The Sri Lankan Banking system credit growth is strongly correlated with the economic activity of the country. The Correlation Coefficient between GDP growth rates and Banking Sector Annual Average Loan Growth is 0.76.
The Banking sector profits have witnessed a 25pct growth from 2016 to 2017. The growth comes on the back of highly volatilize exchange rates and interest environment in the economy. NII of the banking sector to showed a growth 12pct for the corresponding period, thus remaining flat from 2015. Other income have accounted for 73pct while NII contributes circa 27pct of the total income of the Banking sector.
The Sri Lankan economy has recorded an average growth of 4.5 pct over the past 66 years. While only recording above average growth rates of 8pct post war in 2010, 2011 and 7pct growth rates in 2013 and 2014. In 2015, 2016 and 2017 the economic activity declined and continued to grow marginally above the trend line growing by 4.8pct in 2015, 4.4pct in 2016 and 4.0pct in 2017. Credit growth has decelerated from 32pt in 2016 to 18.1pct in 2017. Recording a 57pct year on year decline.
Banking sector credit growth has predominantly focused on the Industrial sector which accounts for circa 42pct of which housing and construction accounted for 75pct of the total, while services accounted for 30pct, within which tourism based credit creation was circa 29.3pct while consumption based credit lending stood at 21pct and agriculture 9pct.
Therefore Econsult anticipates that the slowing of credit growth would translate to an overall slowing of the real sector and lower GDP growth for 2018 to 3.0pct and 2019 to 3.5pct. On the back of tighter credit controls, declining agricultural supplies, incremental VAT and taxation ushered in by the New Inland Revenue Act 2017, and the currency depreciations
The rating agency too have indicated that Banks would have to consider supplementing risk capital by cutting down dividend payout and consider further capital raising based on Basel III rules since CAR have come under pressure due to rising NPL’s to equity & reserves. This could mean that Banks would be forced to tighten credit while adopting more secure means of lending. Such outcomes could pose more issues to the already choked real economy. The recent deceleration of the economy is bound to hit the banking sector in Q4 2018 and Q1 2019.
The Monetary Policy dilemma is nothing new as we have seen US, Japan and other developed economies question the monetary policy tools used to stimulate or contract the economic activity. The US president recently blamed the Federal Reserve Bank that its action of raising interest rates has slowed the US economy. A similar trend has also been seen in India in that the Reserve Bank has reduced its policy rate in the eye of national elections. The Reserve Bank of India Monterey policy cuts its benchmark repo rates to 6.25 percent citing slow economic growth and sharply lower inflation. The committee also change its monetary policy stance ‘Neutral” from the previous outlook of policy tightening. Monetary neutrality comes just a few months after Urjit Patel the former governor resigned amid widening differences with the government over various economic and regulatory issues including the government perception that monetary policy was too tight.
The new governor Shaktikantha Das said that after the announcement on the rate cut the slowing down in the economy and sharply lower inflation opened up for policy action. The need in his view is to stimulate private investment and consumption to address growth, given that the inflation target had been met. India’s inflation rate has been fallen from an annual average of about 10 percent to 3.6 percent in the 2018/2019 financial year. The phase of price increase is now below the target set in the reserve bank inflation targeting framework of 4 percent with a range of 2 – 6 percent plus or minus. In January Indian industrialists met the Governor of the Reserve Bank and appealed for a 50 percent rate cut and reduction in bank’s capital ratio to facilitate the flow of credit to industries to reduce their cost.
Sri Lanka Prime Minister has also appointed a committee to examine why banks have not reduced lending rates in spite of the fact that the Central Bank has reduced rates on two consequent sessions.
The recent announcements by Monetary Board of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka that the reduction of the Reserve Ratio on all deposits of commercial banks from 6 percent to 5 percent from March 1st 2019 following a reduction in the reserve ratio from 7.5 percent to 6 percent in mid-November 2018 comes in at a time when Sri Lanka is facing an daunting task to stimulate the economy given its below potential growth rate achieved over the past three years .Bank maintained their policy rates on deposits and lending facilities unchanged at 8 and 9 percent respectively on both occasions. The reduction in the reserve ratio in February 2019 is justified on the ground that some policy intervention by the Bank is warranted to address the large and persistent liquidity deficit in the money market although is natural on the change of policy rates.
Monetary Policy review by the Monetary Board in February and March have noted the following;
The real economic growth remained subdued at 3.2 percent during 2018, compared to a growth of 3.4 percent in 2017. The growth of industry activities slowed down significantly to 0.9 per cent during 2018, mainly as a result of the contraction in construction.
Real GDP growth will remain moderate in 2019 as well. The continued low growth emphasizes the need for implementing growth enhancing structural reforms expeditiously.
The deficit in the trade account contracted with the continued growth of exports alongside a decline in imports in response to the policy measures to curtail non-essential imports. Increased tourist arrivals in the first quarter of 2019, improved earnings, although workers’ remittances moderated during the first two months of 2019.
Proceeds from the issuance of the International Sovereign Bonds (ISB) helped increase gross official reserves to an estimated US dollar 7.6 billion by end March 2019.
Noticeable growth of earnings from tourism continued to support the current account although worker remittances marginally declined in 2018.
The recent uptick in inflation was driven by the upward revisions mainly to prices of fuel but inflation expectations indicate that it is likely to remain within the desired range of 4-6 percent in 2019 and beyond, with appropriate policy adjustments.
Credit extended to the private sector decelerated to 13.6 percent during the first two months of 2019, from 15.9 percent in December 2018. broad money (M2b) also slowed down during the first two months to 14.4 percent in February 2019 from 13 percent in January 2018 of the year. A growth of around 13.5 percent is expected in private sector credit in 2019, while broad money (M2b) is expected to grow at around 12.0 percent in 2019.
The Monetary Board views that broad money (M2b) growth is likely to support economic activity adequately without creating excessive demand driven inflationary pressures.
The domestic money market has improved reflecting Call Money Rate declining by 45 basis points so far during 2019, however other market interest rates continued to remain at high levels thus far in 2019. The Central Bank may implement mechanisms for more effective downward adjustments in market interest rates.
At present there is a slowdown in private sector credit. A Working Committee appointed on the directions of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is expected to submit a report recommending necessary actions to reduce the private credit interest margin.
The Central Bank Governor Dr. Indrajit Coommaraswamy explained at the press conference in February 2019 that the policy intervention to inject LKR 60 bn was to ease liquidity shortage. This liquidity shortage continued to prevail despite the liquidity injection of LKR 90 bn in November 2018 through a reduction in reserve requirements. The Governor indicated that liquidity shortage in the market is around LKR 100 bn and expects that the market to find the balance in the shortfall of around LKR 40 bn. He also hinted that large liquidity injections could spill into more imports, thereby adversely affecting foreign reserves and the exchange rate. The governor’s view was that the lower interest rates encourage consumption related loans, with the public opting to import cars or to invest in construction industry that has a significant import content. The Governor’s dilemma is how growth could be fostered without undue pressure on external reserves.
International Reserves of Sri Lanka declined to USD 6.2 bn against predetermined short term (less than 1 year) liabilities which stood at USD 6.5 bn placing the Central Bank on a negative reserve position. The reserve position was USD 6.9 bn in December 2018, down from USD 07 bn in November 2018. The reserves are partly protected with 200 percent cash deposit margins on import of motor vehicles and 100 percent cash margins on consumer durables. These policy actions have substantially reduced imports in recent months. The test is whether the exchange rate will remain stabilized once these direct controls on imports are removed.
Source: Central Bank of Sri Lanka
As shown in the chart, nominal interest rates have moved steadily in an upward direction although the differences between them and the NCPI Core Inflation Rate have narrowed owing to a steep increase in the core inflation rate. The core inflation rate which has been well below the target range of 4 – 6 percent has entered in to inflation target range in January – March 2019. It is likely that this trend may continue with seasonal demand and the fuel price revisions that have already taken place.
Expressing optimism on the inflation outlook, Governor Coomaraswamy forecasted that inflation would remain in the range of 4 -6 percent although it is volatile to fuel price adjustments and other administrative price revisions. He explained that the uptick in inflation rate in January to March 2019 was due to non-food inflation driven by education and house rentals. A further upward pressure is expected from fuel price adjustments and likely administrative price revisions on cement, milk powder and LP gas.
The monetary policy review underpins the underlying risks of a ballooning trade deficit. Export growth remains modest. Import growth currently remains subdued due to credit restrictions on imports. The removal of such restrictions may require to let market fundamentals to work in terms of the Government policy framework particularly in the context of the ongoing IMF extended fund facility to improve the overall macro-economic conditions. But such relaxation remains a challenge in the context of slippages in government budget and recovery in imports following the removal of deposit margins of imports. The exchange rate appreciation may short live, once imports picked up in the second quarter and outflow on oil imports at high prices and values due to prevailing electricity shortfall. But it is doubtful whether in an election year imports growth could be kept under policy control for long. Reserves are kept stable and exchange rates allowed appreciating in the backdrop of short term inflows from external borrowings and subdued imports in tourism and remittances are perhaps the only supporting elements from the 1st quarter 2019 particularly, motor vehicles, milk powder and consumer durables.
Tourism and remittances are perhaps the only supporting elements from the point of view of the stabilizing balance of payments but remittance inflows of around USD 07 bn too have slowed down. The flexibility available to the Central Bank to conduct market based monetary policy in election times (2019 May) remain illusory as pressure is building from the fiscal slippages, recovery in imports and private sector for low interest rates. Exchange rate may remain vulnerable and deficits in market liquidity are likely to persist. Bank though, have reported large profits also subject to rising non-performing loans, accounting requirements, higher capital requirements and taxes. Excessively high real interest rates may be a reality with modest growth in GDP as Governor anticipated in February, 2019.
The Monetary Policy Review announcement on 10th April 2019, came at a time that the 2018 economic growth data pointed to a further slowedown in GDP growth of 3.2 percent and also following the fiscal policy stance announced in the 2019 National Budget. It will also provide the Central Bank to respond through its policy stance to the 2019 National Budget. Yet the Central Bank did not change its position on the policy rates expressing downside risks and concerns over inflation and external stability. The concerns have risen as to whether current monetary policy stance is appropriate for the country’s tumbling economy. Some also anticipate monetary policy easing in view of continued slowdown in economic growth.
However, the recent staff review by the IMF advised the Central Bank of Sri Lanka to continue to maintain a prudent and data dependent monetary policy standing ready to tightened policy rate should inflationary pressers re-emerged.
Sri Lanka with its unique blend of diverse culture, bio diversity and friendly people enters the global map as The Best Travel destination and retains its proud identity despite recent setback following 4/21 destruction of life and property. The Lonely Planet – the best-selling magazine featured Sri Lanka in 2019 – 10 years after a sustained upbeat in tourism nearly three decades after ending conflict in 2009.
The country that was torn by war has entertained 2.4 million tourists by the end of 2018 benefiting nearly 300,000 direct and indirect employment and livelihoods,. A large number of them being small and medium entrepreneurs engaged in supply chain activities, investments in the development of leisure facilities, transport and logistics, urban and rural property development. This sector also accounted for USD 4.2 billion in foreign exchange earnings marginally lower than the country’s single largest industrial export income of USD 5.3 billion from textile and garment exports. In 2009, this now buoyant industry accounted for a mere USD 349 million.
The Lonely Planet ranked Sri Lanka as a top country to visit in 2019, stating “Already notable to intrepid travellers for its mix of religions and cultures, its timeless temples, its rich and accessible wildlife, its growing surf scene and its people who defy all odds by their welcome and friendliness after decades of civil conflict, this is a country revived.” The Lonely Planet recognises new highways and railroads help connecting critical areas of the country. It has also recognized that Sri Lanka’s tourism industry is developing properties around the island with more international hospitality brands.
Tourist interest in beaches are expanding to places like Tangalle, and going beyond popular places like Unawatuna and Weligama. Another attraction highlighted in the best-selling Lonely Planet Magazine is the train between Nanuoya and Ella passing through the hill country area beautified with the lavishness of tea plantation and natural environment. The ancient ruins of Anuradhapura with a wider attraction to the sacred Ruwanweliseya Stupa built in 140BC during which time Buddhism had flourished to its peak. The country’s history is enriched with leaders so devoted to empowering the island by Buddhist philosophy and culture with massive stupas and temples.
Economically the culture was supported by agriculture with amazing engineering talents to create its agricultural infrastructure with tanks and canals. The Sacred Temple of the Tooth is the holy place protecting the Tooth Relic of Load Buddha which is another attraction for visiting tourists. Both Anuradhapura and Kandy are two of the most holy places visited by many Sri Lankans as well. Showcasing the cultural extravaganzas every August the Trustees of Tooth of the Temple of the Tooth hold the Kandy Essla Perahera. Peradeniya Botanical Garden – the largest and oldest botanical garden in the country introduces the glamour to make Kandy which has been around for several 100 years as a tourist city.
The Eastern Tourism corridor spanning from Yala to Kuchchaveli through Pasikuda and Arugam bay is well known for the best waves in Sri Lanka. Surfing enthusiasts enjoy this area from April to October.