An Echelon Media Company
Monday February 6th, 2023

Sri Lanka online forum with sovereign debt restructure specialist Lee Buchheit

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Echelon magazine is hosting an online forum with Lee Buchheit, an international specialist who has worked on sovereign debt re-structuring in several countries.

The forum will begin at 1630hours on October 05.

https://event.webinarjam.com/register/1/91voocg

Following multiple rating downgrades in a short time to CCC+ and high premiums Sri Lanka is now locked out of global markets.

In each of the coming years Sri Lanka has about 4-5 billion dollars in government debt to be repaid. Over 5-years there are about 7 billion dollars in international sovereign bonds maturing which cannot be rolled over as of current discounts.

As liquidity injections to enforce rate cuts hit Sri Lanka’s currency peg, triggering forex shortages, its foreign reserves have been run down not only to repay some maturing debt but also for current imports.

Economists have suggested Sri Lanka should restructure its external debt and seek IMF help.

Sri Lanka’s central bank turned to the IMF for support 16 times since its creation in 1950, after de-stabilizing the currency peg with liquidity injections.

But neither the country nor the central bank has a history of defaulting on its external debt over this period.

This webinar will explore the options available to a sovereign that chooses to restructures its external debt, how it can approach such a negotiation with its creditors, what to watch out for, and how to make the best of a bad situation.

The speaker, Lee Buchheit is a veteran of sovereign debt restructuring and is considered by many to be a world expert in the field.

He has worked on debt restructuring in soft-pegged countries liken Argentina and Venezuela as well as Greece, a country in a monetary union which had limited or no ability to print money on its own volition, and defaulted on what was effectively domestic currency debt issued under Greek law.

Lee Buchheit retired in 2019 after a 43-year career with Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP.

His practice focused on international and corporate transactions, including Eurocurrency financial transactions, sovereign debt management, privatization and project finance.

He is the author of two books in the field of international law and more than 40 articles on professional matters.

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Sri Lanka’s banks may have to re-structure loans caught in progressive tax

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s banks should explore restructuring loans of salaried employees hit by progressive tax, Central Bank Governor Nandalal Weerasinghe said as progressive income taxes were imposed at lower thresholds amid high inflation following a sovereign default.

There have been complaints mainly by picketing state enterprise executives and also other workers of such agencies such Sri Lanka Port Authority that high progressive taxes were putting their bank accounts into overdraft after loan installments were cut.

“Yes, they have mentioned that,” Governor Weerasinghe said responding to questions from reporters.

“We have told the banks earlier as well. Because the interest rates are high and their business being reduced, the SME sector, the repaying capability has reduced.

“We have told them to explore their repaying capabilities and restructure their loans in order to safe guard both sides. At this time also we are asking the banks to do that.”

In the case of some state enterprises, the Pay-As-You-Earn tax, through which income tax is deducted from salaried employees in the past was not paid by the employee but the SOE.

Bad loans of the banking system overall had risen after the rupee collapsed, reducing the spending power in the economy, while rates also went up as money printing was scaled back, foreign funding stopped and the budget deficit widened.

The rate hike has prevented possible hyperinflation and a bigger implosion of the economy by stabilizing the external sector in the wake of previous mis-targeting of interest rates.

In the current currency crisis a delay in an IMF program due to China not giving debt assurances as well as fears of domestic debt re-structure has kept interest rates elevated.

Sri Lanka’s economic bureaucrats in 2020 cut taxes and also printed money, in a classic ‘Barber Boom’ style tactic implemented by UK economists and Chancellor Anthony Barber in 1971 to boost growth and employment.

The ‘Barber Boom’ ended in a currency crisis (at the time the UK did not have a floating rate and the Bretton Woods system was just starting to collapse under policies of Fed economists) and inflation of around 25 percent in the UK.

The UK implemented a three-day working week to conserve energy after stimulus while Sri Lanka saw widespread power cuts as forex shortages hit.

Read more:

Anthony Barber budget of 1971

Anthony Barber budget of 1972

Similar policies saw a worldwide revival as the US Fed economists injected money during the Covid crisis mis-using monetary policy to counter a real economic shock and boost employment while the government gave stimulus checques.

Now the world is facing an output shock as a hangover the Covid pandemic recedes.

The re-introduction of progressive tax at a maximum rate of 36 percent while tax brackets high jumped with the rupee collapsing from 200 to 360 to the US dollar had reduced disposable incomes further.

Salaries employees were encouraged to get loans in 2020 with the central bank mandating a 7 percent ceiling rate for five years.

However, any borrower who got loans on floating rates long before the scheme are now facing higher rates. (Colombo/Feb06/2023)

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Sri Lanka to address SME tax problems at first opportunity: State Minister

ECONOMYNEXT – Problems faced by Sri Lanka’s small and medium enterprises from recent tax changes will be addressed at the first opportunity, State Minister for Finance Ranjith Siyambalapitiya said.

Business chambers had raised questions about hikes in Value Added Tax, Corporate Income Tax and the Social Security Contribution Levy (SSCL) that’s been imposed.

It should be explored on how to amend the Inland Revenue Act, Siyamabalapitiya said, adding that the future months should be considered as a period where the country is being stabilized.

Both the VAT and SSCL are effectively paid by customers, but the SSCL is a cascading tax that makes running businesses difficult.

In Sri Lanka SMEs make up a large part of the economy, accounting for 80 per cent of all businesses according to according to the island’s National Human Resources and Employment Policy.

(Colombo/ Feb 05/2023)

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Sri Lanka revenues Rs158.7bn in Jan 2023 up 51-pct

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s government revenues were 158.7 billion rupees in January 2023 but expenditure and debt service remained high, Cabinet spokesman Minister Bandula Gunawardana said.

In January 2022 total revenues were Rs104.5 billion according to central bank data.

Sri Lanka’s tax revenues have risen sharply amid an inflationary blow off which had boosted nominal GDP while President Ranil Wickremesinghe has also raised taxes.

Departing from a previous strategy advocated by the IMF expanding the state and not cutting expenses, called revenue based fiscal consolidation, he is attempting to do classical fiscal consolidation with spending restraint.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe has presented a note to cabinet requesting state expenditure to be controlled, Gunawardana told reporters.

State Salaries cost 87.4 billion rupees.

Pensions and income supplements (Samurdhi program) were29.5 billion rupees.

Other expenses were 10.8 billion rupees.

Capital spending was   21 billion rupees.

Debt service was 377.6 billion rupees for January which has to be done with borrowings from Treasury bills, bonds and a central bank provisional advance of 100 billion rupees, Gunawardana said.

Interest costs were not separately given. (Colombo/Feb05/2023)

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