Midyear Economic Update 2020

Interest Rates

Figure 1: Treasury bill yields and money market rates (weekly averages)

Notes: AWCMR- Average Weighted Call Money Rate, SDFR- Standing Deposit Facility Rate, SLFR- Standing Lending Facility Rate, T-bill yields are for the secondary market, ARR – simple average of daily repo rates
Source: CBSL

The CBSL maintained accommodative monetary policy throughout 1H 2020 primarily to help the COVID hit economy to recover. By the end of the first half of the year, the CBSL dropped the policy corridor (i.e. SDFR & SLFR) by 150 bps, Bank Rate by 550 bps, and SRR by 300 bps compared to the beginning of the year. As a result, the liquidity in the financial system remained distinctly elevated, driving money market rates (i.e. Call money rate and Repo rate) down. Notwithstanding softer money market rates, the monetary transmission mechanism in general displayed weakness in influencing retail lending rates in 1H 2020.

The COVID crisis took the center stage in the money market towards the tail end of 1Q 2020 and throughout 2Q. Money market activities quickly dissipated as economic activity came to a grinding halt with the island wide lockdown. The balance sheet of the CBSL expanded as it stepped in as the “market maker of last resort” by engaging in money printing (i.e. buying G-secs[1]). As a result, the CBSL’s holdings of treasuries exploded four folds to LKR 312 Bn by the end of 1H vis-à-vis pre-crisis level. In addition, the CBSL took a range of countercyclical measures from cutting policy rates to implementing a debt moratorium to facilitate economic recovery.

The spread between call and repo rates started drifting apart amidst very thin volumes in the repo market at the height of the crisis in April and May. By June, the banks, flushed with liquidity, channeled the excess funds towards repo market, boosting the repo volumes which resulted in tighter call-repo spread. For the most part of the 1H the spread between T-bill yields and the call market rate have been diverging barring the last

week of June where the T-bill yields plunged drastically as a result of the market factoring in the SRR[2] cut.

Long-term rates

Figure 2: Yield curve of government securities

Source: First Capital Research

The yields on treasuries across the board saw substantial decline in 1H 2020 due to loose monetary policy. Accordingly, the yield curve shifted down by about ~250 to 300 bps. However, the yields turned almost flat across T-bills, as opposed to the yields that prevailed by the end of 2019 indicating investors had indifferent risk pricing across holding T-bills with different tenures by the end of 1H 2020. Secondary market maintained the momentum throughout 1H with the exception of April where the market remained closed for several days due to holidays.

Figure 3: Secondary market T-bill yields and AWPR

Source: CBSL

AWPR[3] remained at upper single digit levels and continued to steadily decline (~130 bps) throughout 1H amidst monetary easing. The CBSL made several interventions to coerce banks to cut lending rates in 2019 which had a profound impact on the profitability of banks via lower net interest margins (NIMs). The spread between risk-free rates (T-bill yields) and AWPR widened in 2Q 2020 in comparison to pre-crisis level reflecting that the risk appetite of banks had not improved in May despite the efforts by the CBSL to maintain excess liquidity in the money markets.

Credit

Figure 4: Credit to private and government sectors (M-o-M)

Source: CBSL

The weaker credit climate that prevailed in January and February exacerbated by the global slowdown, recovered to a greater extend in March just before the COVID breakout. The crisis drove the private credit growth down for the entire 2Q 2020, while the government absorbed much of the bank credit. ICRA Lanka earlier in a special release explained why reductions in policy rates may not generate appreciable expansion in credit in the economy which can be found in the below link.

Read ICRA Lanka’s special release on The Central Bank’s COVID Response

 The commercial paper issuers faced major challenges when it came to roll over of debt at the height of the crisis, as the investors moved funds to low risk assets such as G-secs. In addition, issuers have also moved towards securing low cost long term funding from banks, as opposed to raising funds through commercial papers. As a result, ICRA Lanka believes the commercial paper market may have shrunk viz-a-viz end 2019.

The reserve money (i.e. currency in circulation and deposits held by the commercial banks) surpassed LKR 1 Tn in April subsequent to the CBSL’s COVID response, but contracted below the pre-crisis level as a result of the decrease in deposits held by the commercial banks following the SRR cut. When the economic activity picks up, the currency in circulation should increase generally leading to overall expansion in the reserve money.

Figure 5: International lending rates

Notes: The SOFR Averages are compounded averages of the SOFR over rolling 180-calendar day periods.
Source: New York Federal Reserve and global-rates.com

2020 began with challenging global outlook foreshadowed by the intense US-China trade war. Rapid spread of COVID crisis across borders beyond China to Europe and US caused economic activities and global trade to come to an abrupt contraction. On the back of this, Federal Reserve gradually started easing Fed funds rates from February onwards and by April the rates had dropped almost to the rock-bottom. Eurodollar market responded to the rate cuts and moved in tandem with Fed funds rate.

LIBOR is expected to be phased out by December 31, 2021 and ICRA Lanka in a research note highlighted the implications of this transition on Sri Lankan financial markets giving a special emphasis to the replacement rate for USD LIBOR, SOFR (Secured Overnight Financial Rate) earlier. The link to this report can be found below.

Read ICRA Lanka’s report on the LIBOR Transition

Figure 6: Sovereign bond yields, Sri Lanka vs. Emerging Markets

Notes: Red line represents emerging market bonds and yellow line represents SRILAN 6.250% 04OCT2020 Govt (USD) bonds
Source: bondsupermarket.com

COVID crisis triggered a panic selling of SLISBs. This resulted in a massive spike in SLISB yields in March accentuated by the country’s external sector vulnerabilities. However, yields went through a correction phase to moderate to a lower level. High yields in ISBs posed a major hurdle to the GoSL and corporates to refinance debt despite very low interest rates in the Eurodollar markets. This was evident by higher risk premia demanded by the investors in the subsequent SLDB auctions. As part of its effort to control forex outflows, the CBSL banned banks from buying SLISBs in March, but on June 19th it was lifted, provided the purchases were done through new inflows which helped to ease yields further.

External Sector

Figure 7: External Trade (USD Mn)

Note: June 2020 data is provisional
Sources: CBSL

With exports, remittances, and tourist receipts falling to historical lows, rupee was facing immense downward pressure. Exports performance was tepid in the first two months of 2020 compared to corresponding period of 2019 while imports showed a marked upsurge. March and April saw exports plummeting by massive amounts due to COVID disruptions. The CBSL introduced import controls to curb forex outflows in March. In May, the exports started to recover and by June bounced back close to pre-crisis level, driven by decent performance of tea and apparel exports. Country achieved a trade surplus in June amidst subdued import growth. The worker remittances also made a recovery in May and in June surpassed the pre-crisis level. However, the exact reason for the rise in remittances is unclear.

Figure 8: Exchange rate

Source: CBSL

Exchange rate remained broadly stable mostly during1Q but once the COVID crisis overwhelmed the economy, rupee depreciated sharply close to LKR 200/USD. The CBSL shaved off portion of the reserves and introduced several exchange control measures to contain the situation. In the process it sold down USD 272 Mn of reserves in March and April months alone. Consequently, helped by improved exports, exchange rate started to appreciate gradually from May. Real Effective Exchange Rate (REER) index, which measures the external competitiveness of the country, indicated a stronger rupee by the end of 1H which is the strongest level the rupee has been in over a year. Forward rates prevailing by the end 1H 2020 indicated the rupee to depreciate close to LKR 187/USD by the end of the year. However, if imports pick up towards the end of 2020, there could be pressure on the rupee to depreciate further.

Figure 9: Gross official reserves (USD Mn)

Source: CBSL

Proceeds from the SLDB auctions held before the crisis helped to boost forex reserves to some extent. The CBSL conducted several SLDB auctions to attract forex reserves

following the breakout, but the auctions mostly went undersubscribed (especially the LIBOR linked FRNs). Recent auctions had better demand for fixed rate SLDBs but investors demanded higher rates. The reserve position kept deteriorating in 2Q until June where, exports made a significant recovery. Once the pressure on the rupee was off, The CBSL allowed for reserve accumulation by minimizing the intervention in the forex market. In addition, the CBSL sold down about USD 234 Mn gold reserves amidst favourable gold prices to boost reserves in June.

Figure 10: Net foreign purchase of equities and debt (LKR Mn)

Source: CSE, CBSL

Capital flight was rampant in both debt and equities market. The series of policy rate cuts and sovereign rating downgrades in 1H 2020, triggered foreign selling in both these markets. As the uncertainty surrounding global trade heightened, investors sought refuge in safer assets such as US Treasuries, which also intensified capital flight from Emerging Markets (EMs) leading to marked decline in US Treasury yields. As a result of extraordinary monetary easing by the CBSL, the treasury yields declined significantly. Subsequently, the spreads between domestic treasuries and that of US eased thereby diminishing incentive for foreign investors to remain in the G-sec market. This is evident by the reduction in stock of government securities held by foreigners by LKR 83 Bn during 1H. CSE also struggled to retain foreign investors for entire 1H 2020 even though the market valuations were attractive. By June, CSE recorded 10th consecutive month of net foreign outflows excluding April when the CSE was closed.

Fiscal Sector

Figure 11: Government revenue and expenditure (LKR Mn)

 2019 Jan-Apr2020 Jan-Apr*Change
Total revenue and grants598,426478,696-20%
Total expenditure961,863930,871-3%
Deficit363,437452,17524%
Notes: *Provisional data                                                                                                   Source: CBSL

Total government revenue and grants contracted by 20% in the first four months of 2020 with respect to the same period in 2019, while the total expenditure fell only marginally for the corresponding period. The drop in revenue was mainly due to fall in tax revenue by 20%. On the expenditure front, the government increased its recurrent expenditure by 9%, partly on account of COVID-19 related spending, which was set off to a greater extent by cutting down the capital expenditure by 48%. As a result of significant drop in government revenue, the budget deficit widened by 24%.

Figure 12: Outstanding government debt (LKR Mn)

 2019 End Dec2020 End Apr*Change
Domestic debt6,629,1047,217,6529%
Foreign debt6,402,4396,807,0836%
Total debt13,031,54314,024,7358%
Notes: *Provisional data                                                                                                   Source: CBSL

In financing the deficit in the first four months of 2020, the government has relied less on foreign financing and more on domestic short term borrowings as evident by issuance of higher share of T-bills as opposed to T-bonds in contrast to the same period for the year before. Total outstanding debt rose by 8% in the first four months of 2020 to LKR 14 Tn. In the process, domestic debt outpaced the foreign debt. During this time, the share of domestic debt increased marginally. Bulk of the domestic debt has medium to long term maturities. However, by April 2020, the stock of debt having medium to long term maturities declined to 78% from 81% from the share that prevailed by the end of 2019.

Prices & Wages

Figure 13: CCPI and Wage Rate Index of the informal private sector (Y-o-Y)

Notes: WRI (100=2012), CCPI (100=2013)
Source: CBSL

Forced closures and restrictions of cross-border trade affected the revenue streams of businesses which in turn led to layoffs and salary cuts. Unemployment jumped to 5.7%, the highest in a decade, by the end of March. ICRA Lanka expects the unemployment to rise up over 9% by the 4Q 2020. As result of the surge in unemployment, the wage growth lost momentum indicating deteriorating purchasing power of consumers. This is corroborated to some extent by the 4% decline in the aggregate outstanding balance of credit cards in the country during the first 5 months of the year.

Inflation declined to lower bound of the CBSL’s inflation target (i.e. 4%). This is because, though the food inflation remained high (over 10%) throughout 1H 2020, the non-food inflation, which accounts for over 70% of the expenditure basket of an average household, had been declining. Food inflation in 1Q rose as a result of supply shock especially to vegetables in early months. Tax cuts announced in November 2019 contributed to subdued non-food inflation in early 2020 before the COVID breakout, as a result of downward adjustment of prices of services related items (telco, health, airfare, internet etc.).

Equities

Figure 14: ASPI (M-o-M)

Source: CSE

CSE operated with bearish sentiment throughout the first two months of 2020 as Corona virus fears loomed across East Asian markets. COVID crisis quickly engulfed CSE as the patient zero in Sri Lanka was reported in early March which led to heavy losses across all sectors. The trading at the CSE was suspended several times during March due to several intraday crashes. Thereafter, the CSE was closed for the entire month of April which delayed the process of absorbing the COVID-19 shock. In the subsequent months, CSE reported modest performance mainly driven by the buying interest of retail investors.

Figure 15: ASPI sector performance- 1H 2020

SectorIndex Points Gain
Chemicals Pharms141
IT-7
Power & Energy-7
Telecom-12
Plantations-46
Health Care-49
Land Property-98
Hotels Travels-242
Footwear Textile-269
Construction Engineering-298
Diversified-405
Manufacturing-561
Services-669
Investment Trust-2,075
Motors-2,310
Stores Supplies-2,646
Bev Food Tobacco-2,681
Trading-2,860
Bank Finance Ins-3,029
Oil Palms-8,961
Source: CSE

Essential sectors and utilities such as pharma, healthcare, power, energy, and telecom had the least impact on their valuations. Export oriented sectors such as textile and manufacturing had moderate impact, but plantations, which comprised mostly of tea exporters had fairly a good run during the 2Q due to rise in global tea prices. Due to restrictions in mobility and social distancing, sectors such as construction, real estate, leisure and services were also moderately affected. Import dependent sectors such as trading and motor vehicles and financial sector equities such as banks, finance & leasing, and investment funds were the hardest hit. Palm oils companies reported a deep dent in their share values in 1H 2020.

Financial Sector

Figure 16: Financial sector key indicators 2014 – Q1 2020

Notes: Capital adequacy indicators; for banks- Tier 1 Capital Ratio, for finance/leasing companies – Core Capital to Risk Weighted Assets, Earnings indicators; for banks- Return on Assets – before tax, for finance/leasing companies – Return on Assets (Annualized), Asset quality indicators; for banks- Non-performing Loans to Total Loans and Advances, for finance/leasing companies – Gross Non Performing Advances to Total Advances, Liquidity indicators; for banks- Liquid Assets to Total Assets, for Finance/leasing – Regulatory Liquid Assets to Total Assets, The official data for finance/leasing companies for Q1 2020 was not available at the time of writing of this report.

Source: CBSL

1H 2020 was an exceptionally challenging period for the banking and NBFI sectors, characterized by muted loan growth, deteriorating asset quality, and subdued profitability due to higher credit costs. 

Read ICRA Lanka’s NBFI Sector Outlook report

In response to COVID-19 crisis the CBSL implemented several initiatives; policy rate cuts, releasing capital and liquidity buffers, relaxing administrative and supervisory compliance requirements, and implementing debt moratorium and credit schemes. These actions had a profound impact on the banking and the NBFI sector.

Asset quality in banks and finance companies was deteriorating for the last 3 years. The constructions sector, which the banks had the highest credit exposure to, often suffered liquidity shortages as a result of the delays in receivables from the state sector. Consequently, the banks saw the construction related non-performing loans (NPLs) rising. In addition, tourism sector was impacted due to the constitutional crisis and the Easter attacks. ICRA Lanka expects sharp increase in NPLs of banks in 2Q and beyond with the expiration of the moratorium period.

The asset quality deterioration of the NBFI sector is much sharper than that of the banking sector. ICRA Lanka has observed that the construction sector challenges cascading down to the NBFI sector, through small contractors, subcontractors, and other suppliers to the large construction companies as well. Traditionally, the finance companies in Sri Lanka cater to the informal and relatively vulnerable segments such as self-employed individuals, micro-businesses, SMEs. These segments are among the hardest hit segments due to the COVID crisis. Gross NPA (Non-performing assets) level of the NBFI sector was close to 12% as of March 2020, and the same is expected to reach 16-18% by June 2020.

Despite the tax cuts by the government in the November 2019 budget, declining asset quality and falling NIMs had a direct impact on the profitability of the banking sector in 1Q 2020. At the peak of the crisis in 2Q, we believe the profitability may have dropped further due to envisaged increase in impairment costs associated with the IFRS 9 standard. With IFRS 9 implementation, movement between delinquency buckets will have a more significant effect on credit costs (loan impairment provisions) of financial institutions. The impact on the profitability of finance and leasing sector would be much acute.

Risk weighted capital adequacy levels declined marginally during the first 3 months of 2020, due to credit growth and subdued profitability during the period. ICRA Lanka expects the capital buffers to moderate further as the profitability is likely to be modest over the next 12M. In this context, the CBSL has relaxed the regulatory capital requirements, that will help the FIs navigate the challenging period.  

In terms of the growth outlook, despite the GoSL’s effort to drive credit growth, ICRA Lanka expects financial institutions to have a very low-risk appetite, as these institutions are already grappling with poor asset quality.

Commodities

Figure 17: Crude oil price

Source: Bloomberg quoted in CBSL

Slack in global economic activities, especially in China, resulted in oil prices depressing to historic lows, even falling below zero briefly at one point in April. But gradual reopening of economies buoyed oil prices to some degree. Milder oil prices helped Sri Lanka to cut back on the import bills and also possibly to improve the balance sheets of CEB and CPC. 

Figure 18: Auctions prices of commercial crops

Notes: Tea prices are average price in USD/Kg for all elevations, coconut prices are in LKR/nut, rubber prices are in LKR of LATEX Crepe 4X

Sources: Forbes & Walker, CDA, RRISL

Tea and coconut produce had robust demand in 1H 2020. In April, the Colombo auction prices rose sharply as global tea supply continued to fall due to labour deployment issues as a result of COVID-19 pandemic and adverse weather conditions. Weaker rupee, demand induced by the perceived health benefits of black tea, and higher tea consumption during lockdowns have also helped the Ceylon tea prices to stay buoyant for the said period. Higher prices to a larger extent compensated for the lower production levels thereby minimizing the impact on financial performance of plantation companies.

Read ICRA Lanka’s quick insight on the Plantation Sector Outlook

Rubber prices did not recover to pre-crisis level in 1H 2020. The world natural rubber consumption had dropped by 15.7% in 1H. This is partly due to 20% decline in demand from China, which accounts for 40% of total global consumption [1].

Figure 19: Metal price index (2016=100)

Notes: Base metals index includes Aluminum, Cobalt, Copper, Iron Ore, Molybdenum, Nickel, Tin, Uranium, and Zinc, precious metals index includes Gold, Silver, Palladium, and Platinum
Source: IMF

Base metals are a major industrial input and have cost implications for hard industries such as construction. COVID disruption brought key base metal prices to their two year lows in April. But with China reopening its economy, the prices have started to recover in subsequent months. On the otherhand, the COVID crisis boosted the demand for precious metals, especially Gold, as an asset class. Gold price has reached historicaly high levels.

Read ICRA Lanka’s report on the Construction Sector Outlook

Real Sector

Figure 20: Growth in power generation (Y-o-Y)

Source: CEB, PUCSL

Figure 21: Total power generation (GWh)

20202019(Q-o-Q)
 1Q3,9043,9050%
 2Q3,3084,006-17%

Source: CEB, PUCSL

ICRA Lanka’s initial projections indicated the quarterly GDP growth rates for 2020 to record 1% in 1Q and -4.5% in 2Q. However, based on our proprietary nowcasting models derived from multiple high frequency indicators, we have downgraded the 1Q and 2Q GDP growth rates to 0.2% and -6.9% respectively with lower bounds of nowcasting values stretching to -1.2% and -28.1% correspondingly.

Read ICRA Lanka’s report on the Economic Impact of COVID in Sri Lanka

Electricity consumption is a leading indicator of economic activity. From March 2020 onwards the country’s power consumption remained at subpar level in comparison to 2019 as the industrial usage of electricity came down significantly. In addition, for the first 5 months of 2020, the total sales of cement contracted by 37%. Port services also showed a distinct reduction in activities, as seen from the decline in ship traffic by 7%, container handling by 9%, and cargo handling by 11% in 1H 2020. As a result, the economy may have operated with a considerable slack in 2Q 2020.

COVID crisis disrupted the supply of agrochemicals, labour deployment, and distribution channels. Agriculture sector production in 1Q 2020 fell as production of commercial crops (i.e. tea, rubber, coconut) and fish declined across the board[4], while the fisheries sector reported noteworthy deterioration in April (-42%).

Figure 22: PMI deviation from point of neutrality (Index points)

Notes- negative values indicate sector is generally contracting on a month-on-month basis while positive values indicate the sector is expanding. The strength of contraction or expansion is manifested by the magnitude of the figure.
Source: CBSL

Manufacturing sector was tepid in the first two months of 2020 mainly due to the slowdown in order books and supply delays resulting from the COVID-19 virus outbreak in China. Textile and apparel sector cut production as the export demand started to slow down. Supply disruption also impeded production. In March the sector underwent a record contraction as the country went into a lockdown. The COVID-19 induced downturn in the Sri Lankan manufacturing and services sectors deepened during April, marking the lowest PMI values on record. Employers were seen cutting down and freezing temporary/casual jobs as the establishments were operating below capacity. Apparel manufacturers continued to experience low orders from key export markets. In addition, the lead-times of manufacturers lengthened due to delays in inbound shipments and local logistics.

Tourist arrivals declined in the first two months of 2020 mainly due to worries over Corona virus as witnessed by slump in Chinese and European tourists. This hurt the activities in the services sector to a greater extent. Following the lockdown in March, tourism came to a grinding halt causing severe drop in revenues in the leisure sector.  Trade sector was also affected due to import restrictions and exchange rate depreciation. Moreover, the disruption to delivery and distribution channels also affected trade activities.

Both manufacturing and services sectors showed noteworthy recovery in May and June. With the lifting of the lockdown, the economic activities resumed helping the production activities in the manufacturing sector. Employers were seen reinstating some of the jobs they previously cut. The order books showed improvement. With improved mobility following the lockdown, trade and transportation sectors saw business activities picking up. Employment in troubled leisure and tourism sectors were seen contracting for yet another month. Backlogs started to deescalate as business is returning to normalcy.

Ratings Commentary

Financial Sector

The credit profile of the banking and NBFI sector was negatively affected by the challenging macro-outlook that prevailed during H1 2020. Banks and especially, the NBFIs witnessed a sharp deterioration in asset quality indicators, while the overall profitability was affected by higher credit costs. On the other hand, plans of NBFIs to improve capitalization via external fundraising exercises also got derailed due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

In this context, ICRA Lanka has downgraded the issuer rating of one NBFI, while most of the other NBFIs remain on Negative watch. ICRA Lanka will continue to monitor the sector to see the impact of COVID-19 and the debt moratorium, as the sector’s ability to control incremental loan slippages and improve overall asset quality will be critical from the rating standpoint. Failing to do so will likely result in further downgrades across the banking and NBFI sector over the next 6M.

The life insurance companies in ICRA Lanka’s portfolio showed resilience amidst challenging macro outlook, where premium collections recovered at a healthy rate. However, the sector growth is likely to be modest for the calendar year, because the new business generation is likely to be slow. The investment performance of insurance companies was affected by the shocks in the equity market. ICRA Lanka has not altered any rating in the life insurance sector during 1H 2020.

Primary dealers and mutual funds experienced favourable business conditions, mainly due to the declining interest rate regime during 1H 2020. ICRA Lanka has not taken any rating action in this sector.

Corporate Sector

Sri Lanka generally cultivates ~350,000 Ha for its Yala cultivation season. However, during Yala season in 2020, total cultivated land extent exceeded~ 400,000 Ha due to the heavy focus on the agriculture sector to ensure food security. Input suppliers in agricultural value chain such as the agrochemical companies, and agri-equipment suppliers benefited from better than expected revenues. We initially expected agrochemical industry to benefit from lower oil prices but this benefit was set off by the spike in freight costs of chemical imports.

Tea sector remained resilient in 2Q. Buoyant prices due to limited global supply improved the balance sheets of plantation companies.

Consumer durables though affected by the lockdown and import controls, volumes have improved following the lockdown and demonstrated better than expected resilience. The pent up demand for household items after the lockdowns were relaxed have helped this sector to perform better than expected.

Logistic industry in the post COVID-19 pandemic has also faced supply chain disruptions. However, soaring freight rates have helped this industry to sustain its performance in the short term. The sector is expected to recover once the normalizing of global trade takes place.

The CEB started renewing the expired Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) for mini-hydro power producers that were under avoided cost basis, during H1 2020. This step helped to increase profit margins of the said producers and to recover the outstanding trade receivables from these older PPAs after the new PPAs are signed at the favorable tariffs.

The export sectors especially for perishable products such as horticulture, tissue culture, vegetables and etc. have suffered from lower revenue growth. However, the export oriented manufacturing items such as gloves, purifications, protective clothes had a robust cash flow and have performed exceptionally well in H1 2020.

As expected the hotel/leisure sector financial performance in 2Q was weak characterized by lower RevPARs[5] and ADRs[6] in the absence of tourists. City hotels have been affected severely due to limitation of public gathering with the social distancing requirements/regulations. The recovery of this industry largely hinges on the containment and the spread of COVID-19 pandemic locally and globally.

The construction sector experienced a slowdown in the overall order books and therefore, the construction contractors faced operating profit margin pressure in 2Q. Given the current import restrictions, the construction sector’s local value addition has improved markedly during 2Q 2020 and the same has also helped to cushion the impact from risks of rupee depreciation to some extent, during this period. Recently, the GoSL has made arrangements for local banks to fund the contractors’ trade payables from the government and therefore, this would ease the liquidity issue of the contractors to some degree in the short term.

Outlook for 2H 2020

ICRA Lanka expects the CBSL to maintain an accommodative monetary policy and therefore current low interest rate climate to continue throughout 2H 2020. It is less likely that we see an appreciable expansion in credit as the recessionary currents flow strong at the moment. In addition, fall in aggregate demand may lengthen the current deflationary environment. From the point of view of strengthening of reserves, the GoSL is likely to meet foreign currency obligations by rolling over some of these debts or through bilateral arrangements being negotiated or in place currently. However, the bigger challenge would be in meeting obligation of the USD 1 Bn ISBs maturing in October.

Wage growth will continue to trend down in accordance with higher unemployment level expected by the year end. Given the slightly stronger rupee in terms of REER that prevailed as of end 1H 2020, the CBSL may tolerate further depreciation leading to reserve accumulation. Going by the forward rates, the rupee could depreciate close to LKR 187/USD by the end of the year with strong probability of falling further if the imports pick up. Financial institutions will continue to lend to safer and less risky market and customer segments. In conclusion, as per ICRA Lanka’s view, recovery of the financial sector will be largely contingent on the recovery of certain key segments of the economy, such as construction, tourism, and the SMEs. Moreover, a stable policy framework and recovery strategy is paramount for the overall stability of the economy. ICRA Lanka’s projections show that the economic growth recording better performance in 3Q and 4Q.


[1] Abbreviated for government securities.

[2] Statutory Reserve Ratio

[3] AWPR is calculated based on the submissions made by the commercial banks to the CBSL on the rates offered to customers who borrowed more than LKR 10 Mn for less than three months.

[4] Data is reported only up to April 2020

[5] Revenue Per Available Room

[6] Average Daily Room Rate


Disclaimer

This publication has been prepared by ICRA Lanka solely for information purposes without regard to any particular user's investment objectives, financial situation, or means. The information in the publication is not an investment recommendation and it is not investment, legal or tax advice or an offer or solicitation to purchase or sell any financial instrument. Reasonable care has been taken to ensure that this publication is not untrue or misleading when published, but ICRA Lanka does not represent that it is accurate or complete. ICRA Lanka does not accept any liability for any direct, indirect or consequential loss arising from any use of this publication.