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Thursday December 1st, 2022

Sri Lanka Ports Authority to waive penalties for delayed containers as dollar bites

ECONOMYNEXT – The Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) is in the process of waiving demurrage charged on containers at the SLPA-owned Colombo port after importers failed to clear them on time amid forex shortage, officials said.

‘’We are still at the primary stage of examining documents and we are still not sure about the amount that will be waived off,” a senior SLPA official told EconomyNext on Tuesday (23).

“We can’t even be sure of the exact number of requested waivers as we have received many in a short period.’’

The island nation’s main port saw hundreds of containers stuck in its dockyards as importers struggled to clear them because they could not open letters of credit or secure adequate US dollars.

The government has given priority to clearing essential food containers to avert a possible food shortage and arbitrary price increase in essential commodities amid higher demand.

The SLPA has already called for documentary evidence to review the eligibility for waivers, as a special concession to importers, towards cargo landed at SLPA-owned terminals (JCT & ECT) pending clearance up to January 31, 2022, in the wake of the prevalent foreign exchange situation.

The SLPA has said “some number of consignments [are] lying uncleared over a significant period of time”.

Importers have complained of no US dollars to clear their imported containers since the last quarter of 2021.

“The individuals have to bring in documents from the bank to prove that they could not pay the fees due to the forex crisis,” another senior SLPA official told EconomyNext.

“Every day we get many documents, and we are working to get them all processed. We are giving preference to food items like rice, sugar, and so on.”

Neither official commented on the total number of containers stuck in the port but claimed that it was not 2,000 as reported in media.

‘That it is not true. At any given time there are a lot of containers coming and going from the dockyards. I don’t know from where these figures went to the media, but there is no such problem.’’

In January 2019, only 10.10 percent of cargo remained in the dockyards for over a week. In January this year, the figure has increased to 11.59 percent. SLPA officers said, ‘There’s an increase but not as drastic as reported, and it is not even worth mentioning.’’

“At this time we were made aware that we don’t need to earn a super profit and charge unnecessary charges to take advantage of this crisis. So the decision to remove the demurrage and penal costs were made while thinking of the importers.’’ (Colombo/Feb23/2022)

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Sri Lanka electricity losses from overpriced fuel, no tariff hike considered: regulator

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s state-run Ceylon Electricity Board’s high operating costs are partly due to excessive prices paid for fuel and no tariff hike is being considered, Chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka, Janaka Ratnayake said.

The CEB itself does not buy fuel but depends on state-run Ceylon Petroleum Corporation and Lanka Coal, another state firm to buy fuel. Both firms are periodically caught in procurement scandals.

“They are paying about 385 plus rupees per litre for furnace oil,” Ratnayaka told EconomyNext.

“That is too much. From the global market we can buy it to much lower price. It can be imported below 200 rupees,”

“I ask the government to take the necessary steps to create a system to import furnace oil, like they did for fuel, to be imported at the lower price levels. If that happens, we can go without going for a price hike.”

Sri Lanka’s CEB generally gets furnace oil and residual oil from the domestic refinery and usually do not import furnace oil.

The refinery however is not regularly operating due to inability to get crude amidst the worst currency crisis in the history of the island’s intermediate regime central bank.

Ratnayake had earlier brought to light import costs of the CPC.

Pushing for operations efficiency of the CEB is a role of the regulator. Regulating costs based on global benchmark prices to push for procurement efficiencies is a standard practice. However the PUCSL is not the official regulator of the petroleum sector.

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Sri Lanka power tariff revisions sought in Jan and July: Minister

Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera told parliament that cabinet approval was sought to twice yearly tariff hikes in January and July of each year.

No Electricity tariff hikes are being considered yet, Ratnayake said.

Wijesekera blamed the regulator as well as successive administrations for not regularly revising power prices and pushing the sector into crisis.

In Sri Lanka activists had also blocked cheap coal power. (Colombo/Dec01/2022)

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Sri Lanka banks may need more regulatory, accounting forbearance: Coomaraswamy

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s banks may need more regulatory forbearance ex-Central Bank Governor Indrajit Coomaraswamy said as the country imposes stabilization measures after the worst currency crisis since independence.

“We need to look at regulatory forbearance,” Coomaraswamy told a forum organized by CT CLSA Securities, a Colombo based brokerage.

“For CA Sri Lanka to do some more accounting forbearance. They have given some already.”

Sri Lanka’s central bank has given some regulatory loosening in the mark to market losses and also in liquidity ratios.

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Sri Lanka relaxes bank capital rules to cushion bond losses as rates spike

Sri Lanka’s banks are seeing higher levels of bad loans after the latest currency crisis as well as mark-to-market losses, and the impact of dollar sovereign bonds in default.

Sri Lanka’s stage 3 loans were 7.9 percent of total advances (net 8.7) by the end of the second quarter of 2022.

It compares with a 6.6 percent NPL ratio in the first quarter of 2020 as the Coronavirus pandemic started, which also triggered bad loans just as the roots of the current currency crises started.

In a currency crisis, a soft-pegged or reserve collecting (flexible exchange rate) central bank will inject liquidity to either monetize mostly maturing Treasuries from past deficits (in Latin America mainly failure to roll-over sterilization securities) to suppress rates.

When forex shortages begin to emerge from the excess credit, the flexible exchange rate central bank will intervene and sterilize the dollar sales to keep suppressing rates and prevent reserve money from contracting. Both moves allow banks to give credit without deposits, worsening their loan to deposit ratios and blowing a hole in the balance of payments.

When interest rates correct to stabilize the currency crisis and injections end, bad loans pile up. During the Coronavirus crises however economic activity was muted, compared to previous credit cycles and large volume of injected liquidity piled up in the banking system.

Before the twin crises, the central bank had earlier made banks boost capital.

Coomaraswamy who was Central Bank Governor until the beginning of 2020 said the then head of bank supervision A Thassim had insisted that banks comply with the Basle III capital standards as early as possible, when he himself was prepared to give some more time.

As a result, Sri Lanka banks were well capitalized at the start of the crisis, he said.

In the crisis with government finances already weakened, the banks were made to give relief and took the pressure, Coomaraswamy said.

After Sri Lanka default in April and interest rates were normalized to stop the currency crisis, banks were now facing pressure.

CA Sri Lanka, the island’s accounting body had already given some leeway to re-classify trading portfolios of securities to reduce the impact of mark-to-market losses.

In previous currency crisis, the IMF makes the briefly float the currency to establish confidence in the exchange rate after raising rates to curb domestic credit. This time rates were raised after a float failed by a surrender rule.

A successful float leads to early exporter conversions and a resumption of delayed import settlements which leads to a gradual fall of interest rates. Fixes to the budget and utilities also help.

The falling rates help boost capital gains of banks, offsetting some of the loan loss provisions.

This time however though external stability has large been reached, there has been no successful float to convince the market but taxes have been raised and utility prices adjusted to reduce domestic credit.

Lack of clarity over domestic debt re-structuring has also kept rates elevated. But long term rates have now started to ease.

Meanwhile President Ranil Wickremesinghe had already proposed an asset management company to take-over bad loans. (Colombo/Dec01/2022)

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Sri Lanka power cuts expanded on low water levels

ECONOMYNEXT – Due to water level reduction in reservoirs and high usage of fuel in generating electricity was the main reason the Public Utilities Commission has approved power cuts of 2 hours and 20 minutes, Chairman Janaka Rathnayaka said.

Sri Lanka power cuts were two hours earlier. The Ceylon Electricity Board had requested a 3 hour cut which was not granted.

“The reason it was brought to 2 hours and 20 minutes, was the water levels are lowering in reservoirs and we need to maintain a certain water level to generate hydro power,” Rathnayaka told EconomyNext.

“And also we are using more fuel which is costlier, and therefore we had to increase the power cuts period”.

CEB unions had warned of extended power cuts from July unless coal for 2022 was brought before the April monsoon season starts, when ships cannot be unloaded.

Sri Lanka has already secured seven coal shipments which will complete in the next two days, and should work to secure 38 more shipments in order to secure the necessary coals for 2023. (Colombo/ Dec 01/2022)

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