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Tuesday January 31st, 2023

Sri Lanka President says seeking IMF bailout for forex crisis, debt

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka will seek International Monetary Fund support, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said as the country reels from foreign exchange shortages due to unusually high levels of money printed to keep interest rates low.

Sri Lanka is facing forex shortages for basic imports as printed money has pushed up domestic demand and made it difficult to repay debt.

It will be the 17th time Sri Lanka is getting IMF help, since a Latin America style central bank was set up in 1950.

“To this end, we have initiated discussions with international financial institutions as well as with our friendly countries regarding repayment of our loan installments,” President Rajapaksa said in an national address for which power cuts were halted.

“The government is in discussions with various parties to implement a new method regarding this which will be beneficial to our country.

“Yesterday’s discussion with the International Monetary Fund was also held for this purpose.

“Through those discussions, we hope to find a way to pay off our annual loan installments, sovereign bonds, and so on.

“Subsequent to my discussions with the International Monetary Fund, I have decided to work with them after examining the advantages and disadvantages.”

Sri Lanka’s started going to the IMF after a central bank capable of creating balance of payments deficit by printing money was set up in August 1950, abolishing a Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong style currency board that had kept the country stable since 1885.

The Singapore and Malaysia currency board (Straits dollar) was set up in 1898, but the monetary arrangements were retained after independence, blocking money printing. Malaysia has since become an intermediate regime and has seen instability.

President Rajapaksa meanwhile promised to solve the economic crisis which has left people in queues.

“I accept responsibility for the actions I take,” President Rajapaksa said. “Today, I am determined to make tough decisions to find solutions to the inconveniences that the people are experiencing.

“I have appointed a National Economic Council and an Advisory Committee to assist it. I will constantly monitor whether the decisions I make through this are implemented. Therefore, first of all I request you to have faith in the actions I will take on behalf of the people.”

Analysts say the the government will have to reduce spending and people will also have to pay higher taxes to pay the salaries of tens of thousands of unemployed graduates hired into the already bloated public sector.

Sri Lanka’s state spending went up from 17 percent of gross domestic product in 2014 to close to 20 percent under so-called ‘revenue-based-fiscal-consolation’ where spending based consolidation (cutting spending) was pooh-poohed.

Higher monetary instability was also seen amid call money rate targeting and real effective exchange ate targeting. However from 2019 taxes were cut and unusually high levels of level of money was printed under an extreme post-Keynesian ideology which was likened to Modern Monetary Theory.

Last week Sri Lanka broke a non-credible peg in a bid to establish a floating regime, but so far, the float has not taken place though the rupee has fallen to around 270 to the US dollar. (Colombo/Mar16/2022)

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Sri Lanka shares down for 2nd day as tax hike, delay in Chinese debt assurance weigh

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s shares edged down on Tuesday as worries over delay in financial assurances from China which is mandatory for a $2.9 billion dollar IMF loan and rise in protests against tax hike kept investors in check, analysts said.

The main All Share Price Index (ASPI) edged down by 0.28 percent or 24.62 points to 8,865.05. It fell for the second session after hitting more than three-month high.

“The market is looking for more macro cues because of faster Chinese debt assurance was expected. The market is also hit by fall in corporate earnings due to high taxes,” an analyst said.

China has given an initial response on debt re-structuring to Sri Lanka though analysts familiar with the process say it is not a ‘hard assurance’ sufficient for the IMF program to go through.

The International Monetary Fund is working with China on extending maturities of Chinese loans to defaulted countries like Sri Lanka, as there is resistance to hair-cuts, Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva told reporters on January 14.
The earnings for first quarter are expected to be negative for many corporates with higher taxes and rising costs. However, investors had not expected earnings to be low in the December quarter because of year end pick ups on heavy counters, the analyst said.
Earnings in the second quarter of 2023 are expected to be more positive with the anticipation of IMF loan and possible reduction in the market interest rates as the tax revenue has started to generate funds.

However, the central bank said the IMF deal is likely in the first quarter or in the first month of the second quarter.

The most liquid index S&P SL20 dropped by 0.64 percent or 17.74 points to 2,764.51 points.

The central bank has said it could cut interest rates in future when the country sees fall in inflation, which has already started decelerating.

The market saw a turnover of 1.7 billion rupees, slightly lower than the month’s daily average of 1.8 billion rupees and while being significantly lower than 2022’s daily average turnover of 2.9 billion rupees.

The bourse saw a net foreign inflow (NFI) of 93 million rupees extending the net offshore buying to 413 million rupees so far this year.

Top losers were LOLC, Royal Ceramics Limited and Hayleys. (Colombo/Jan31/2023)

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Sri Lanka exports fall in December as global recession weighs

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s merchandise exports earnings fell 9.7 percent in December year-on-year as the island nation saw a drop in buying from its key export destinations which are facing a looming recession after the Russia-Ukraine war.

The earnings from the merchandise exports recorded $1.04 billion  in December 2022 compared to the same month in the previous year as per the data released by the Sri Lanka Customs.

“This was mainly due to the decrease in export earnings from Apparel & Textiles, Tea, Rubber based Products, and Coconut based Products, Food & Beverages, Spices & Essential Oils and Fisheries products,” the Export Development Board (EDB) said in a statement.

“The reason for this decline was due to the ongoing recession in major markets due to rising cost of production, energy etc. Imports declined sharply due to inflation and demand for goods and services are reduced.”

However, Sri Lanka saw a record export earning of $13.1 billion in 2022 due to increased demand in the key exports throughout the year

Earnings from all major product sectors except Electrical & Electronic components as well as Diamonds, Gems & Jewellery fell in December.

Exports of Apparel & Textiles decreased by 9.6 percent to $480.3 million in December 2022.  Export earnings from Tea fell by 3 percent to $107.3 million, Rubber and Rubber Finished products dropped 20.3 percent to $74.5 million,

However, export earnings from the Electrical & Electronics Components increased by 16.18 percent to $42.9 million in December 2022, while Diamond, Gems & Jewelry jumped 35.7 percent to $30.8 million. (Colombo/Jan31/2023)

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Sri Lanka records over 6,000 dengue cases in first three weeks of January

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka recorded over than 6,000 dengue cases in the first three weeks of January 2023 after a spell of heavy monsoon rain though a drop in cases is likely from February, officials said.

Health officials identified 6,204 dengue patients by January 22, up from 5,793 recorded in the corresponding period last year.

“A rise in cases can be observed in the November-January period with the heavy rain due to the northeast monsoon,” an official from the National Dengue Control Unit told EconomyNext.

Of all reported cases, 46.3 percent were from the Western Province, official reports showed.

Akuressa, Batticaloa, Eravur, Trincomalee, Madampe, Badulla, Eheliyagoda, Kegalle, Kalmunai North and Alayadivembu MOH areas were identified as high-risk areas for dengue during the third week of January by the health officials.

“We are expecting a decline in dengue cases soon. The Western province is always in the top position with the highest number of dengue cases. Apart from that, we are seeing a higher number of cases during this period in areas like Puttalam, Jaffna districts. A certain number of cases have also been recorded in the Kandy district,” the official said.

“Usually the cases peak in December, but they decline by February. This year, too, we are facing this scenario. There is an increase of dengue during the months of November, December and January”.

Due to the economic situation in the country, the Public Health Inspectors (PHIs) in an earlier report said, diesel and pesticides are not being provided by the ministry.

However, rejecting the allegation, the official from the NDCU said the government has provided enough funds for get the necessary pesticides but it is being used according to a scientific method to avoid building a resistance in the dengue mosquito.

“The recommendation is to do the fogging if there is a dengue outbreak or if there are few patients reported from the same locality.

“If you use this pesticide haphazardly, the mosquitos will develop resistance against it,” the official said, adding that there are adequate stocks of the chemical available. (Colombo/ Jan 31/2023)

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