Dr. Chandranath Amarasekara, Director of Economic Research at the Central Bank of Sri Lanka
by Sanath Nanayakkare
While it is correct to say that the cost of living is rising particularly in terms of food prices, the Central Bank observes that inflation is well anchored broadly within the target range of 4-6 per cent, Dr. Chandranath Amarasekara, Director of Economic Research at the Central Bank of Sri Lanka told the Island Financial Review (IFR) yesterday.
IFR put this query to the Central Bank as many people are often heard complaining about rising food prices adding that there is no mechanism in place to stem it. A consumer in Delgoda told this reporter that a grocery retailer who offers best prices in the area sells Nipuna Samba at Rs.117.50 a kilo, white sugar at Rs.126 a kilo, brown sugar at Rs. 134 a kilo and canned fish Mackerel at Rs. 260 and edible B-onion at Rs. 250 a kilo though the gazetted (regulated) prices for these essential food items are much lower than that. He had bought turmeric curry powder at Rs. 300 per 100grams.
“As you have observed, cost of living is rising though non-food prices are rising slowly. Maintaining inflation in the target range does not mean that cost of living does not increase”. Dr. Amarasekara said.
Elaborating on what he termed as a nationally important subject, he said, “The Central Bank observes that inflation is well anchored broadly within the target range of 4-6 per cent. Year-on-year inflation based on the Colombo Consumer Price Index (CCPI) was at 4.8 per cent at end 2019 and remained at 4.0 per cent by October 2020. Year-on-year inflation based on the National Consumer Price Index (NCPI), which was at 6.2 per cent at end 2019, remained higher at 6.4 per cent by September 2020”.
“The above figures show that there is indeed inflation, displaying that cost of living is rising at these rates on average. For example, compared to prices of the representative consumption basket last year, prices are 4.0 per cent higher in October 2020 if you consider the CCPI basket. If you compare the NCPI basket, average prices are 6.4 per cent higher. However, what the Central Bank is aiming to do is to maintain these increases on average between 4-6 per cent on a year-on-year basis. From what we know from the Sri Lankan experience as well as experiences of other countries is that excessive inflation as well as deflation is not good for an economy, and this is why the Central Bank aims to maintain inflation between 4-6 per cent”.
“When you compare CCPI and NCPI, you will also notice that inflation is higher at the national level than in Colombo. This is because the food category in the consumption basket is relatively small in Colombo – people spend more on other goods – compared to the national average. You see that food prices have remained at high levels, and this is what people mostly feel as high inflation. In fact, if you consider food inflation in the CCPI basket, it was 6.3 per cent at end 2019, but was at 10 per cent in October 2020. Food inflation in terms of NCPI, which was 8.6 per cent at end 2019 has risen to 12.7 per cent by September 2020. Throughout 2020, food inflation has remained at double digit levels,” he said.
“The government is monitoring food inflation closely and has taken several measures to regulate prices of food supplies. In addition, the ongoing drive to promote domestic food production will also result in considerable gains in the period ahead, thereby allowing food inflation to subside”, Dr. Amarasekara said.
Meanwhile, a resident at Mount Lavinia told the IFR that retail grocery shops in the area face a supply disruption due to the prevailing situation in the country which has obviously led to increases in food prices.
A resident in Kottawa said,” Grocery shops here don’t have samba rice. They have enough stocks of Keeri Samba sold at Rs. 120 a kilo”.
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Unlimited music streaming platform in Sri Lanka
SLT-Mobitel, the nation’s ICT and Telecommunications Service Provider recently partnered with Spotify, to mark their launch in Sri Lanka. Spotify is a paid premium music streaming app which allows subscribers to listen to music to their hearts content. Both, SLT-Mobitel Post-Paid and Pre-Paid customers will now be able to enjoy Spotify by activating a monthly recurring subscription or one-time subscription plan and access unlimited music streaming and downloading facilities.
The subscription charges will get added to the user’s customary billing, where payment will be deducted in real time. Starting from the payment date, the user will be able to access Spotify and download their favourite songs, for the next 30 days. Users who sign up for their first monthly subscription will receive an additional one month, courtesy of Spotify. The one-month subscription plan is not applicable with one-time subscription plans. SLT-Mobitel data rates, depending on the user’s respective broadband charges, will apply.
Spotify also has some exciting features that will provide SLT-Mobitel customers with the opportunity to listen to ad-free music, access millions of uninterrupted music under one platform, play any song they like, anywhere they go, and also be able to enjoy their music offline.
SLT-Mobitel customers can select their preferred premium package under four categories; Individual, Duo, Family, Student. Each category has recurring and non-recurring plans. After one month of free streaming, the package will activate once the offer period terminates. While both, the Individual and Student premiums are limited to one account user, the Duo package offers two accounts and the Family premium is accessible through six accounts. To view Spotify plans, users can log on to https://spoti.fi/3aLWvce
Sri Lanka using ‘sovereign power’ over economy: CB Governor
by Sanath Nanayakkare
Anyone conversant with the elements of a political economy would know that Sri Lanka is using its ‘sovereign power’ to manage the different dynamics of the economy in a sustainable manner, Professor W. D Lakshman Governor of the Central Bank said on Wednesday.
“Some critics are saying that we adopt a so-called modern monetary theory. That’s not the case. In fact, Sri Lanka is using its sovereign power in a number of economic aspects to honour its external debt repayment commitments as well as to reduce its debt burden in the medium term as well as achieve resilient growth in the medium to long term, he said.
“We make policy decisions to boost our gross foreign reserves, meet our external debt servicing, to facilitate monetary expansion, to boost our GDP growth, to strengthen our current account balance and manage our domestic and external economic variables in a sustainable manner. This is not a modern monetary theory. This is an age-old tool used by central banks around the world when the circumstances demand it, he said.
“Certain trade-offs will be necessary when dealing with an economy which has a big fiscal gap to bridge. There are efforts to push Sri Lanka towards the IMF again which would in turn have influence on our policymaking. We have taken policy measures to stabilize the economy and we have adequate reserve levels to meet our debt repayments. Meanwhile, we are in negotiations with overseas central banks and multilateral agencies to further boost our reserve level and it would materialise within a matter of weeks,” he noted.
“One of the tools the Central Bank has introduced is in respect of repatriation of export proceeds into Sri Lanka and conversion of such proceeds into Sri Lankan rupees in order to strengthen the foreign exchange situation of the country,” he said.
The Governor made these remarks while delivering the keynote speech at a webinar organised by the Veemansa Initiative led by its Managing Director Luxman Siriwardene – the former Executive Director of Pathfinder Foundation.
The webinar revolved round the topic ‘External debt situation in Sri Lanka: Are we heading for a resolution or crisis?’
Professor Sirimal Abeyratne, Prof. Sumanasiri Liyanage, Dr. Nishan de Mel and Dr. Ravi Liyanage were the other speakers on the panel.
CSE on the rebound; indices close positive
By Hiran H.Senewiratne
CSE produced signs of a rebound yesterday with both indices closing positive, though turnover remained low. Central Bank Governor W.D Lakshman’s recent statement on managing foreign reserves gave some boost to the market yesterday, stock market analysts said.
The index experienced a zigzag movement within the early hours of trading; thereafter, it recorded a slight up-trend as it reached its intraday high of 7,439. Later, the market witnessed a down-trend at mid-day, followed by a sideways movement and closed at 7,372, gaining 43 points during the month of February, market sources said.
It is said the banking sector dominated turnover with a contribution of considerable parcel trades in Sampath Bank, Commercial Bank and HNB.
Further, the Commercial Bank’s impressive quarterly results during the recent turbulent period also built investor confidence. Commercial Bank was able to register a18 percent net interest income when other banks were reporting a decline. Its share price increased by Rs. 3 or 3.5 percent. On the previous day, its shares started trading at Rs. 85 and at the end of the day they moved up to Rs. 88. Due to the positive growth results, the bank announced a Rs. 4.40 dividend per share, plus a Rs. 2 script divergent for every share.
Further, Sampath Bank shares also appreciated in both crossing and retail. In crossings its shares appreciated by Rs. 1.At the end of the day they moved up to Rs. 154.50. In the retail market, its shares moved up by Rs. 2 or 1.3 percent. Previously, its shares fetched Rs. 154 and at the end of yesterday they moved up to Rs. 156.
Amid those developments, both indices moved upwards. The All Share Price Index went up by 104.48 points and S and P SL20 rose by 67.78 points. Turnover stood at Rs. 3 billion with four crossings. Those crossings were reported in Sampath Bank, where 3.9 million shares crossed for Rs. 602.2 million, its share price being Rs. 154.50, HNB 375,000 shares crossed for Rs. 39.4 million, its shares traded at Rs. 105, Pan Asia Power 9.5 million shares crossed for Rs. 33.2 million, its shares traded at Rs. 3.50 and Access Engineering 1.2 million shares crossed for Rs. 28.2 million; its shares traded at Rs. 24.
In the retail market top five companies that mainly contributed to the turnover were, Expolanka Rs. 450 million (10 million shares traded), JKH Rs. 205 million (1.3 million shares traded), Browns Investments Rs. 199 million (34.9 million shares traded), Sampath Bank Rs. 191 million (1.2 million shares traded) and Dipped Products Rs. 137.7 million (2.8 million shares traded). During the day 101 million share volumes changed hands in 18046 transactions.
During the day, Expolanka, the biggest contributor to the turnover, saw its share price appreciating by Rs. 6.20 or 15 percent. Its share price quoted on the previous day was Rs. 41 and at the end of trading yesterday it moved up to Rs. 47.
Sri Lanka’s rupee quoted wider at 193.50/195.50 levels to the US dollar in the spot next market on Thursday while bond yields remained unchanged, dealers said. The rupee last closed in the spot market at 194.50/195.00 to the dollar on Wednesday.