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Wednesday June 7th, 2023

Sri Lanka post-default rating linked to IMF debt reduction path: Fitch

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s post default ratings would depend on the speed at which the debt is reduced under an International Monetary Fund program, while a ‘restricted default’ label would be taken off after commercial debt is re-structured, Fitch, a rating agency said.

Sri Lanka’s foreign currency rating was lowered to restricted default (RD), after the country defaulted on bilateral and private debt but continued to service multilateral loans.

The RD rating would be removed after a successful “completion of a commercial debt restructuring that we judge to have normalised the relationship with the international financial community,” the rating agency said.

A slower debt reduction path would make it easier to re-structure debt, but it may result in higher debt levels for a longer period, delaying quick upgrades.

“Sri Lanka’s post-default ratings would depend upon our assessment of its credit profile,” the agency said.

“If the key parameters for returning to debt sustainability under the IMF programme allow for a moderate and extended debt reduction process, this could facilitate debt restructuring talks, but may weigh on the sovereign’s post-default credit ratings.”

Sri Lanka is planning to reduce debt and return to ‘debt sustainability’ under an IMF program.

According to data in a debt assurance letter given by India, Sri Lanka plans to reduce the debt to GDP ratio to 95 percent of GDP by 2032 from around 140 percent now and the annual gross financing requirement to around 13 percent of GDP from the current 30 percent.

Sri Lanka has high interest rates and high levels accumulated foreign and local debt after operating a so-called flexible inflation targeting framework with an ad hoc pegged arrangement called a ‘flexible exchange rate’ which triggered serial currency crises and output shocks.

After large volumes of money were printed and taxes were cut to end what economic bureaucrats called a ‘persistent output gap’ the country ran out of reserves and defaulted, leaving the central bank also in debt.

Other countries with similar monetary arrangements including but no tax cuts including Ghana, Zambia and Pakistan, have also defaulted or are near default after they also cut rates amid a post-covid recovery.

The full statement is reproduced below:

Sri Lanka’s Probable IMF Support Deal Positive for Debt Negotiations

Fri 10 Mar, 2023 – 1:56 AM ET

Fitch Ratings-Hong Kong-10 March 2023: Fitch Ratings believes Sri Lanka is likely to secure financing support from the IMF after the fund’s Executive Board set a date of 20 March to review the USD2.9 billion staff-level agreement that the country signed with the IMF in September 2022. IMF funding should improve Sri Lanka’s external liquidity, but the timing of any debt restructuring agreement with official and private creditors remains uncertain.

We view the announcement of a date for the Executive Board review as an indication that the IMF regards the financing assurances it has received from key official creditors as sufficiently credible to move forward. Sri Lanka’s president on 7 March indicated that China had provided its support, following earlier assurances from India and Paris Club official creditors. The president also indicated that Sri Lanka had completed all prior actions required under the IMF programme, although the IMF Board will make its own assessment on this in deciding whether to approve the package.

Board approval of the programme would release IMF funding and should unlock additional financing from multilateral creditors. This would bolster official foreign-exchange reserves, which have already risen 30% from their trough in October 2022. Nonetheless, reserves remain very low, at USD2.2 billion in February, equivalent to around one month of imports.

We expect improved external liquidity to support a broader strengthening of macroeconomic stability. The exchange rate has appreciated since late February 2023. Month-on-month inflation had already moderated over 2H22, but the strengthening of the currency should further restrain price growth if it is sustained.

Nonetheless, potential upsides to Sri Lanka’s economic outlook will remain constrained until its debt restructuring is agreed upon. The prospects for a deal with creditors remain unclear for now. We view recent developments as positive for debt negotiations, partly because they suggest that official creditors’ financing assurances are consistent with the parameters of the IMF’s programme that seeks to return debt to sustainable levels. However, restructuring talks could continue for a long time yet.

The example of Zambia (Restricted Default, or RD), where an IMF support package was approved by the Board in August 2022 but debt restructuring talks are still ongoing, highlights this risk. We believe that even if official creditors are more aligned in Sri Lanka’s case, talks with private-sector creditors could raise further complications.

The issue of whether to include local-currency debt in any restructuring will be one of the factors complicating debt negotiations. We downgraded Sri Lanka’s Long-Term Local-Currency Issuer Default Rating (IDR) to ‘CC’, from ‘CCC’, in December 2022, reflecting our view that a local-currency debt default is probable in light of an untenably high domestic interest payment/revenue ratio, high interest costs, tight domestic financing conditions and rising local-currency debt/GDP in the context of high domestic fiscal financing requirements, which authorities forecast at about 8% of GDP in 2022. The Long-Term Local-Currency IDR would be further downgraded if the government announces plans to restructure or defaults on its local-currency debt.

Fitch rates Sri Lanka’s Long-Term Foreign-Currency IDR at ‘RD’. We may move the IDR out of ‘RD’ upon the sovereign’s completion of a commercial debt restructuring that we judge to have normalised the relationship with the international financial community. Sri Lanka’s post-default ratings would depend upon our assessment of its credit profile. If the key parameters for returning to debt sustainability under the IMF programme allow for a moderate and extended debt reduction process, this could facilitate debt restructuring talks, but may weigh on the sovereign’s post-default credit ratings.

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Sri Lanka’s shares slip on profit taking and selling pressure

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s shares closed lower on Wednesday after four consecutive gains in previous sessions spiraled into selling interest and profit taking, an analyst said.

The main All Share Price Index was down 0.28 percent or 24.39 points to 8,722.06, this is the lowest the index has been since May 02, while the most liquid index S&P SL20 was down 0.40 percent or 9.92 points to 2,468.44.

“The market was gaining in the previous sessions and there is selling and profit taking present today, due to continuously being on green,” an analyst said.

In the previous sessions the market was seeing gains, due to lowered policy rates and low inflation stimulating buying interest and driving the sentiment up, an analyst said.

Sri Lanka’s inflation in the 12-months to May 2023 has eased to 25.2 percent from 35.3 percent a month earlier according to a revised Colombo Consumer Price Index calculated by the state statistics office.

The central bank cut the key policy rates by 250 basis points to spur a faltering economic growth as inflation was decelerating faster than it projected.

“There are gradual improvements in the market sentiment, with positive sentiments coming in from lowered policy rates and inflation,” an analyst said.

The market generated foreign inflows of 12 million rupees and received a net foreign inflow of 18 million rupees, due to low share prices and discounted shares followed by a dividend announcement.

The market generated a revenue of 554 million rupees, this is the lowest the turnover has been since May 10, while the daily turnover average was 1 billion rupees. From the total generated revenue, the banking sector contributed 120 million rupees, Diversified Banks contributed 115 million rupees and the Capital Goods Industry generated 78 million rupees.

Top losers during trade were Sampath Bank, Commercial Bank and Aitken Spence. (Colombo/June06/2023)

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Sri Lanka Treasuries yields plunge, 12-month down 318bp

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Treasuries yields plunged across maturities at Wednesday’s auction with the 12-month yield falling 318 basis points, in one of the biggest one day falls, data from the state debt office showed.

The 3-month yield fell 244 basis points to 23.21 percent.

The 6-mont yield fell 339 basis points to 21.90 percent, along with the 12 months to 19.10 percent.

The short-term yield curve is inverted.

The central bank last week cut its policy rate 250 basis points in a signaling move but is not printing money to enforce the rate cut.

The debt office sold all 140 billion rupees of offered securities. (Colombo/June07/2023)

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Sri Lanka forex reserves rise US$722mn in May 2023

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s foreign reserves grew 722 million US dollars to 3,483 million US dollars in May 2023 from 2,761 million US dollars in April, official data showed amid weak credit and better inflows.

Sri Lanka lost almost all its reserve in over two years as the central bank sold reserves and printed money to keep rates down (sterilized reserves sales) including borrowed dollars from India.

Gross official reserves fell to a low of 1,705 million US dollars in September 2022.

Sri Lanka’s central bank hiked rates in April 2022 to slow credit and also stopped printing money after it ran out of borrowed Asian Clearing Union dollars from India.

Sri Lanka’s gross official reserves are made up of both monetary reserves of the central bank and any balances of the Treasury account from loans or grants it gets.

The central bank’s net foreign reserves are still negative after busting up borrowed reserves to suppress rates. By April (before the collection of reserves in May) the central bank’s net reserves were negative by 3.7 billion US dollars.

In May alone 662 million US dollars were bought from the market, Central Bank Governor Nandalal Weerasinghe said.

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No pre-determined level to stop Sri Lanka rupee appreciation: CB Governor

Borrowing dollars through swaps and busting them up, was invented by the US Federal Reserve as it was printing money and breaking the Bretton Woods system in the early 1970s.

Sri Lanka received a 350 million US dollar tranche from the Asian Development Bank and 331 million US dollars from the IMF to the Treasury for budget support.

The loans can be sold to the central bank by the government to generate rupees and spend. However, since credit is weak, not all the inflows go out of the country particularly as the central bank is conducting deflationary open market operations on a net basis.

By allowing the rupee to appreciate unlike in previous episodes of recovery in an IMF program, after a bout of money printing, the central bank is bringing down inflation – in some cases absolute prices – and restoring confidence and easing the ‘pain’ of ‘monetary policy’ or stimulus.

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Why is Sri Lanka’s rupee appreciating?

Though exports are falling, tourism revenues are also picking up.

The budget support loans, tourism receipts less the reserve collected will widen the trade deficit. Building foreign reserves involves lending money to the US or other western nations and is similar to repaying foreign debt. (Colombo/June07/2023)

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