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IPS sees path ahead for Sri Lanka even as economic challenges mount

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by Sanath Nanayakkare

Even though macroeconomic pressures and external challenges are weighing on Sri Lanka’s fiscal situation, the country has a path ahead for growth and sustainability if it puts its fiscal house in order over the next three years, Dr. Dushni Weerakoon, Executive Director of the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka (IPS) said last week.

She made this remark while speaking at an online seminar after launching the State of the Economy- 2020 Report compiled by the IPS titled “Pandemics and Disruptions: Reviving Sri Lanka’s Economy COVID-19 and Beyond.”

Elaborating further she said, “Policy environment is critical to achieving resilient growth and economic stability in order to position Sri Lanka as a middle income country in the next 2-3 years”.

“Prevailing macroeconomic conditions in Sri Lanka are challenging. The debt overhang is the prime concern. This debt situation didn’t happen overnight, It crept up over the past decade or so. It hasn’t left room for more robust support packages for people and businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. We need to rethink our policies not only to achieve a sustainable growth path, but we need to build a firewall to withstand any external shocks in the future”.

“Sound fiscal policy in order to put the public finances in order should be the focus of the upcoming budget and government policy in the coming years”.

“If a sovereign rating assessment goes against Sri Lanka in the offing, it could cause a sudden devaluation of the rupee and as a result of it, the size of our foreign currency loans will balloon”.

“The pressure on our forex reserves needs to be eased. FDIs need to be attracted to the construction and real estate sector to ease the immediate pressure and thereafter move on to a growth strategy driven by productivity and technology to become a middle-income country”.

“The minimizing of wasteful expenditure in the public sector won’t make much of a difference. The government will have to lead social welfare. We will have to spend more on health, education and social protection in the recovery phase”.

“The debt stock will persist in the next decade albeit a brief break in between. So, we need to shore up our forex buffers – not with borrowed funds but with investments that bring in manufacturing and services with knowledge transfer on technology”.

“The government has decided not to obtain large loans for infrastructure projects in the next 2-3 years to control the debt stock. Fiscal re-balancing and ensuring systematic tax revenue would be vital for medium-term stability”.

“We needed certain monetary policy stances and import restrictions to face the current situation, but we should see them as necessary short term measures only. Beyond recovery, we need a new system which is agile enough to integrate with the global supply chain and be part of that success as they jump start their economies”.

“We need to raise funds through international sovereign bonds, foreign term deposits etc. For the past one and a half decades, Sri Lanka has had experience on foreign funded projects. We have experience on capital spending, converting debt to equity in infrastructure development projects etc. We can learn from them and seek funding on our terms”.

“Wider fiscal space will also assist the government to provide better social welfare support to the poor. Sri Lanka’s budget deficit is estimated to be between 9-11% in 2020, and public revenue streams remain uncertain even in 2021, according to analysts. This together with low debt sustainability was partly why Sri Lanka’s sovereign rating was downgraded earlier this month by international rating agency Moody’s”.”Sri Lanka cannot afford to lose out by holding onto protectionist measures. A seamless tariff regime is needed to join international value chains, and as the world recovers, we must rethink our approach to trade”.

“On the back of Sri Lanka’s political stability, the country can rethink its economic policies and come through its macroeconomic challenges,” Dr. Dushni Weerakoon noted.


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Unlimited music streaming platform in Sri Lanka

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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

 

 

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Sri Lanka using ‘sovereign power’ over economy: CB Governor

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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.

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CSE on the rebound; indices close positive

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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.

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