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Tuesday February 27th, 2024

Sri Lanka’s Singer Finance rating cut to BBB (lka), outlook stable: Fitch

ECONOMYNEXT – Fitch Ratings has downgraded the national long-term rating of Sri Lanka’s Singer Finance (Lanka) Plc to ‘BBB (lka)’ from ‘BBB+(lka)’.

This rating is a support driven rating and therefore this downgrade follows similar rating action on SFL’s parent, the company said in a statement.

Its senior listed rated unsecured debentures of Rs 5 million issued on May 19, 2020 were also revised down from BBB+ ro BBB; and subordinated listed rated unsecured debentures of Rs 2,000 million issued in June 25, 2021 were revised down from BBB- to BB+.

The full statement is reproduced below:

Fitch Downgrades Singer Finance to ‘BBB(lka)’; Outlook Stable

Fitch Ratings – Colombo/Mumbai – 07 Dec 2023: Fitch Ratings has downgraded Singer Finance (Lanka) PLC’s (SFL) National Long-Term Rating to ‘BBB(lka)’ from ‘BBB+(lka)’. The Outlook is Stable. Fitch has also downgraded SFL’s outstanding senior unsecured debt to ‘BBB(lka)’ from ‘BBB+(lka)’, and the outstanding subordinated unsecured debentures to ‘BB+(lka)’ from ‘BBB-(lka)’.

KEY RATING DRIVERS

Parent’s Weakening Ability to Support: The downgrade follows similar rating action on SFL’s parent, consumer-durable retailer, Singer (Sri Lanka) PLC (A(lka)/Stable), on 29 November 2023. SFL’s rating is based on our expectation of support from Singer, taking into account Singer’s 80% shareholding in SFL, the common brand name and a record of equity injections into SFL. As such, the downgrade reflects Singer’s weakening ability to provide support.

Moderate Synergies: We believe SFL has limited synergies with Singer, as evident from SFL’s small share of lending within the group’s ecosystem. We also believe support from the parent could be constrained by SFL’s significant size relative to Singer, as its assets represented 41% of group assets at end-September 2023. SFL’s operational integration with the group is also low, although the parent has increased its focus on the subsidiary’s strategic long-term decision-making over the past few years and has meaningful representation on SFL’s board.

Weak Standalone Profile: SFL’s intrinsic financial position is weaker than its support-driven rating. It has a small domestic vehicle-focused lending franchise and a high-risk appetite stemming from its exposure to customer segments that are more susceptible to difficult operating conditions.

Less Severe Economic Risk: We expect downside economic risk to moderate after Sri Lanka completed the local-currency portion of its domestic debt optimisation, which addressed one element of risk to financial system funding and liquidity. We expect the operating environment to remain challenging in light of strained household finances and fragile investor confidence, but conditions should stabilise with a gradual economic recovery amid easing inflation and interest rates.

Vehicle Loans Remain Dominant: SFL’s business model is dominated by vehicle financing, which accounted for 69% of its lending portfolio as at end-June 2023. Gold loans have been growing at a faster rate in the last few quarters, reaching 28% of SFL’s portfolio, amid lower demand for vehicle financing. However, we do not expect a major change in SFL’s vehicle-focused business mix in the medium term, given its more established franchise in this segment.

Weak Asset Quality: SFL’s reported stage 3 assets ratio rose to 11.9% in the financial year ending March 2023 (FY23), from 6.6% in FY22, on weaker collections in its core vehicle loans segment as well as implementation of a stricter stage 3 recognition rule. We expect asset quality to remain stressed in the medium term, due to the weak economic environment. Nonetheless, loan collections could increase as borrower repayment capability improves, provided the economy gradually stabilises with declining inflation and interest rates.

Profitability to Recover, Leverage Rising: We expect SFL’s net interest margin to gradually recover in the medium term amid a declining interest-rate environment. This, along with a potential pick-up in loan growth, should support earnings and profitability, but a strong loan expansion in the medium term could pressure leverage.

Pre-tax profit/average total assets declined to 3.1% in FY23, from 4.5% in FY22, due to a sharply narrower net interest margin of 9.4%, against 12.7% in FY22. This followed a surge in borrowing costs due to rising interest rates. SFL’s debt/tangible equity reached 5.4x by end-September 2023, from 5.1x at FYE22.

Improved Funding and Liquidity: SFL’s share of unsecured deposits/total debt swelled to 80% by end September 2023, from 52% at FYE22, supported by a greater focus on raising deposits. SFL’s increased cash and cash equivalents from deposit raising and reduced lending mitigated near-term liquidity pressure.

Liquid assets/total assets rose to around 27% by end-September 2023, from 8% at FYE22, as SFL boosted its investments in liquid assets amid fewer lending opportunities.

RATING SENSITIVITIES

Factors that Could, Individually or Collectively, Lead to Negative Rating Action/Downgrade

SFL’s rating is sensitive to changes in Singer’s credit profile, as reflected in Singer’s National Long-Term Rating.

Singer’s weaker ability to provide support to SFL, as signaled through a further downgrade of its rating, SFL’s increased size relative to Singer that makes extraordinary support more onerous or delay in providing liquidity support relative to SFL’s needs due to economy-wide issues could also lead to negative rating action on SFL.

The ratings may also be downgraded if we perceive a weakening in Singer’s propensity to support its finance subsidiaries due to weakening links. That said, SFL’s standalone credit profile could provide a floor to the rating.

Factors that Could, Individually or Collectively, Lead to Positive Rating Action/Upgrade

A significant positive turnaround in Singer’s financial prospects or increase in SFL’s strategic importance to Singer through a greater role within the group could lead to narrower notching from Singer’s profile. A large improvement in SFL’s intrinsic credit profile could result in its ratings been derived from its standalone profile.

DEBT AND OTHER INSTRUMENT RATINGS: KEY RATING DRIVERS

SENIOR UNSECURED DEBT

The rating on SFL’s senior unsecured debt is in line with the National Long-Term Rating, as the debt constitutes the unsubordinated obligations of the company.

SUBORDINATED UNSECURED DEBT

SFL’s Sri Lankan rupee-denominated subordinated debentures are rated two notches below its National Long-Term Rating to reflect their subordination to senior unsecured obligations. Fitch’s baseline notching of two notches for loss severity reflects our expectation of poor recovery. There is no additional notching for non-performance risk.

DEBT AND OTHER INSTRUMENT RATINGS: RATING SENSITIVITIES
SFL’s senior unsecured debt and subordinated unsecured debt ratings will move in tandem with the National Long-Term Rating.

REFERENCES FOR SUBSTANTIALLY MATERIAL SOURCE CITED AS KEY DRIVER OF RATING
The principal sources of information used in the analysis are described in the Applicable Criteria.

PUBLIC RATINGS WITH CREDIT LINKAGE TO OTHER RATINGS
SFL’s rating is driven by Singer’s National Long-Term Rating.

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Sri Lanka parliamentary committee says electricity tariffs should be reduced by 20 pct

ECONOMYNEXT — A parliamentary Sectoral Oversight Committee on Alleviating the Impact of the Economic Crisis has recommended to the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL) that electricity tariffs be reduced by at least 20 percent.

A statement from parliament said on Monday February 26 that, following an analytical review of the figures presented by the Electricity Board, Public Utilities Commission, etc. and taking into consideration all other factors affecting the price of electricity, including considering the opinion given by experts that the existing electricity price can be reduced by about 33%, price of electricity should be reduced by at least 20% in the year 2024 so that the state-run Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) will not suffer any loss.

PUCSL officials have informed the Committee that by the end of this month, they can submit the necessary recommendations to reduce the electricity bill, according to the statement.

The matter was taken up for discussion when the committee, chaired by MP Gamini Waleboda, met in the Parliament on February 22.

Officials from the Ministry of Industry, Ministry of Finance, Central Bank of Sri Lanka, Public Utilities Commission, Industry Development Board, Enterprise Development Authority, Department of Population and Statistics, Department of Inland Revenue and from government institutions including the Micro, Small and Medium Scale Industries Board and a group of industrialists had also been called for the meeting.

“The Committee gave several directives to the relevant institutions and officials to identify the micro, small and medium scale industries that are directly affected by the economic crisis and to activate the local economy and increase the foreign exchange earnings by reviving the industry sector.

“The Committee pointed out that due to the increase in electricity bills, the number of electricity connection cuts reported across the island has exceeded one million. It was also emphasised that in order to alleviate the pressure on the industry and the society, it should be arranged to provide electricity connections again by charging only 50 percent of the outstanding charges at the initial stage with the concessional basis of payment of outstanding electricity charges on installment basis,” the statement said.

The committee was also of the view to allow the customer to pay the connection fee in installments so as to avoid discouraging new entrepreneurs to start micro, small and financial industries due to high charges for getting fixed electricity connection and instructed to review the new connection fee and work to reduce it as much as possible.

The committee chair has instructed the PUCSL to conduct an audit on the electricity consumption in the public sector as an approach to ensure energy security.

“The Committee recommended to the Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank to start a loan scheme at subsidised interest for the purchase of solar panel systems with a view to promoting solar energy as a source of energy supply to industries. The Ministry of Finance expressed its agreement to provide refinancing facilities subject to a maximum as per the proposal made by the Committee to implement a loan scheme targeting micro, small and medium scale industrialists under subsidized interest rates.

The committee has also recommended that raw materials that must be imported from abroad and impose tax concessions on such raw materials be identified to ensure the supply of raw materials required for the smooth running of micro, small and medium scale industries. Copper, lead, aluminum and other industrial scraps used as raw materials in various domestic industries currently being sold by the CEB to external buyers and other entities should also be issued to micro, small and medium scale industrialists recommended by the Ministry of Industry and the Industrial Development Board, the committee has recommended.

The definition used by the Department of Population and Statistics for micro, small and medium industries and the definition used by other institutions such as the Industrial Development Board and the Central Bank for those industries are different from each other, which is an obstacle in making policy decisions, the committee had noted, directing the Department of Population and Statistics to support to the policymakers by releasing statistical data based on a common definition.

“The committee also recommended that the Credit Information Bureau should take prompt action to remove their credit information from the blacklists so as to facilitate access to credit facilities for micro, small and medium scale industries facing financial crisis to activate their balance sheets and to review all existing laws and procedures for registration of micro, small and medium scale industries as well as to obtain licenses and introduce a simple system.

“The committee informed all the parties to establish a steering Committee headed by the Ministry of Industry to implement the recommendations given by the Committee and to report its progress within a week,” the statement said. (Colombo/Feb27/2024)

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Sri Lanka sets up fund to help children of Gaza

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East is mandated to provide education, health, relief and social services, and emergency assistance to refugees. (Pic courtesy UNWRA)

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s cabinet of ministers have approved a proposal by President Ranil Wickremesinghe to set up a fund to help children caught in the war in Gaza, a statement said.

The government will contribute a million US dollars and use funds allocated by state agencies for Ifthar celebrations.

Public contributions are also called.

The Presidential Secretariat is requesting public donations citizens for the “Children of Gaza Fund” to be contributed to account number 7040016 at Bank of Ceylon (7010), Taprobane Branch (747) by 11th April.

Deposit receipts should to be forwarded to 0779730396 via WhatsApp. (Colombo/Feb27/2024)

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Top US official calls for inclusive reforms, deeper defence ties with Sri Lanka

ECONOMYNEXT — United States Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Richard Verma in discussions with Sri Lanka officials had called for inclusive reforms and stronger human rights and also discussed deeper defence and maritime cooperation.

The United States remains committed to the economic growth and prosperity of Sri Lanka, statement from the US Embassy in Colombo quoted the official as telling government, civil society and economic leaders during his February 23-24 visit to Sri Lanka.

“Verma met with President Ranil Wickremesinghe and Foreign Minister Ali Sabry to discuss progress on Sri Lanka’s IMF program, including inclusive economic and governance reforms aimed at keeping Sri Lanka on the path to sustainable economic growth.  Deputy Secretary Verma stressed the vital need to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression. They also explored opportunities to deepen defence and maritime cooperation between the United States and Sri Lanka, including strengthening the Sri Lanka Navy’s capabilities to safeguard national security and promote a more stable Indo-Pacific region,” the statement said.

 On February 23, aboard the SLNS Vijayabahu, one of three former U.S. Coast Guard cutters transferred by the United States to Sri Lanka, Deputy Secretary Verma said: “I am pleased to announce that the Department of State has notified Congress of our intent to transfer a fourth medium endurance cutter to Sri Lanka.  The Department obligated $9 million in Foreign Military Financing to support this effort.  We look forward to offering the cutter, pending the completion of Congress’ notification period.  If completed, this transfer would further strengthen defense cooperation between the United States and Sri Lanka.  The ship would increase Sri Lanka’s ability to patrol its Exclusive Economic Zone, monitor its search and rescue area, and provide additional security for ships from all nations that transit the busy sea lanes of the Indian Ocean.” 

 Participating in the announcement at Colombo Port were Sri Lanka State Minister of Defense Premitha Bandara Tennakoon, Commander of the Sri Lanka Navy Vice Admiral Priyantha Perera, and U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung, who remarked, according to the statement: “The United States has previously transferred three cutters to the Sri Lankan Navy, which deploys these ships for maritime operations and law enforcement missions, countering human trafficking and drug trafficking, while supporting humanitarian assistance and disaster response efforts. The eventual transfer of a fourth vessel would be just one more point in a long history of cooperation between Sri Lanka and the United States in preserving a free and open Indo-Pacific region.” 

Verma also visited the site of the West Container Terminal (WCT), a deepwater shipping container terminal in the Port of Colombo. The WCT, currently being constructed by Colombo West International Terminal (CWIT) Private Limited with 553 million US dollars in financing from the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, will provide critical infrastructure for the South Asian region, the embassy said.

“Operating near capacity since 2021, the Port of Colombo’s new addition will be the port’s deepest terminal and aims to boost Colombo’s shipping capacity, expanding its role as a premiere logistics hub connecting major routes and markets, boosting prosperity for Sri Lanka without adding to its sovereign debt,” it said. (Colombo/Feb27/2024)

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