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Friday February 23rd, 2024

Sri Lanka’s NDB downgraded to ‘A(lka)’ amid soft-peg collapse

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s National Development Bank has been downgraded to ‘A(lka)’ from ‘A+(lka)’ amid rising economic stress from the worst currency crisis in the history of the island’s central bank, triggering a sovereign default in its wake.

“The downgrade reflects our view that NDB’s credit profile has weakened relative to that of similarly rated peers,” the rating agency said.

“This is due to the pace of the deterioration in its capital buffers and the limited profitability headroom to absorb credit cost shocks in light of the rising risks to the bank’s operating environment.”

Sri Lanka defaulted on its foreign debt in April 2012 after running out of reserves.

“The sovereign’s default on its foreign-currency obligations has exerted significant pressure on NDB’s foreign-currency liquidity position, given its large holding of foreign-currency government securities, at 6.5% of assets at end-2021,” Fitch said.

“Access to foreign-currency funding has been severely dampened due to the sovereign’s debilitated credit profile, which has caused the bank to rely on limited flows of remittances and export proceeds.

Sri Lanka prints money to keep interest rates down and trigger a currency crises and soft-pegging leading to depreciation and sharply higher rates as corrective pressure is applied. Under flexible inflation targeting the frequency of currency crises had increased.

In the current crises corrective market rates have topped 25 percent raising concerns over bad loans and also market to market losses.

“We expect worsening economic stress to destabilise corporate and household balance sheets further, leading to a marked increase in impaired (Stage 3) loans from the 8.3% estimated in 1Q22 in the near-to-medium term,” Fitch said.

“Still, recently announced concessions for affected borrowers may limit the growth in impaired loans, which we believe could mask true credit quality. The bank’s exposure to the government’s foreign-currency instruments also adds to its asset-quality woes.”

The full statement is reproduced below:

Sri Lanka’s NDB Bank downgraded to ‘A(lka)’ amid currency crisis

Fitch Ratings – Colombo – 28 Jul 2022: Fitch Ratings has downgraded Sri Lanka-based National Development Bank PLC’s (NDB) National Long-Term Rating to ‘A(lka)’ from ‘A+(lka)’. Fitch has also downgraded NDB’s subordinated debt ratings to ‘BBB+(lka)’ from ‘A-(lka)’. The ratings remain on Rating Watch Negative (RWN).

A full list of the rating actions is detailed below.

KEY RATING DRIVERS

Capital Buffers Deteriorating: The downgrade reflects our view that NDB’s credit profile has weakened relative to that of similarly rated peers. This is due to the pace of the deterioration in its capital buffers and the limited profitability headroom to absorb credit cost shocks in light of the rising risks to the bank’s operating environment.

RWN Maintained: The RWN on NDB’s National Long-Term Rating reflects the potential for the bank’s creditworthiness relative to other entities on the Sri Lankan national rating scale to deteriorate amid the heightened stress on the bank’s funding and liquidity and its material exposure to the sovereign via investment in foreign-currency instruments that raises the risks to its overall credit profile. We believe the acceleration in inflation, depreciation of the local currency and other factors can distort the bank’s underlying financial performance in the current operating environment.

Constrained Foreign-Currency Liquidity: The sovereign’s default on its foreign-currency obligations has exerted significant pressure on NDB’s foreign-currency liquidity position, given its large holding of foreign-currency government securities, at 6.5% of assets at end-2021. Access to foreign-currency funding has been severely dampened due to the sovereign’s debilitated credit profile, which has caused the bank to rely on limited flows of remittances and export proceeds.

Highly Vulnerable Capitalisation: We believe that risks to NDB’s capital have increased significantly since our last rating review, despite a capital infusion of LKR9.5 billion in 2Q21. This stems from the possibility that increased provisioning on both loan and non-loan exposures could far outweigh pre-impairment profitability, potentially eroding its equity and capital buffers.

The bank’s above-average share of unprovided impaired loans and the potential for a haircut on its foreign-currency government securities that is higher than the amount already factored into its metrics exacerbate the risk on its thin capital buffers. Recently announced regulatory forbearance measures could help the bank to remain compliant with minimum capital ratios on a reported basis.

Heightened Asset-Quality Pressure: We expect worsening economic stress to destabilise corporate and household balance sheets further, leading to a marked increase in impaired (Stage 3) loans from the 8.3% estimated in 1Q22 in the near-to-medium term.
Still, recently announced concessions for affected borrowers may limit the growth in impaired loans, which we believe could mask true credit quality. The bank’s exposure to the government’s foreign-currency instruments also adds to its asset-quality woes.

Deteriorating Profitability: Fitch expects pressure on NDB’s earnings and profitability to intensify in the near-to-medium term as economic conditions continue to deteriorate rapidly. Earnings pressure is already evident in the substantial increase in impairment charges (86% of 1Q22 pre-impairment profit) on its loan and non-loan exposures, which led the bank’s core profitability metric – operating profit/risk weighted assets – to decline to 0.7% by end-1Q22 (end-2021: 2.3%).

Weakening Operating Environment: Our assessment of Sri Lankan banks’ operating environment reflects the pressure on the banks’ already stressed credit profile following the sovereign’s default on its foreign-currency obligations. It also captures the rapid deterioration in the broader economy, including increased interest rates, high inflation and acute currency depreciation, which has limited NDB’s operational flexibility.

Instability Weighs on Business Profile: We believe NDB’s business profile, like that of most domestic peers, is highly vulnerable to the intensifying risks in the domestic market as the profile is highly concentrated on the weak and unstable Sri Lankan economy. This could potentially limit the bank’s ability to generate and defend business volume while controlling risks.

High Risk Profile: NDB’s elevated risk profile, similar to local peers, stems from its predominantly domestic exposure with weak credit quality, including project financing, which is reflected in the ‘ccc’/negative operating environment score. This is exacerbated by NDB’s sizeable exposure to the foreign-currency instruments issued by the government, making the bank vulnerable to the sovereign’s repayment capacity and liquidity position.

RATING SENSITIVITIES

Factors that could, individually or collectively, lead to negative rating action/downgrade:

The RWN reflects rising risks to the bank’s rating from funding stresses, which could lead to a multiple-notch downgrade. We expect to resolve the RWN once the impact on the bank’s credit profiles becomes more apparent, which may take more than six months. Developments that could lead to a multiple-notch downgrade include:

– funding stress that impedes the bank’s repayment ability

– significant banking-sector intervention by authorities that constrains the bank’s ability to service its obligations

– a temporary negotiated waiver or standstill agreement following a payment default on a large obligation

– Fitch’s belief the bank has entered into a grace or cure period following non-payment of a large financial obligation.
A downgrade of the sovereign’s Long-Term Local-Currency Issuer Default Rating (CCC) could also lead to a downgrade of the bank’s rating.

Factors that could, individually or collectively, lead to positive rating action/upgrade:

There is limited scope for upward rating action given the RWN.

OTHER DEBT AND ISSUER RATINGS: KEY RATING DRIVERS

SUBORDINATED DEBT

NDB’s Basel II- and Basel III-compliant Sri Lankan rupee subordinated debt is rated two notches below the National Long-Term Rating anchor. This reflects Fitch’s baseline notching for loss severity for this type of debt and our expectation of poor recoveries. There is no additional notching for non-performance risks, as the notes do not incorporate going-concern loss-absorption features.

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Sri Lanka’s Grisly Recent History Goes Unpunished

ECONOMYNEXT – They lie buried in numerous mass graves, all evidence of Sri Lanka’s murderous recent past which has been punctuated by multiple civil conflicts.

Whatever remains is evidence of Sri Lanka’s grisly history of the extrajudicial executions of rebels in both Northern and Southern insurrections.

Most of the bodies remain in mass graves that stretch from Chemmani and Duraiappah Stadium in  Jaffna to burial sites in the Colombo and Matale Districts and the Southern and Central Provinces.

The dead could be anyone; captured rebels, those caught in crossfires and others who were deemed to be “inconvenient,” according to a report titled ‘Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s War Time Role’ released by the International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) on 17 January 2024.

A horrific record

Sri Lanka’s recent blood-soaked history is replete with mass killings and many “disappearances” from the various incidents during the insurgencies of the JVP as well as the Tamil separatist war.

The activist group Journalists for Democracy and affiliated organisations claim that at least 32 mass graves have been identified across the island. A report published in Groundviews in January said these graves “dotted across the country that hold the remains of not just the casualties of the civil war but also those who disappeared during the two JVP uprisings in 1971 and from 1988 to 1989.”

A 1999 United Nations study noted that Sri Lanka has the second-highest number of enforced disappearances in the world with around 12,000 people missing after being detained by government Security Forces. Figures vary with Amnesty International reporting that the number of disappeared persons could be as high as 60,000.

There is no official government figure.

Evidence against GR

Now, fifteen years after the separatist war in Sri Lanka ended, mounting evidence has emerged against former President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, for his pivotal role in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity during the civil war, say Human Rights lawyers in this new report.

Rajapaksa figures in two serious passages of time where suspected cadres of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna were killed at Matale in the 1988-89 period and LTTE cadres and civilians on the frontlines of Nandikadal which proved to be the final battle of the Eelam War.

The ITJP report quotes its Executive Director Yasmin Sooka as saying if Sri Lanka “is serious about dealing with its violent past, the litmus test is to hold (former President) Gotabaya Rajapaksa criminally accountable for war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

The report presents detailed evidence connecting the former President when he was Secretary to the Ministry of Defence to numerous massacres of civilians. Although not the army commander, nor Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gotabaya had command and effective control of the security forces during the Civil War as the Defence Secretary and the younger brother of then President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The ITJP report says the then Defence Secretary Rajapaksa had “contemporaneous knowledge of the violations of international humanitarian law and international criminal law being committed, and failed to take any steps to prevent them, or to hold those under his command accountable. He and successive Sri Lankan governments have had countless opportunities since the war ended to initiate credible investigations into allegations of gross human rights violations and to establish prosecutions. Instead of allowing the truth to come to light, Gotabaya and his successors have perpetuated denial of the complicity of the security forces in these violations, rewarding and protecting the alleged perpetrators.”

The 104-page document examines evidence of Rajapaksa’s involvement in and knowledge of attacks on the No Fire Zones set up to protect civilians, his failure to prevent and investigate summary executions, enforced disappearances, torture, rape and sexual violence, arbitrary detention and the denial of humanitarian aid to civilians.

Individual stories that were leaked at the time gave credence to these incidents.

One was the evidence of the killing of LTTE Leader Velupillai Prabhakaran’s younger son Balachandran. The boy, according to some reports, had been escorted to the Sri Lanka Army lines by an LTTE bodyguard at Mullivaikkal. Photos purported to have been taken at that stage show the boy wrapped in a Sri Lanka Army issue sarong eating a biscuit behind the Sri Lanka Army lines. A second photo shows him dead at the same location, his body riddled with bullets.

Another set of pictures was that of the LTTE’s TV icon Issapriya whose image was widely circulated. There were unconfirmed reports that she had been sexually assaulted along with other young women who had been captured as the LTTE unravelled. That is followed by another picture of her corpse shot at close range.

Eventually, the Sri Lankan government during President Maithripala Sirisena’s tenure acknowledged that some 65,000 persons were missing and granted close surviving relatives rights to manage their properties, the ITJP report states.

Matale Mass Grave

Rajapaksa was the military Coordinating Officer for the Matale District in 1989 when the area was rocked by the so-called Deshapremi Janatha Vyaparaya a JVP offshoot. He was a Lt. Colonel at the time.

In December 2012, reports emerged that a mass grave had been found in the grounds of the Matale Hospital.

Accusations were made at the time that the remains unearthed were that of JVP cadres who had been captured and allegedly killed during the insurrection, a claim the party repeatedly made.

No government however pursued an investigation into the discovery because politics got in the way; after all the UNP was in power when the killings were supposedly carried out and the officer responsible, Gotabaya, was the brother of Mahinda Rajapaksa at the time, a prominent leader in the SLFP.

The government of the day meanwhile claimed the bodies were of victims of a landslide in the 1950s.

However, there was no proper investigation to prove which theory was factual.

The ITJP report also contains the names of former Army Commander, Lt Gen Shavendra Silva and others who are seen as Gotabaya loyalists in the Army.  The report also claims that Army top brass, other than Field Marshall Sarath Fonseka, who was Commander of the Army at the time the civil war ended, had close personal connections to Rajapaksa.

These incidents, however, are not the only horrific events of our island nation’s history; abductions and disappearances of young men, allegedly by members of the armed forces, the massacre of a group of Buddhist monks at Aranthalawa, the killing of pilgrims at Anuradhapura, the latter two by the LTTE, random killings of public servants and others by rebel groups, and more recently the Easter Sunday bombings, the list goes on. And the powers that be, govern with impunity.

So, it is unlikely that the relatives of the victims will find closure until justice is served and those whose hands are bloodstained are held accountable for their actions.

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India has given “lot of offers” for Ramayana Trail, Sri Lanka state minister says

ECONOMYNEXT – India has given a lot of offers to establish Ramayana Trails in Sri Lanka, State Tourism Minister Diana Gamage said, as the island nation is focusing more on Indian tourists to boost the hospitality industry.

Historians say, according to Hindu mythology, Sri Lanka was the kingdom of Ravana, the ten-headed demon king who abducted Sita, the wife of Rama, the hero of the Ramayana, a smriti text from ancient India, one of the two important epics of Hinduism known as the Itihasas, the other being the Mahabharata.

The epic narrates the life of Rama, a prince of Ayodhya in the kingdom of Kosala.

With the opening of Ram Mandhir in Ayodhya, Sri Lanka has renewed the establishment of Ramayana Trails, which includes all the places believed to be associated with Ramayana.

The places include Sigiriya, Ashok Vatika, a garden in the city of Nuwara Eliya, which is believed to be the place where Ravana kept Sita captive, Ravana Ella Falls, Koneswaram Temple in Trincomalee and Divurumpola Temple in Bandarawela which is believed to be the place where Sita underwent a trial by fire to prove her purity among many other places.

“I think India is even willing to invest in it. They have given proposals that they are willing to invest in it. They will build hotels even around where they can have accommodation for the people who are visiting these areas,” Diana Gamage told reporters in Colombo.

“They (Indians) have given a lot of offers. If we do this in the right way, we can bring 5 million tourists from India alone.”

Indians topped the list of tourists to Sri Lanka last year with over 300,000 visitors.

“At the moment I am having discussions with some of them, and they are in touch with me,” Gamage said.

“If you look at Seetha Eliya, Seetha Temple is one of the main areas in this Trail. So that area also will be developed, specially.”

“I don’t know if you have seen how many millions visited the Ayodhya temple. There are so many millions from around the world. So, there is an interest in this and we have to grab that opportunity being in the country that it actually has taken place.”

“It is so unfortunate that why it has not been done so far. This should have been done a long long time ago. So now I am thinking that we should do it at least now.” (Colombo/Feb 22/2024)

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Sri Lanka offers fresh debt plan to bondholders amid Hamilton case extension hopes: Sources

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka offered a revised restructuring proposal to sovereign bond holders sources said, as the country tries to wrap up debt restructuring by the middle of the year and a holdout investor sues to force payment on one series of bonds.

A US court had stayed proceedings of case by holdout investor Hamilton Reserve for six months, which has the required volumes of bond with a ‘single series’ collective action clause to file action following request which was supported by the US, UK and France.

The deadline runs out on February 29.

An extension of at least three months may be sought to help wrap up the debt restructuring, sources said.

Sri Lanka is expecting to sign memoranda of understanding with Paris Club, within weeks, according to official sources.

Courts had earlier granted the stay saying Hamilton had the option of renewing case for summary judgement once it is lifted.

Sri Lanka rejected a proposal by bondholders to exchange a ‘downside’ bond linked to gross domestic product which will have a 20 percent hair cut with additional haircuts if GDP growth is low as forecasted by the International Monetary Fund.

Bondholders believe that the growth projections in an IMF debt sustainable analysis is too pessimistic

However bondholders are very keen on the structure, and it may be tough to convince them to accept a ‘plain vanilla’ type of solution, according to sources familiar with their thinking.

Bondholders also do not want a value recovery instrument detached from the underlying bond which is not ‘index eligible’. Earlier VRI’s used in debt re-structures have been upside instruments.

Bondholders had earlier expressed their unhappiness at what they said was “no progress” in negotiations.

Some bondholders were also of the view that the first ask by Sri Lanka from bondholders was deeper than the in-principle re-structure given by bilateral creditors. (Colombo/Feb22/2024)

A US court had stayed proceedings of case by holdout investor Hamilton Reserve for six months, which has the required volumes of bond with a ‘single series’ collective action clause to file action following a request from the US government among others.

The deadline runs out at the end of the month.

An extension of at least three months may be sought to help wrap up the bond restructuring, sources said. It is not clear whether courts will grant the extension.

Sri Lanka rejected a proposal by bondholders to exchange a ‘downside’ bond linked to gross domestic product which will have a 20 percent hair cut with additional haircuts if GDP growth is low as forecasted by the International Monetary Fund.

Bondholders believe that the growth projections in an IMF debt sustainable analysis is too pessimistic

However bondholders are very keen on the structure, and it may be tough to convince them to accept a ‘plain vanilla’ type of solution, according to sources familiar with their thinking.

Bondholders also do not want a value recovery instrument detached from the underlying bond which is not ‘index eligible’. Earlier VRI’s used in debt re-structures have been upside instruments.

Bondholders had earlier expressed their unhappiness at what they said was “no progress” in negotiations.

Some bondholders were also of the view that the first ask by Sri Lanka from bondholders was deeper than the in-principle re-structure given by bilateral creditors. (Colombo/Feb22/2024)

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