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Tuesday August 16th, 2022

Sri Lanka removes ban on open account food imports

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka has lifted a ban on open account food imports allowing rice, lentils and potatoes to come freely to the island in the worst currency crises in the history of the island’s intermediate regime central bank.

Sri Lanka only needs about a 100 million US dollars a month for key food imports according to industry officials but a ban on open account imports in May threatened the country’s food supplies as the banks are unable to allocate foreign exchange on time for food, amid forex shortages driven by money printing.

Under open account trade, suppliers can send goods on credit which can be settled later based on their personal relationships. Perishables have to be cleared quickly from the Port but banks are unable to give dollars in time for importers of most items.

Some foods like onions and potatoes are vegetables which perish.

“A big share of essential food imports come from India,” Trade Minister Nalin Fernando told reporters. “They need to get the food out of the exporting country in a day or two and clear them as quickly as possible.

“They give credit and delayed payment facilities because they cannot kept for a long time. For example onions and potatoes perish quickly.

Prices of foods moved up after open account imports were banned in May, he said.

“So there was a reduction in the availability of foods and then prices went up in the market. So we discussed with the Treasury and Central Bank we are giving permission against for 10 essential food items to be imported on open account basis.”

The central bank was pushing to close open account trade as the money it printed created excess outflows triggering a parallel exchange rate for people who were willing to pay higher than the officially directed price.

Sri Lanka’s rupee has collapsed from 4.70 to 360 levels since the soft-pegged central bank since it was set up in 1950 abolishing a currency board or hard peg which could not print money to manipulate the interest rate.

The soft-peg was set up on a false promise propagated by US Mercantilists in particular that there was ‘monetary policy independence’ while operating a reserve collecting peg with an exchange rate target either to run counter cyclical policy when the anchor currency tightened or to finance deficits.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, as Minister of Finance has issued gazette notice on June 25, allowing 10 foods to come in through open account basis.

Download gazette Gazette-2285-19-open-account

The Director General of Customs and Controller of Imports and Exports were directed to issue operating instructions.

These include, rice, milk powder, dried fish, potatoes, peas, lentils (Massor dhal), chillies, wheat and sugar.

Sri Lanka earns about a billion US dollars in exports, about 600 million dollars in remittances (about half coming in through unofficial gross settlement systems such as Hawala), and another few hundred million as services exports.

However Sri Lanka’s soft-peg has lost credibility and there is no floating exchange rate to allocate dollars to the highest bidder.

In a fixed pegged system a central bank provides any which are not provided by the market, and it has to lead to a rise in rates and contraction in credit. However in a soft-pegged system interventions are offset with new money.

Sri Lanka is also injecting new money to keep Treasury bill yields down. Over 40 billion rupees were printed on Friday, data showed. (Colombo/June26/2022)

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Sri Lanka sovereign rating at SD but ISBs downgraded to ‘D’ by S&P

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s sovereign rating remains at Selective Default (SD), but the country’s sovereign bonds were downgraded to ‘D’ after missed interest payments, Standard and Poor’s, a rating agency said.

“The Sri Lanka government remains in default on some foreign currency obligations, including international sovereign bonds (ISBs),” the S&P said.

“We do not expect the government to make the payments within 30 calendar days after their due dates.

“We lowered the ratings on the affected bonds to ‘D’, following missed interest payments due on June 3, June 28, and July 18, and a missed principal payment due July 25.”

Sri Lanka is still paying senior creditors with money coming from deferred payments from the Asian Clearing Union.

Sri Lanka started to borrow heavily in foreign bond markets from 2015 after battering its currency peg with extraordinary liquidity injections under ‘flexible inflation targeting and the country lost the ability to roll-over maturing rupee bonds at gross financing level.

From 2015 to 2019, the country had monetary stability only in 2017 and 2019 as the pegged exchange rate regime was shattered with liquidity injections to target an ‘output gap’.

However the targeting the output gap led to currency crises (balance of payment deficit) and growth fell as stabilization measures were slammed.

From 2020 to 2022 even more aggressive liquidity injections were made and taxes were also cut saying there was a ‘persistent output gap’ until all foreign reserves including borrowed reserves were lost and the the country defaulted in peacetime.

The International Monetary Fund gave technical assistance to Sri Lanka to calculate the output gap and also endorsed ‘flexible inflation targeting’, with overnight repo injections, term repo injections, outright purchase of bond, despite having a reserve collecting peg.

On April 12, 2022 Sri Lanka defaulted despite being at peace.

The full statement is reproduced below:

Sri Lanka Bonds Downgraded To ‘D’ After Missed Payments; Sovereign Ratings Affirmed

Overview

The Sri Lanka government remains in default on some foreign currency obligations, including international sovereign bonds (ISBs).

We do not expect the government to make the payments within 30 calendar days after their due dates.

We lowered the ratings on the affected bonds to ‘D’, following missed interest payments due on June 3, June 28, and July 18, and a missed principal payment due July 25.

We affirmed our ‘SD/SD’ foreign currency and ‘CCC-/C’ local currency ratings on Sri Lanka. The outlook on the long-term local currency rating is negative.

Rating Action

On Aug. 15, 2022, S&P Global Ratings affirmed its ‘SD’ long-term and ‘SD’ short-term foreign currency sovereign ratings on Sri Lanka. At the same time, we affirmed our ‘CCC-‘ long-term and ‘C’ short-term local currency sovereign ratings. The outlook on the long-term local currency rating remains negative.

In addition, we lowered to ‘D’ from ‘CC’ the issue ratings on the following bonds with missed coupon or principal payments:

US$650 million, 6.125% bonds due June 3, 2025.

US$1.0 billion, 6.825% bonds due July 18, 2026.

US$1.0 billion, 5.875% bonds due July 25, 2022.

US$500 million, 6.35% bonds due June 28, 2024.

Our transfer and convertibility assessment at ‘CC’ is unchanged.

Outlook

Our foreign currency rating on Sri Lanka is ‘SD’ (selective default). We do not assign outlooks to ‘SD’ ratings because they express a condition and not a forward-looking opinion of default probability.

The negative outlook on the local currency rating reflects the high risk to commercial debt repayments over the next 12 months in the context of Sri Lanka’s economic, external, and fiscal pressures.

Downside scenario

We could lower the local currency ratings if there are indications of nonpayment or restructuring of Sri Lankan rupee-denominated obligations.

Upside scenario

We could revise the outlook to stable or raise the local currency ratings if we perceive that the likelihood of the government’s local currency debt being excluded from any debt restructuring has increased. This could be the case if, for example, the government receives significant donor funding, which gives it some time to implement immediate and transformative reforms.

We would raise our long-term foreign currency sovereign credit rating upon completion of the government’s bond restructuring. The rating would reflect Sri Lanka’s post-restructuring creditworthiness. Our post-restructuring ratings tend to be in the ‘CCC’ or low ‘B’ categories, depending on the sovereign’s new debt structure and capacity to support that debt.

Rationale

Sri Lanka’s external public debt moratorium prevents payment of interest and principal obligations due on the government’s ISBs. As such, interest payments due June 3, June 28, and July 18 on its ISBs maturing 2024, 2025, and 2026, and the principal payment on its July 25, 2022, ISB, would have been affected. Following the missed payments, and given our expectation that payment will not be made within 30 calendar days of the due date, we have lowered the issue ratings on these bonds to ‘D’ (default).

Overdue payments now include the following bonds:

US$1.0 billion, 5.875% bonds due 2022.

US$1.25 billion, 5.75% bonds due 2023.

US$500 million, 6.35% bonds due 2024.

US$1.5 billion, 6.85% bonds due 2025.

US$650 million, 6.125% bonds due 2025.

US$1.0 billion, 6.825% bonds due 2026.

US$1.5 billion, 6.20% bonds due 2027.

US$1.25 billion, 6.75% bonds due 2028.

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Sri Lanka rupee guidance peg edges up; market sees dull trade in govt securities 

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s rupee guidance peg on interbank spot trading strengthened by seven cents while yields on Treasury bills and bonds remained dull on Monday (15) with only a handful of maturities quoted ahead of the central bank’s monetary policy rates later this week, dealers said.

“There was nothing in the market. It was dull today,” a market dealer said.

The central bank will announce its latest key monetary policy rates on Thursday, August 18.

A bond maturing on 01. 06. 2025 closed at at 27.50/28.50 percent on Monday, slightly down from 27.30/28.30 percent on Friday.

The three-month T-bill closed flat at 26.00/27.00 percent on Monday.

Sri Lanka’s central bank announced a guidance peg for interbank transactions strengthened by 7 cents to 360.92 rupees against the US dollar on Monday from 360.85 rupees.

Data showed that commercial banks offered dollars for telegraphic transfers between 369.70 and 370.00 for small transactions. (Colombo/ Aug 15/2022)

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Sri Lanka stocks rally continues for 12th straight session on political stability hopes 

The main index fell for the 4th consecutive session

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka stocks gained for the 12th consecutive session on Monday (15) ending at their highest in more than four months pushed by retail shares amid signs of political stability after months of protests, dealers said.

The market generated 5.8 billion rupees in turnover, nearly twice of this year’s average daily turnover of 3.11 billion rupees.

The main All Share Price Index (ASPI) rose 1.82% or 164.04 points to 9,191.52, its highest since March 30. The index has risen 19.6% in the last 12 sessions.

“We are seeing a lot of volatility in the market today due to profit taking in the key shares that gained in the last 11 sessions,” a market analyst said.

“Profit-taking also returned after the CSE (Colombo Stock Exchange) published the last set of June reports that showed some counters having done very while some not so much, therefore, there is a significant reaction for that.”

In the last few sessions, the market was mostly driven by Lanka IOC and the plantation sector.

However, ahead of the fuel price revision, LIOC moved to red.

“There was a bit of profit taking on anticipation of price cuts. However, unless fuel prices are cut sharply, LIOC will continue to move,” the analyst said.

At the start of the month, CPC cut fuel prices by 10 rupees based on the price formula.

Globally, crude oil prices have dropped hence there is strong speculation that fuel prices will be cut further.

Last week, Sri Lanka announced a 75 percent electricity tariff hike.

Investors previously feared the move would drag the market down due to possible higher costs for manufacturing firms.

However, the political stability after four months of protest is seen as the catalyst for the market gain, dealers said.

The government also tabled an interim budget last week, revising the budget presented last year as the country is going through an unprecedented economic crisis amid plans on a four-year IMF loan programme, debt restructuring, fiscal reforms, and dealing with loss-making state-owned enterprises.

Sri Lanka already declared sovereign debt default on April 12 this year and failed to pay its first sovereign debt in May amid a deepening economic crisis which later turned into a political crisis and led to a change in the president, cabinet, and government.

The more liquid S&P SL20 index moved up, closing at 0.82% or 25.28 points stronger at 3,097.30.

Sri Lanka is facing its worst fuel and economic crisis in its post-independence era and the economy is expected to contract 7 percent this year.

The main ASPI gained 18.8 percent in August so far after gaining 5.3 percent in July. It lost 9.3 percent in June, 23 percent in April, and 14.5 percent in March.

The market index has lost 24.8 percent so far this year after being one of the world’s best stock markets with an 80 percent return last year when large volumes of money were printed.

Sri Lanka’s sovereign debt default on April 12 has already led the country to be rated with restricted/selective default rating by rating agencies, which has weighed on investor sentiment.

Net foreign outflow was 117 million rupees on Monday while the total net foreign outflow so far this year is 1.3 billion rupees.

Investors are also concerned over the steep fall of the rupee from 203 to 370 levels so far in 2022.

Ceylinco Insurance which pushed the ASPI, closed 11.9 percent up at 2,143.2 rupees a share. Browns Investment closed 8.5 percent up at 8.9 rupees a share, and John Keells Holdings gained 2.5 percent to 129.7 rupees. (Colombo/Aug15/2022)

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