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Sunday January 29th, 2023

Sri Lanka Port City to allow crypto currency trading, no rupee tokens

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Colombo Port City will allow crypto currency trading subject to some limitations, Chairman the governing Commission of the dollarized special investment zone, Saliya Wickremasuriya said.

“We have included digital assets in the asset classes that the Port City will entertain in terms of exchanges in the future,” Wickremasuriya said.

“We expect that will spur a list of other requirements such as settlement banks, correspondent banks.”

There are a few checks and balances in this plan. One of them is that rupee tokens will not be permitted.

“The other is that we will not be allowing initial coin offerings in the first couple of years.”

Amid excessive money printing by conventional state owned reserve currencies in recent years, crypto currencies such as Bitcoin have become popular speculative assets.

Cryptocurrencies through the use of blockchain technology has the potential to settle domestic and cross border contracts seamlessly.

However crypto currencies have so far not come into popular use as denominator currencies for either pricing goods mostly due to excessive price volatility from inappropriate anchors.

Activity in the Port City area itself is to be permitted in multiple currencies with better anchors (mostly inflation targeting clean floating regimes) and it will be protected from the continuous policy errors of the Monetary Board of Sri Lanka which has led to currency collapses, exchange and trade controls.

The US Treasury said on November 01, that the country is planning to allow ‘stable coins’, crypto currencies that are supposed to operate like a currency board (following the anchor of an already accepted currency) and does not have its own anchor.

Such existing stable coins include the Tether.

Sri Lanka also had a currency board (a fixed exchange rate) until 1950 when a Latin America style central bank with a flawed dual anchors were set up with exchange controls, trade controls and then people started to go to work in the middle east and send remittances.

When Sri Lanka had a currency board, the country imported labor and remittances went out.

Stable coins are primarily used to buy other digital assets, but the US Treasury said they could be used as a means of payment by households and businesses.

“Stablecoins that are well-designed and subject to appropriate oversight have the potential to support beneficial payments options,” Secretary of the Treasury Janet L Yellen said.

“But the absence of appropriate oversight presents risks to users and the broader system.

“Current oversight is inconsistent and fragmented, with some stablecoins effectively falling outside the regulatory perimeter.

“Treasury and the agencies involved in this report look forward to working with Members of Congress from both parties on this issue. While Congress considers action, regulators will continue to operate within their mandates to address the risks of these assets.”

Read More: President Biden’s Working Group on Financial Markets Releases Report and Recommendations on Stablecoins

Why Sri Lanka’s rupee is depreciating creating currency crises: Bellwether

She said the issuers will be made insured depository institutions to guard against “stable coin runs”.

“To the extent activity related to digital assets falls under the jurisdiction of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), the SEC and CFTC have broad enforcement, rulemaking, and oversight authorities that may address certain of these concerns,” the Treasury statement said.

“To prevent misuse of stablecoins and other digital assets by illicit actors, Treasury will continue leading efforts at the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to encourage countries to implement international AML/CFT standards and pursue additional resources to support supervision of domestic AML/CFT regulations.”

Currently paper fiat money is also used for a range of illicit activities with no electronic trail.

The Board of Commissioners of Currency of Ceylon, Thomas Cooke travelers cheques, American Express Travelers cheques, which also used the currency board principle has never depreciated against the currencies they were anchored to like soft-pegged bank with open market operations. (Colombo/Dec06/2021)

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Sri Lanka operators seek higher renewable tariffs, amid exchange rate expectations

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s renewable companies say they need tariff of 40 to 45 rupees a unit to sell power to the Ceylon Electricity Board and the agency owes them tens of billions of rupees for power sold in the past.

The association has strong exchange rate expectations based on the country’s dual anchor conflicting monetary regimes involving flexible inflation targeting with a reserve collecting target.

“In the coming year of course because of the rupee devaluation, I think the solar energy sector might require tariffs closer to RS 40 or RS 45, hydropower will also require tariffs on that scale,” Prabath Wickremasinghe President of the Small hydropower Developers Association told reporters.

“I think right now what they pay us is averaging around RS 15 to RS 20.”

Some of the earlier plants are paid only 9 rupees a unit, he said. The association there is potential to develop around 200 Mega Watts of mini hydros, 700 to 1000MW of ground mounted soar and about 1,000 rooftop solar.

In addition to the rupee collapse, global renewable energy costs are also up, in the wake of higher oil prices in the recent past and energy disruption in Europe.

The US Fed and the ECB have tightened monetary policy and global energy and food commodity price are now easing.

However in a few years the 40 to 45 rupee tariffs will look cheap, Wickremesinghe pointed out, given the country’s monetary policy involving steep depreciation.

From 2012 to 2015 the rupee collapsed from 113 to 131 to the US dollar. From 2015 to 2019 the rupee collapsed from 131 to 182 under flexible inflation targeting cum exchange rate as the first line of defence where the currency is deprecated instead of hiking rates and halting liquidity injections.

From 2020 to 2022 the rupee collapsed from 182 to 360 under output gap targeting (over stimulus) and exchange rate as the first line of defence.

“The tariffs are paid in rupees,” Wickremasinghe said. With the rupee continuing to devalue in other 5 years 40 rupees will look like 20 rupees.”

Sri Lanka has the worst central bank in South Asia after Pakistan. Both central banks started with the rupee at 4.70 to the US dollars, derived from the Reserve Bank of India, which was set up as a private bank like the Bank of England.

India started to run into forex shortages after the RBI was nationalized and interventionist economic bureaucrats started to run the agency. Sri Lanka’s and Pakistan’s central bank were run on discretionary principles by economic bureaucrats from the beginning.

The Central Bank of Sri Lanka was set up with a peg with gold acting as the final restraint on economic bureaucrats, but it started to depreciated steeply from 1980 as the restraint was taken away.

Now under so-called ‘exchange rate as the first line of defence’ whenever the currency comes under pressure due to inflationary policy (liquidity injections to target an artificially low policy rate or Treasuries yields) the currency is depreciated instead of allowing rates to normalize.

Eventually rates also shoot up, as attempts are made to stabilize the currency which collapses from ‘first line of defence’ triggering downgrades along the way.

After the currency collapse, the Ceylon Electricity Board, finances are shattered and it is unable to pay renewable operators.

Unlike the petroleum, which has to stop delivery as it runs out of power, renewable operators continue to deliver as their domestic value added is higher.

However they also have expenses including salaries of staff to pay.

The CEB which is also running higher losses after the central bank printed money and triggered a currency collapse, has not settled renewable producers.

“In the meantime, we have financial issues with the investors and CEB owns more than 45 million rupees in the industry,” Warna Dahanayaka, Secretary of Mini Hydro Association, said at the conference.

“We can’t sustain because we can’t pay the salaries and we can’t sustain also because of the bank loans. Therefore, we are requesting the government to take the appropriate action for this matter.”

Sri Lanka and Pakistan have identical issues in the power sector including large losses, circular debt, subsidies due to depreciating currencies.

In Sri Lanka there is strong support from the economists outside government for inflationary policy and monetary instability.

The country’s exporters, expatriate workers, users of unofficial gross settlement systems, budget deficits and interbank forex dealers in previous crises have been blamed for monetary instability rather than the unworkable impossible trinity regime involving conflicting domestic (inflation target) and external targets (foreign reserves).

The country has no doctrinal foundation in sound money and there is both fear of floating and hard peg phobia among opinion leaders on both sides of the spectrum regardless of whether they are state or private sector like any Latin American country, critics say.

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South Asia, Sri Lanka currency crises; only 2-pct know monetary cause: World Bank survey

A World Bank survey last year found that only 2 percent of ‘experts’ surveyed by the agency knew that external monetary instability was generated by the central bank. Most blamed trade in severe knee jerk reaction. (Colombo/Jan29/2023)

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Sri Lanka top chamber less pessimistic on 2023 GDP contraction

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s top business chamber said it was expecting an economic contraction of up to 2 percent in 2023, which is much lower than projected by international agencies.

“The forecast of 2023 is quite negative in terms of the international forecasters,” Shiran Fernando Chief Economist of Ceylon Chamber of Commerce told a business forum in Colombo.

“Our view is that there will be some level of contraction, may be zero to two percent. But I think as the year progresses in particular the second half, we will see consumption picking up.”

The World Bank is projecting a 4.2 percent contraction in 2023.

In 2022 Sri Lanka’s economy is expected to contract around 8 to 9 percent with gross domestic product shrinking 7.1 percent up to September.

Most businesses have seen a consumption hit, but not as much as indicated, Fernando said.

“Consumption is not falling as much as GDP in sense and we are seeing much more resilient consumer,” he said.

Sri Lanka’s economy usually starts to recover around 15 to 20 months after each currency crisis triggered by the island’s soft-pegged central bank in its oft repeated action of mis-targeting rates through aggressive open market operation or rejecting real bids at Treasuries auctions. (Colombo/Jan28/2023)

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Acuity Knowledge Partners with Sri Lanka office to be bought by Permira

ECONOMYNEXT – Permira, an investment fund with operations in Europe, US and Asia is buying a majority stake in Acuity Knowledge Partners, which has a 500 seat center in Sri Lanka for a undisclosed sum.

Equistone Partners Europe, from which Permira is buying the stake will remain a minority investor, the statement said.

In 2019, Equistone backed a management buyout of Acuity from Moody’s Corporation.

Acuity Knowledge Partners says it serves a global client base of over 500 financial services firms, including banks, asset managers, advisory firms, private equity houses and consultants.

“Despite the current challenges for the financial services sector, we have experienced continued growth and a strong demand for our solutions and services,” Robert King, CEO of Acuity Knowledge Partners, said.

“Given the significant demand within the financial services sector for value-added research and analytics, and the need for operational efficiency, with Permira’s deep experience in tech-enabled services and its global network, I am confident the business will continue to flourish.”

London headquartered Acuity has offices in the UK, USA, India, Sri Lanka, Costa Rica, China and Dubai, UAE.

Equistone was advised on the transaction by Rothschild & Co and DC Advisory, and Latham & Watkins acted as legal counsel. Robert W. Baird Limited served as financial advisers to Permira, and Clifford Chance is acting as legal counsel.

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