved political stability and short term measures to stimulate the economy. It is expected that this momentum will be sustained through the introduction of appropriate medium to long term structural reforms.

Inflation to remain at low single digit levels in the near term, and stabilise within 4-6 per cent in the medium term

Headline inflation, as measured by the year-on-year change in both Colombo Consumer Price Index (CCPI) and National Consumer Price Index (NCPI), decelerated in November 2019 driven by the slowdown in food inflation.

Further softening of inflation could be expected in the period ahead mainly due to the impact of the downward tax revisions and the reduction in selected administratively determined prices. Nevertheless, weather affected food price movements could result in increased volatility in inflation in the near term. Projections indicate that inflation is likely to remain in the range of 4-6 per cent over the medium term, with the gradual closing of the negative output gap and well anchored inflation expectations.

Relatively stable external sector amidst challenging economic conditions

Performance on the trade front continued to improve during the first ten months of 2019 with imports contracting considerably and merchandise exports recording a modest growth, thereby leading to a cumulative contraction in the deficit in the trade account. Provisional data suggests a significantly lower current account deficit in the first nine months of 2019 compared to the corresponding period of 2018.

The tourism sector, which suffered a setback following the Easter Sunday attacks, has since recorded a faster than expected recovery. Workers’ remittances were somewhat low, while outflows of foreign investment were observed from the Government securities market and the equity market during the year.

Nevertheless, the Sri Lankan rupee appreciated against the US dollar by 0.7 per cent thus far during 2019, with mixed movements being recorded throughout the year. Meanwhile, gross official reserves remained at US dollars 7.5 billion by end November 2019, which were sufficient to cover 4.5 months of imports.

Growth of monetary and credit aggregates expected to accelerate in 2020

Although a steady expansion in credit disbursed to the private sector in absolute terms was observed during the four month period commencing August 2019, the year-on-year growth of private sector credit continued to decelerate thus far during the year.

Driven by low credit expansion, the year-on-year growth of broad money (M2b) also continued to moderate. Going forward, money and credit aggregates are expected to recover gradually, with the expected continued decline in lending rates, and other mechanisms that are being introduced to revive economic activity.

Market lending rates, which continued to decline, are expected to reduce further

Market lending rates continued to adjust downward in response to monetary and regulatory measures taken by the Central Bank. However, the observed reduction thus far has been less than envisaged, and financial institutions are expected to meet the stipulated reduction in lending rates in the period ahead.

Policy interest rates maintained at current levels

In consideration of the current and expected macroeconomic developments as highlighted above, the Monetary Board, at its meeting held on 26 December 2019, was of the view that the current accommodative monetary policy stance is appropriate, and that there is ample space for market lending rates to reduce without further adjustment in policy rates.

The Monetary Board also noted that the already announced tax relief as well as the proposed moratorium on capital repayments of bank loans for the SME sector are likely to provide further impetus to the economy. In addition, His Excellency the President is expected to announce the government’s policy statement on 03 January 2020, which will provide further clarity to the broad economic policy framework as well as the fiscal policy direction for the medium term.

In this context, the Monetary Board 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 7.00 per cent and 8.00 per cent, respectively.

Monetary Policy Decision: Policy rates and SRR unchanged

Standing Deposit Facility Rate (SDFR) 7.00%
Standing Lending Facility Rate (SLFR) 8.00%
Statutory Reserve Ratio (SRR) 5.00%

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Sri Lanka State FinMin meets BCIU in US; discusses post-crisis investment prospects 

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s State Finance Minister Shehan Semasinghe met Business Council for International Understanding( BCIU) in Washington on the sideline of the IMF/World Bank Spring Meetings late on Monday and discussed investment prospects in the island nation which is gradually recovering from an unprecedented economic crisis.
“Our discussion centered on the potential that Sri Lanka offers for international investors. Explored various sectors, including education, tourism, renewable energy, agriculture and technology, where strategic investments can drive sustainable economic growth and development,” Semasinghe said in his X (Twitter) platform. 
“We reviewed the current macro-economic landscape of Sri Lanka, including recent reforms that have transformed to results. Glad to concluded the forum by marking constructive dialogue and a shared commitment to support the economic development of Sri Lanka.” 
“We thank participants, stakeholders holders and global partners for the significant interest shown in unlocking the full potential of the Sri Lankan economy and fostering greater international understanding and cooperation.” (Colombo/April 16/2024) 
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India allows Sri Lanka to import 10,000MT of onions

ECONOMYNEXT – India has relaxed an export ban allowing 10,000 metric tonnes of onions to be shipped to Sri Lanka, the Indian High Commission in Colombo said.

“The exemption for Sri Lanka reiterated India’s Neighbourhood First policy, adding to the Sinhala and Tamil New Year festivities here,” the statement said.

Onion prices went up in Sri Lanka after India and Pakistan banned exports.

The Directorate General of Foreign Trade has issued a notice allowing National Co-operative Exports Limited to ship 10,000 MT of onions.

The UAE has also been allowed to import 10,000MT of onions on top of 24,400MT already permitted.

A large Indian and South Asian expat community lives in the UAE. (Colombo/Apr15/2024)

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Iran President to visit Sr Lanka amid rising tension, inaugurate Uma Oya project

ECONOMYNEXT – Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi will arrive in Sri Lanka on April 24 on a one-day official visit to inaugurate Tehran-assisted $529 million worth Uma Oya multipurpose development project with 120MW hydro power generation capacity, official sources said.

The announcement on President Raisi’s visit comes two days after Iran launched explosive drones and fired missiles at Israel in its first direct attack on Israeli territory, a retaliatory strike that raised the threat of a wider regional conflict.

“The President is visiting to inaugurate the Omaoya project. He will be on a one-day visit,” an official at Iran embassy in Colombo told EconomyNext.

A Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry official confirmed the move.

This is the first time an Iranian President coming to Sri Lanka Iranian after then President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit in April 2008.

The Omaoya project was originally scheduled to be completed in 2015, but had been delayed several times due to unexpected issued faced during the project cycle and funding issue after the United States imposed economic sanctions on Iran and economic crisis in Sri Lanka.

The project was started in 2010 and the funding was to be received as loan grant from the Iranian government. However, Iran was able to provide $50 million before the sanctions. Sri Lanka has to bear the cost after the sanctions.

The project includes storing water in two reservoirs with dams before being brought through a 23 km tunnel to two turbines located underground and generating hydro power with a capacity of 120 megawatts and added to the national grid.

After power generation, the water is expected to be brought to three reservoirs while supplying water to 20,000 acres of old and new paddy fields in both the Yala and Maha cultivating seasons.

The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the construction was signed between the two countries in 2007 while Sri Lanka’s Cabinet approved the execution of the contract agreement between the Executing Agency, Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Irrigation and Water Management (MOIWM) of the GOSL and Iran’s FARAB Energy and Water Projects (FC).

When commencing the project on March 15, 2010, the scheduled date of completion of the project was on March 15, 2015. But the schedule completion date was extended to December 31, 2020 due to the unexpected water ingress into the head race tunnel and followed by social impacts.

The trade between the both countries suffered after the US sanctions. However, Sri Lanka inked a deal in December 2021 with Iran to set off export of tea to Iran against a legacy oil credit owed by state-run Ceylon Petroleum Corporation to the National Iranian Oil Company.

Sri Lanka owes $251 million for crude imported before the US imposed sanctions on Iran. (Colombo/April 15/2024)

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