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Friday December 8th, 2023

Sri Lanka local currency rating upgraded to CCC- by Fitch

ECONOMYNEXT – Fitch Ratings has upgraded Sri Lanka’s local currency rating to CCC- from restricted default after the completion of a domestic debt restructuring.

“We assume the debt restructuring will lower Sri Lanka’s gross financing needs over the medium term, in line with the targets under the IMF’s Extended Fund Facility, and support an improvement in the country’s debt metrics over time,” Fitch said.

“Local-currency restructuring could accelerate progress towards the restructuring of external debt.”

Fitch said the upgrade came after the central bank’s debt was re-structured.

The full statement is reproduced below:

Fitch Upgrades Sri Lanka’s Long-Term Local-Currency IDR to ‘CCC-‘

Thu 28 Sep, 2023 – 6:06 AM ET

Fitch Ratings – Hong Kong – 28 Sep 2023: Fitch Ratings has upgraded Sri Lanka’s Long-Term Local-Currency Issuer Default Rating (IDR) to ‘CCC-‘ from ‘RD’ (Restricted Default). Fitch typically does not assign Outlooks to sovereigns with a rating of ‘CCC+’ or below. The Long-Term Foreign-Currency IDR has been affirmed at ‘RD’ and the Country Ceiling at ‘B-‘.

The Short-Term Local-Currency IDR has been downgraded to ‘RD’ from ‘C’ following the exchange of treasury bills held by the central bank and subsequently upgraded to ‘C’ in line with the Sovereign Rating Criteria, as we believe the local-currency debt exchange has now been completed.

A full list of rating actions is at the end of this rating action commentary.


Local-Currency Debt Exchange Completed: The upgrade of Sri Lanka’s Long-Term Local-Currency IDR to ‘CCC-‘ reflects the completion of the local-currency portion of Sri Lanka’s domestic debt optimisation (DDO) plan, launched in July 2023, following the exchange of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka’s (CBSL) treasury bills and provisional advance into new treasury bonds and bills on 21 September 2023.

We assume the debt restructuring will lower Sri Lanka’s gross financing needs over the medium term, in line with the targets under the IMF’s Extended Fund Facility, and support an improvement in the country’s debt metrics over time. Local-currency restructuring could accelerate progress towards the restructuring of external debt.

Government Debt Remains High: General government debt and the interest costs faced by the government will remain high, despite the debt restructuring. Sri Lanka’s gross general government debt-to-GDP ratio is set to fall only gradually to just above 100% of GDP by 2028, from 128% of GDP in 2022, according to IMF programme forecasts published in March 2023, which incorporated a local- and foreign-currency debt restructuring scenario. The IMF scenario forecast the government interest-to- revenue ratio will decline to 42% by 2028, from over 70% in 2022.

Lower Financing Needs: The authorities expect the completion of the local-currency debt exchange to lower Sri Lanka’s gross government financing needs (GFN)/GDP by about 1.5pp over 2027-2032, according to documents published in July. External debt restructuring, which authorities expect to reduce GFN by an additional 2.6pp, remains critical to achieving the target of reducing GFN below 13% by 2027-2032, from 34% in 2022.

Reduction in Terms: The DDO on the local-currency debt entailed an extension of maturities on certain categories of domestic debt and offered several options, including nominal haircuts, currency redenomination and maturity extensions. Outstanding treasury bills purchased by the CBSL in the primary market were converted into 10 step-down fixed-coupon new treasury bonds and 12 existing treasury bills.

Stronger Revenue Generation Key: We believe IMF programme implementation, in particular fiscal measures, will be central to achieving debt sustainability. The risks remain significant, in our view, as a record of weak revenue generation presents challenges to achieving a faster reduction in the budget deficit and the general government debt-to-GDP ratio.

Authorities have taken several tax measures since May 2022 to improve revenue collection, including raising the corporate income tax rate to 30% from 24%, increasing the VAT rate to 15% from 8%, and raising fuel excise taxes. This resulted in revenue collection rising 43% yoy in 1H23. Additional measures in the pipeline include removing product-specific VAT exemptions before 2024 and introducing a property tax before 2025.

External Metrics Improving: Sri Lanka’s foreign-exchange (FX) reserves have been improving, with gross FX reserves rising to USD3.6 billion in August 2023, from USD1.9 billion at end-2022, partly the result of IMF disbursements and suspension of external debt servicing. However, without access to international capital markets, the sovereign remains dependent on official financing sources.

We expect a gradual pick-up in exports in 2024-2025 after a contraction in 2023. Overseas worker remittance inflows are also rising. We therefore expect the current account deficit to stabilise at 1.6% of GDP over 2024-2025.

Slow Economic Recovery: GDP contracted by 2.7% yoy in 2Q23, slowing from the 12% contraction in 1Q23. Agriculture and services grew in 2Q23, but industry continued to shrink, although at a slower pace from 1Q23. We expect GDP to contract by 1.4% yoy in 2023 before growing by 3.3% and 3.5% in 2024 and 2025, respectively. Inflation, measured by the Colombo CPI, averaged around 30% yoy until August 2023 but continued the decline from end-2022. The CBSL has cut the standing deposit facility rate by a cumulative 350bp since January 2023. We expect another rate cut before end-2023.

Downside Risks to Banks Easing: The exclusion of banks’ holdings of treasury securities from the DDO has alleviated some of the pressure on their capital positions from weakening loan quality and rupee depreciation as well as any immediate funding and liquidity stresses. We believe any incremental risk to the banks’ capital from foreign-currency debt restructuring is likely to be manageable given their limited exposure to the defaulted sovereign bonds (3.6% of their combined total assets at end-1H23) and high provision coverage.

Foreign-Currency IDR in Default: The sovereign remains in default on foreign-currency obligations and has initiated a debt restructuring with official and private external creditors. The Ministry of Finance’s statement on 12 April 2022 said it had suspended normal debt servicing of several categories of external debt, including bonds issued in international capital markets, foreign currency-denominated loans and credit facilities with commercial banks and institutional lenders.

ESG – Governance: Sri Lanka has an ESG Relevance Score of ‘5’ for Political Stability and Rights as well as for the Rule of Law, Institutional and Regulatory Quality and Control of Corruption. These scores reflect the high weight that the World Bank Governance Indicators (WBGI) have in our proprietary Sovereign Rating Model (SRM). Sri Lanka has a medium WBGI ranking in the 45th percentile, reflecting a recent record of peaceful political transitions, a moderate level of rights for participation in the political process, moderate institutional capacity, established rule of law and a moderate level of corruption.

ESG – Creditor Rights: Sri Lanka has an ESG Relevance Score of ‘5’ for Creditor Rights, as willingness to service and repay debt is highly relevant to the rating and is a key rating driver with a high weight. The affirmation of Sri Lanka’s Long-Term Foreign-Currency IDR at ‘RD’ reflects a default event.
Factors that Could, Individually or Collectively, Lead to Negative Rating Action/Downgrade

– The Local-Currency IDRs would be downgraded if further restructuring or a default on local-currency debt becomes probable due to an unsustainable debt burden or inability to raise revenue.

– The Long-Term Foreign-Currency IDRs are at the lowest level and cannot be downgraded further.
Factors that Could, Individually or Collectively, Lead to Positive Rating Action/Upgrade

– A sustained decline in the general government debt-to-GDP ratio that is underpinned by strong implementation of a medium-term fiscal consolidation strategy and improved growth performance.

– Completion of the foreign-currency commercial debt restructuring that Fitch judges to have normalised the relationship with private-sector creditors may result in an upgrade.

In accordance with the rating criteria for ratings in the ‘CCC’ range and below, Fitch’s sovereign rating committee has not used the SRM and QO to explain the ratings, which are instead guided by the agency’s rating definitions.

Fitch’s SRM is the agency’s proprietary multiple regression rating model that employs 18 variables based on three-year centred averages, including one year of forecasts, to produce a score equivalent to a LT FC IDR. Fitch’s QO is a forward-looking qualitative framework designed to allow for adjustment to the SRM output to assign the final rating, reflecting factors within our criteria that are not fully quantifiable and/or not fully reflected in the SRM.

The Country Ceiling for Sri Lanka is ‘B-‘. For sovereigns rated ‘CCC+’ or below, Fitch assumes a starting point of ‘CCC+’ for determining the Country Ceiling. Fitch’s Country Ceiling Model produced a starting point uplift of zero notches. Fitch’s rating committee applied a +1 notch qualitative adjustment to this, under the balance of payments restrictions pillar, reflecting that the private sector has not been prevented or significantly impeded from converting local currency into foreign currency and transferring the proceeds to non-resident creditors to service debt payments.

Fitch does not assign Country Ceilings below ‘CCC+’, and only assigns a Country Ceiling of ‘CCC+’ in the event that transfer and convertibility risk has materialised and is affecting the vast majority of economic sectors and asset classes.

The principal sources of information used in the analysis are described in the Applicable Criteria.

Sri Lanka has an ESG Relevance Score of ‘5’ for Political Stability and Rights as WBGI have the highest weight in Fitch’s SRM and are highly relevant to the rating and a key rating driver with a high weight. As Sri Lanka has a percentile rank below 50 for the respective governance indicator, this has a negative impact on the credit profile.

Sri Lanka has an ESG Relevance Score of ‘5’ for Rule of Law, Institutional & Regulatory Quality and Control of Corruption as WBGI have the highest weight in Fitch’s SRM and are therefore highly relevant to the rating and are a key rating driver with a high weight. As Sri Lanka has a percentile rank below 50 for the respective governance indicators, this has a negative impact on the credit profile.

Sri Lanka has an ESG Relevance Score of ‘4’ for Human Rights and Political Freedoms, as the Voice and Accountability pillar of the WBGI is relevant to the rating and a rating driver. As Sri Lanka has a percentile rank below 50 for the respective governance indicator, this has a negative impact on the credit profile.

Sri Lanka has an ESG Relevance Score of ‘5’ for Creditor Rights as willingness to service and repay debt is highly relevant to the rating and is a key rating driver with a high weight. Sri Lanka’s Long-Term Foreign-Currency IDR is ‘RD’ as the sovereign is in default on its foreign-currency debt obligations.

The highest level of ESG credit relevance is a score of ‘3’, unless otherwise disclosed in this section. A score of ‘3’ means ESG issues are credit-neutral or have only a minimal credit impact on the entity, either due to their nature or the way in which they are being managed by the entity. Fitch’s ESG Relevance Scores are not inputs in the rating process; they are an observation on the relevance and materiality of ESG factors in the rating decision. For more information on F

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SLPP enjoying “great demand” from potential presidential candidates: Namal

FILE PHOTO – President Gotabaya Rajapaksa with nephew Namal at the opening of the last part of the Southern Expressway/PMD

ECONOMYNEXT – The ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) enjoys “great demand” from potential presidential candidates, and the party will have to take a call on working with incumbent President Ranil Wickremesinghe, MP Namal Rajapaksa said.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday December 07, Rajapaksa claimed several names have come up concerning the SLPP’s candidate at next year’s presidential election.

“There is great demand: entrepreneurs, businessmen, politicians, are all there. There are presidents too, ready to come forward with our party,” he said.

“Out of all these people, we will put forward on behalf of our party the candidate that can take the country forward while stabilising the economy,” he added.

Commenting on continued support for President Wickremesinghe, Rajapaksa said the while SLPP at present works with the former in the present government, the party will have to decide whether that relationship continues going forward.

“The matter of whether we work with the United National Party (UNP) in the future – this is not a politics dependent on individuals; the SLPP is a party. We will talk as a party with other parties, but no discussions will be held centred around individuals,” he said.

Rajapaksa noted that Wickremesinghe was the only member of parliament representing the UNP at the time of his election by parliament following the resignation of his predecessor Gotabaya Rajapaksa .

“If we are to collaborate with the UNP in the future, we’ll have to discuss that. Once the party has decided on that, we can get a start on those discussions. Today, we work with the president in the present government,” he said.

Last month, when asked to comment on President Wickremesinghe’s 2024 budget, MP Rajapkasa sounded rather sceptical of the president’s ambitions for turning the crisis-hit economy around.

“We must study the budget. He had presented a lot of these proposals in last year’s budget too. They don’t seem to have been implemented,” Namal Rajapaksa said, speaking to reporters after the budget presentation Monday November 13 afternoon.

Rajapaksa’s father and leader of the SLPP former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, however, spoke in favour of Wickremesinghe’s budget.


Sri Lanka’s “forward-looking” 2024 budget will instill fiscal discipline: MR

While not without its shortcomings, the older Rajapaksa said, the 2024 budget is a forward-looking one that aims to ensure fiscal discipline and put Sri Lanka on the path to recovery. (Colombo/Dec07/2023)

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Sri Lanka ruling party MP contradicts poll to claim his party is overtaking president’s

ECONOMYNEXT – The ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) is rising from the ashes albeit at a slower than anticipated pace, while President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) still commands only 1-2 percent of the vote, an SLPP legislator said.

MP S B Dissanayake, who is not a member of the cabinet of ministers headed by President Wickremesinghe, told reporters on Thursday December 07 that support for any major political party of the island nation is on a downward trend while the SLPP alone is gaining ground.

An independent poll by the Institute for Health Policy (IHP) however shows that this is decidedly not the case. Polling data for October showed that the leftist National People’s Power (NPP) had enjoyed support from 40 percent of likely voters, having dipped 2 percent from September, while the main opposition the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) stood at 26 percent, increasing four percent from 22 percent in September. President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s UNP’s support decreased marginally to 11 percent in October from September’s 13 percent. The SLPP also saw a decrease to 5 percent from the previous month’s 8 percent.

“You can’t gamble with elections. The election must be held. We always say electrons must be held. The presidential election must be held next year. There is no alternative,” said Dissanayake.

“Parliamentary elections can be called if needed. But that’s not how it is with the presidential election. Nominations for that will have to be called by September, October next year,” he added.

Asked by a reporter if the SLPP is ready for elections, Dissanayake acknowledged that support for his party had eroded, to nothing.

“We crashed to zero. We were turned to ashes. But we will rise from those ashes. We’re not where we thought we were. The 6.9 million [votes received at the 2019 presidential election] no longer applies. We’re at about half of that. But we’re rising, like this,” he said, gesturing upwards.

“As other major parties go in the opposite direction, we’re rising slowly. But the UNP is not. It’s still on the ground, and still at 1 to 2 percent,” he claimed.

“The SLFP is there too. Those who left us are the same. Even together they cannot form 1 percent. But we’re climbing,” he said. (Colombo/Dec07/2023)

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Sri Lanka president appoints main opposition MP advisor

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka President Ranil Wickremesinghe has appointed MP Vadivel Suresh as a Senior Advisor aimed at “fostering the integration of Hill Country Tamils into Sri Lankan society”, the president’s office said.

A statement from the President’s Media Divison (PMD) said Suresh’s “pivotal role will centre around overseeing the comprehensive integration of Hill Country Tamils, particularly focusing on the districts of Badulla, Nuwara Eliya and Rathnapura”.

“The Senior Advisor will play a key role in coordinating various initiatives related to the welfare of Plantation Companies, the promotion of women, safeguarding children, addressing disparities in Tamil schools and upgrading the delivery of health services,” the statement said.

In May this year, Suresh, who represents the main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) in parliament and also serves as the general secretary of the Lanka Jathika Estate Workers’ Union, made headlines when he issued an ultimatum to opposition and SJB leader Sajith Premadasa, demanding an apology for a perceived slight on the Indian-origin Tamil community that Suresh represents. He also spoke favourably of President Wickremesinghe, hinting at a possible cross over.

Sri Lanka’s Indian-origin Tamils, most of whom have historically worked in the plantation sector and live in dire conditions on wages widely considered unacceptably low. Speaking at a May Day rally, the Badulla district MP said Premadasa must apologise to the estate Tamils for allegedly snubbing them at an event in Madulsima that he failed to attend.

“I would like to say to our leader, sir, do not take us for granted,” said Suresh.

“If you need us to stay with you, come right now to Madulsima and apologise to my people and then we shall restart our journey. Otherwise I won’t be part of that journey. There will be no Vadivel Suresh. If you don’t apologise to my people, I won’t be with the SJB,” he said.

Making matters worse, the MP also expressed a willingness to join President Wickremesinghe if he was able to raise the daily wage of plantation workers and resolve their grievances. He also said the president has been successful in containing the disruptions caused by the currency crisis.

“On this May Day, we say to both the opposition leader and the president, I and my people would join hands with a leader that worked to increase [estate workers’] wages and give them [access to the Samurdhi welfare scheme] and include them in national policy,” he said. (Colombo/Dec07/2023)

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