Hyper-leap to a vibrant equity market 0 483

 

In this exclusive interview with BiZnomics Magazine, the Chairman of the Colombo Stock Exchange Mr.Dumith Fernando, discusses the digitalization of the Colombo Stock Market. He also touched on the future investment environment in Sri Lanka. Fernando is Chairman of the leading investment banking firm, Asia Securities Holdings Ltd, which he has led for the last six years. He also serves as a member of the Financial Stability Consultative Committee of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka. With 25 years of experience in international and Sri Lankan capital markets, Fernando spent much of his career in global financial centers in New York and Hong Kong with global banking giants JPMorgan Chase and Credit Suisse.

What role will the ‘hyper-leap to the future’ play in creating a vibrant equity market for Sri Lanka?  

The “hyper leap” to the future, what it refers to is the digitalization of the stock market. The Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) called for a joint committee of the Colombo Stock Exchange (CSE) and SEC with the intent of digitalizing some of the core activities of market and market participants. The goal was to digitalize as many of the stakeholder touchpoints, enabling end to end connectivity electronically with interactive user interfaces and interactive user experiences so that the stock market can be accessible to anyone with a smartphone. Early on we converted a lot of the statements to electronic form, for instance, CDS statement is sent via email, and companies listed on the CSE were allowed to pay dividends directly into their shareholders’ accounts, electronically. In the second phase of the initiative, we introduced a mobile application. A CSE mobile app that allows anyone from anywhere in the country to open a stockbroking and Central Depository System (CDS) account without visiting a branch of a stockbroker physically. It helps broad-base the market and brings a lot more individual investors onto the market, which is a fundamental part of creating a vibrant equity market.

How has the market performed in the past few weeks?

The activity levels and market valuations have gone up considerably. In the past few years, after 2015, every single year the average daily turnover in the market was under a billion rupees. It was Rs. 710 million a day in 2019. Today we are probably doing over Rs. 1.5 billion of turnover per day. On the 14th of October, there was a turnover of Rs. 5 billion, and the number of actual trades in the market was the highest since 2011. Before the lockdown, there was very heavy foreign selling in particular, and when the market reopened for one or two days you had markets falling about 13 or 14%. From that time what we have witnessed is local investors, seeing very good value in the market and taking advantage of this opportunity.

How will the market face a second scenario?

The market was closed for about 7 or 8 weeks in March through mid-May, a big part of that was the lack of full confidence that trades could be settled, due to the trade settlement process. So with the current digitalization move, we’ve asked brokers to get on board as many of their customers for online settlement and online payment to bank accounts. This allows us to be much more confident about operating the market even during the unfortunate eventualities of a lockdown or a curfew. In terms of COVID management we have performed much better, the markets and companies are better prepared now to deal with the COVID situation. So that’s why I think even if there is a second wave of any sort, companies are much better prepared for that and we would expect to see companies and the stock market also performing in a much more resilient manner than before.

What role has interest rates played in boosting the market?

This was a fundamental catalyst for the share market performance. Since the reopening after the lockdown, there was a precipitous drop in interest rates. Interest rates falling has always been good news for equity markets for three reasons.

First for individual investors in particular, if you’ve been sitting on high-interest rate deposits for the last few years they might sometimes be getting double-digit returns on fixed deposits. That has now fallen considerably. For a lot of people, the return they are getting on their money from bank deposits is just not enough.

That has made them shift to the equity asset class particularly because valuations were so low by the end of the lockdown. Dividend yields in the equity markets are probably about 3% so that combined with the price appreciation that have been expecting will give them a better return. Secondly, when interest rates drop, the finance cost of listed companies go down,  and with that comes a boost in earnings.  This resulted in some of these particular companies being highly geared and a boost in their earnings, leading to their stocks performing quite well. Third impact will be for those who trade stocks on margin. Their margin interest cost also goes down, then they are in a better position to get into the market. There’s a high degree of confidence that you can make more money in the market than you pay in margin interest costs. That is also one of the positive impacts of low interest rates.

Will we be seeing more IPOs in the coming years?

When people come to the market to list, generally we would look at two or three different things. High valuation, high price to earnings multiples, and high price to book value multiples in the market. These factors would assure much greater investor engagement. Sentiment and confidence also plays a big role, because it’s not just a matter of placing your shares in the market, you want the share price to perform well. Now we’ve obviously gone through a period where markets have been somewhat challenged. Even as of last month the valuations of our market were the lowest among peer countries. That’s one of the reasons why I think a lot of companies in the last three years have not gone out for listing.

We want to see more companies tapping into the public share market to raise money; raise capital for their growth. With the COVID-19 lockdown I think there may be a number of companies who have survived on bank financing, some challenges of the COVID impact may mean that raising equity is the way out of any sort of balance sheet challenges. So we would expect to see some of those companies as well, now considering equity markets. State minister for capital markets Hon. Nivard Cabraal has challenged the CSE to look at getting to 500 listed companies in five years. We’re at about 300 at the moment and that 300 hasn’t really changed over the last few years. We have been having promotional campaigns and doing various things to get them to come into the market but we are definitely going to have to redouble our efforts to push towards some of those targets now.

What is the outlook for the Sri Lankan economy in the medium to long-term?

I’m generally positive. We should expect to go back to 5 percent or 5% plus growth as an economy. Even though there is a lot of noise around the current sovereign rating downgrade and international debt repayments I’ve never had doubts about our October bonds being repaid. I don’t have doubts about our July repayment. Clearly there are concerns and fears! I’m not trying to say that the future or the next year or two is going to be easy but, there’s a lot of free space between it being easy and not being able to repay debt and I think we will definitely find the middle ground in that space to do what we have done for all these years, which is, never default on a sovereign issue.

Outside of that we are in a very good position. There’s a lot of infrastructure investment that still needs to happen, the road network and the country being better connected, the two ports being expanded, the Hambanthota Airport now potentially getting more utilized, I think the logistics infrastructure is a fundamental necessity for economic growth and it is all falling into place. We’re also seeing potentially quite positive wins from some of the government focus to move towards local manufacturing. If you look at local manufacturing stocks on the exchange, they performed extremely well in the last few months

One sector that is seeing a bit of slowdown and will do so in the next 12 to 18 months will be the financial and banking sector in particular. But with other parts of the economy growing and strengthening the banking sector will pull through.

We don’t have the answers to when the tourism sector will bounce back, it’s not a massive part of our economy but contributes about 4-5 % of the economy. It’s a big foreign exchange earner and there are quite a few jobs that depend on it. There’s a lot of dependencies, not just economic dependencies, primarily health-related dependencies including travel bans been lifted, a vaccine for COVID, and treatments for COVID advancing. So there are number of things that are very hard to predict at this stage.

However we’ve seen exports bouncing back with about a billion dollars of exports a month, that run rate would make it possible to put us ahead of last year’s full year export number.

On the production and manufacturing side, I think we’re much better organized to operate even if there were a COVID second wave.

With that in mind, there will need to be much stronger capital formation across industries and that’s where we see a big opportunity for the Stock Exchange. With more companies raising capital through the CSE.  I am positive about our outlook! We have a game plan; we’ve been able to stabilize policy uncertainty which we had for the last few years, with a consistent government in place, good policy and solid public sector private sector engagement, I think we should get back to 5% plus growth.

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Easter Attack Creates Fear & Frustration Comments Off on Easter Attack Creates Fear & Frustration 513

Love and Compassion, was the response to Sri Lankans on the Easter Sunday attacks in several churches in Sri Lanka where people gathered to celebrate the risen Christ through worship and praise during holy mass.

The Arch Bishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith condemned the Easter Sunday attacks as an insult to humanity and urged people to show kindness, restraint, love and mercy to others as a sign of respect for all the victims. In conducting his mass with an appeal to peace and unity he said that he will pray for this country so that there will be peace and co-existence and understanding each other without division.Easter-Attack-Creates-Fear-&-Frustration-01

“We are not fully aware as to who is actually behind this. Just like the tip of the iceberg, we do not know the whole picture. There might be a more powerful group behind this unfortunate group of youth. Maybe those involved might not belong to the said nationality. Therefore we must not make this an opportunity to harass or assault anyone. If any wrong was committed by anyone, such individuals should be brought before the law. The law must be enforced”.

 

Sanctions on Oil Supply

The US government announced that it would end waivers granted to several countries including China, India, Japan, South Korea, Turkey and several other nations to import Iranian oil. This move could alter the outlook for trade flows, access to financial markets and currency movements.

Easter-Attack-Creates-Fear-&-Frustration-02 The US administration introduced sanctions on Iranian oil last year. The expiry of concessions on May 2nd could reduce the global supply of oil. Asian economies led by India and China are most affected as Asian consumption accounts for more than 35 percent of global demand. China and Turkey have opposed the imposition of unilateral sanctions. Oil supply concerns are also affected by US sanctions on Venezuela.

Oil prices continued their upward trend approaching the Brent crude price towards USD 75 per barrel in the last week of April 2019 – the highest in six months

 

Elections in Two Large Emerging Economies

On April 17th nearly 192 million Indonesians went to cast their election vote. For the first time, the Presidential, and the People’s Consultative Assembly (i.e. Parliament) and regional elections were held on the same day. Official elections results are expected by 22nd May. Indonesia – the world’s most populous Muslim country is projected to become the fourth largest economy by 2030 with a GDP of USD 10 trillion. Experts predict that it will be three times the size of the Australian economy by that time.

Additionally, from April 11th to May 19th about 900 million voters in India are expected to cast their votes in the Indian general elections that take place in seven phases of which already 4 phases have been conducted. The counting is scheduled on 23rd May and results are expected on the same day. India – the world’s most populous democracy is projected to be the third largest economy by 2030 with a GDP of USD 46 trillion. It is projected that India will surpass China as the world’s most populous country.

 

Polarization in Belt and Road Forum

The second Belt and Road Initiative Forum which was concluded on 26th April in Beijing, promising to work together as a global initiative to promote trade and investment is expected to enter the next phase. The first forum held from 14th -15thof May 2017, was attended by 29 Heads of States while the second forum was attended by 45 with Portugal, Austria, UAE, Singapore, and Thailand among new signatories to the joint communiqué.

Easter-Attack-Creates-Fear-&-Frustration-03However, India remained a notable absentee. Germany, France and the United Kingdom did not sent their top leaders and particularly Germany and France have been the most vocal in expressing concerns. Top leaders of Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya and Mozambique were present at the forum. South Asia remained notable in abstaining with top level representation. India was no show as it was deeply concerned that the China, Pakistan economic corridor passes through territory occupied by Pakistan but claimed by India. Among South Asian countries only Pakistan and Nepal sent their Heads of Governments. The Japanese Prime Minister and South Korean President were notable blank spots. The United States did not send any representation from Washington to this gathering. The newly appointed President to the World Bank too did not attend the forum.

Sri Lanka Tourism to Take a Heavy Toll

The Sri Lanka Government indicated that the income from the tourism industry may suffer by USD 1.5 billion in 2019 or a reduction of earnings by 35pct, following the devastating attack on Easter Sunday. The US, Canada, UK and India have cautioned their citizens about travelling to Sri Lanka. The Hotels Association of Sri Lanka has indicated that about 20% of hotel bookings are being cancelled with more expected.

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The industry has expressed concerns as this is the first time tourist hotels have been targeted in this manner. However, Hiran Cooray Chairman of Jetwing hotels investments said that the tourism industry will come out of the impact of this calamity which even during the 26 years of war Sri Lankan has not experienced. Sri Lanka recorded 2.3 million tourist arrivals with USD 4.2 billion foreign earnings in 2018 – a sharp scale of expansion in comparison to the arrivals of 300,000 with USD 400 million earnings prior to ending the war in May 2009.

By: BiZnomics Special Economic Correspondent

Sri Lanka Strawberries 0 888

Strawberries in Sri Lanka-BiZnomics-Business

By: Savannah Audrey

Source: Jagrofresh website.

The Agricultural Research Institute has described strawberries as a fruit that is difficult to grow, as it needs to be continually monitored for protection from diseases.

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Although the main planting season for strawberries begins in September, the nursery preparation process begins well ahead with the planting of mother stock. Tended with the utmost care, a few weeks after planting these mother plants start shooting runners, which are then cut and potted in preparation for bed planting.

 

 

Greenhouse construction includes the careful laying of gradients for proper drainage, much for proper weed/pest cover and dipper systems for fertigation – a few of the myriad aspects covered meticulously in this phase. Land and bed preparation, as we call the preparation of the lay of the soil and land, is an arduous task requiring much precision and once the beds and irrigation systems are ready, planting begins in earnest. Each potted plant is carefully removed and planted in neatly aligned beds, angled just right to absorb as many nutrients as are required for the months of work ahead.

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From this point on, care is a mix of diligent tending of the plant, weeding and providing the optimum support, in the form of bees for pollination, plant analyses for ensuring the maximum possible nutrients are absorbed, and warding off of pests.

 

strawberry-BiZnomics-Business-4Harvesting of strawberries starts two months after planting, when fruit is at its biggest, tastiest and juiciest. The first fruit from each plant is always the biggest and often the most off-shaped, although extremely tasty! From this point on, harvesting takes place daily, although quantities and sizes vary based on the plant life-cycle and the stage of planting in the staggered planting system.

Cont..

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