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Monday March 4th, 2024

Sri Lanka President warns of delay in IMF deal amid China, India issues

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka is unlikely to get an International Monetary Fund deal in December as originally expected with delays in dealing with China and India which are out of the Paris Club as well as ‘bilateral issues’, President Ranil Wickremesinghe has said.

Sri Lanka has to get ‘creditor assurances’ on debt restructuring from bilateral lenders before the IMF’s executive board endorses a reform program formally.

Unlike other countries which got into default, two out of three main creditors of Sri Lanka were out of the Paris Club of creditors who had already had a well-oiled mechanism for dealing with debt re-structuring.

“I first went to the Paris Club where all the creditors were from the West and Japan,” President Wickremesinghe told a forum of tea factory owners in Colombo.

“However, we are in a unique position today where out of our three main creditors, only one belongs to the Paris Club. Japan.

“The other two are not in the Paris Club. They are India and China.”

He said China started debt restructuring with Zambia.

There were also ‘bilateral issues’ to deal with, he said without elaborating.

“I think India has it for the first time with Sri Lanka,” President Wickremesinghe said. “I have already started discussions with Japan and now with India and China.

“We get down to a common platform of how we can resolve it while we also have discussions on bilateral issues that affect each other’s countries.”

China has just finished its party conference where senior officials had change.

“If we can move and come to an agreement by December, which means coming to an agreement by mid-November, and going up to the IMF Board in mid-December, we will gain a big advantage,” Wickremesinghe said.

“However, I don’t know whether we can do it for the simple reason that in China, the focus has started now after the party conference. However, we must aim to have it by January.”

Sri Lanka IMF deal nod could be Jan 2023

Sri Lanka however has made most of the corrections required to regain monetary stability.

Balance of payments troubles are problem associated with reserve collecting central bank which mis-target interest rates with printed money through a policy rate incompatible with domestic credit trends. Active open market operations were begun by the Federal Reserve in the process of triggering the Great Depression in the 1920s.

When a country with a central bank with a history of chronic mistargeting of rates – Sri Lanka had gone to the IMF 16 times before – gets market access its tends to default.

The key reason third world countries get into balance of payments trouble is money printed to keep policy rates too low by soft-pegged central bankers which fires unsustainable credit and balance of payments deficits.

Sri Lanka has also raised taxes to reduce central government credit and hike tariffs of public utilities to reduce or eliminate their borrowings.

The central bank has also lost the ability to intervene and sterilize interventions with new money after the intervention effectively losing its ability to generate BOP deficits from around August. (Colombo/Nov01/2022)

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Sri Lanka rupee opens at 308.20/50 to the US dollar

Sri Lanka stocks reversed its falling trend and gained for the first time in six sessions on Tuesday closed stronger on Tuesday (21).

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s rupee opened at 308.20/50 to the US dollar Monday, from 308.80/90 on Friday, dealers said.

Bond yields were broadly steady.

A bond maturing on 01.08.2026 was quoted stable at 10.90/11.00 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.09.2027 was quoted at 11.90/12.00 percent from 11.90/12.05 percent.

A bond maturing on 01.07.2028 was quoted at 12.20/30 percent from 12.15/35 percent.

The Colombo Stock Exchange opened up; The All Share was up 0.60 percent at 10,755, and the S&P SL20 was up 1.24 percent at 3,077. (Colombo/Mar4/2024)

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Sri Lanka central bank swaps top $3.2bn by December

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s central bank borrowed US dollars from various counterparties through swap transactions, which had topped 3.2 billion US dollars by December 2024, official data show.

The net short position, including swaps disclosed by the central bank, grew by over almost 1.28 billion US dollars from December 2022 to 3,280 million dollars.

The gross position grew from 2,263 million dollars to 3,280 million US dollars over the year.

The central bank supported some state banks with dollars to cover their dollar exposures, which had since been paid back.

By December reported gross reserves of the central bank was 4,491 million US dollars, against swaps of 3,280 billion US dollars.

Swaps of around 1500 related to the People Bank of China.

Swaps allow a central bank to increase gross reserves, without raising domestic interest rates.

Swaps with domestic counterparties lead to liquidity being injected into money markets, which can be mopped if domestic credit growth is moderate.

At the moment many private banks have large dollar positions invested outside the country, which cannot be used for transactions domestically because of a money monopoly given to macro-economists. (Sri Lanka repays debt or collects reserves of U$5bn via banking system since rate correction)

However unwinding swaps after private credit has picked, or engaging in swaps after private credit has picked up, may lead to money being injected to maintain the policy rate, leading to excess credit by banks and balance of payments deficits and or currency collapses, analysts say.

Central bank swaps in the third quarter of 2018 led to a collapse of the currency under the ‘exchange rate as the first line of defence’ policy peddled to Sri Lanka, critics have said earlier.

Domestic currency proceeds of swaps were the primary ammunition to bust East Asian currencies in 1997-98.

Any depreciation after the swap proceeds have been used for imports (effectively mis-targeting rates) a central bank will run a forex loss.

The PBOC however had put a rule, preventing the use of the swap after gross reserves fell below 3 – months of imports, preventing Sri Lanka from getting into further trouble through the use of official reserves for private imports.

Sri Lanka’s central bank also used borrowings from the Reserve Bank of India, via the Asian Clearing Union to run BOP deficits.

Losses from exposed dollar positions of central banks which have gained ‘independence’ from fiscal rules and parliaments and engaged in macro-economic policy, including the Fed, have led to taxpayers bearing the losses in the end.

Swaps were invented by the Fed in the early 1960s, as it deployed macro-economic policy (printed money for growth) threatening its gold reserves and the Bretton Woods system.

Sri Lanka has other borrowings also, including from the IMF, which has made net foreign assets of the central bank negative. (Colombo/Mar05/2024)

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Sri Lanka loses MICE tourists to Thailand on minimum room rates

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka has lost Meetings, Incentive Travel and Exhibition travelers to competitors in East Asia and India due to minimum room rates as higher standard rooms were available in other countries at lower prices, industry officials said.

President of the Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tourist (SLAITO) Nishad Wijetunga said they the industry managed to retain a majority of booking made before the minimum room rates were imposed by the state last year.

“However, there were MICE groups that were supposed to come and cancelled Sri Lanka and went to places like Thailand and other parts of India and we lost,” Wijetunga told EconomyNext.

“We know that large groups of MICE (tourists) are affected.”

India is a key source of MICE tourists to Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka’s businesses have got used to protectionism and try to push up prices with import taxes to extract more money from customers using the coercive power of the state, with tiles and steel being among the most prominent examples.

RELATED: Stand-alone hotels unviable in Sri Lanka due to high construction, capital costs

High priced tiles and steel in turn makes hotels expensive to build and make the leisure industry less competitive, analysts say.

However, in tourism, unlike in building materials customers are not trapped within the country and are free to move to other markets.

Managing Director of CEC Events and Travels, Imran Hassan, said the industry lost groups to East Asia due to minimum room rate.

In one instance, an operator was in discussions to get a group of 900 passengers.

“And that moved out to Thailand,” Hassan said. “Like that, there are many instances that the minimum room rate was not conducive.”

Thailand in 2023 attracted 28.04 million tourists.

A group that used to come to Sri Lanka annually used to take 40 to 50 five-star hotel rooms. This time Sri Lanka competed by offering lower standard.

“This year, they’re only giving 10 rooms to the five-star hotels,” Hassan explained. “They are staying in smaller hotels because they can’t afford it because it has become so expensive.”

“But overall, we are working with the authorities to correct it.

“We don’t mind demand and supply situation taking the rates up as in the Maldives. But what we are saying is keep an open market.”

RELATED : Sri Lanka should say good bye to minimum room rates: President

President Ranil Wickremesinghe has said Sri Lanka cannot progress with protectionism and the country has to learn to face competition. (Colombo/Mar04/2024)

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