The trend still remains soft and lower based on technical analysis. Thus Econsult thinks Soya meal would be continue to trade lower over the next three-four months of 2019.
China has slashed its forecast for 2018/19 soybean imports as farmer reduced their use of the bean in animal feed because of the Sino-U.S. trade conflict, which lead the government to raise its supply deficit estimate. Imports of soybeans in the crop year that starts on Oct. 1 will be 83.65 million tonnes, down 10.2 million tonnes from last month’s estimate of 93.85 million tonnes, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs said in its crop report.
The ministry said the lower forecast for soybean imports was due to the promotion of lower-protein feed for livestock and poultry. Additionally, falling profits at pig farms should reduce demand for soymeal feed for the herds in China, which will keep demand subdued.
While the size of the soybean import cuts are largely inline with broader industry forecasts, the report marks the first official assessment by the Chinese government on the impact of the trade war. The outlook highlighted that China’s vast pig farming sector is rapidly adjusting for a prolonged trade dispute with USA. In July 2018, Beijing levied an additional 25 percent tariff on U.S. soybeans, threatening supplies from the second-largest exporter of the oilseed to China.
The uncertain import outlook has pushed the 2018/19 soybean deficit forecast to 3.57 million tonnes from 250,000 tonnes in August, according to the Chinese government report. The ministry also raised its 2018/19 domestic soybean output forecast to 15.83 million tonnes from 15.37 million tonnes in August. (Reuters)
Over the recent past, the Sri Lankan general public has shown a great deal of interest in the subject of national debt. This has been due to expressions like the country’s “debt trap” and “debt crisis” used extensively in political debates and propaganda. The government in power as well as the opposition has blamed one another for bringing the country into such a debt trap or a debt crisis. A gripping fear of a possibility of debt default with all its adverse consequences has been widely generated. A generally accepted rule of thumb in measuring the gravity of a country’s debt problem has been to indicate the total outstanding debt as a ratio of the country’s GDP.
In this measure, the level of aggregated debt is related to a concept of total revenue generated during a financial year. Such national debt ratio can be considered equivalent to that of a corporate balance sheet ratio of debt to equity. Figure-1 captures the behavior of Sri Lanka’s Debt/GDP ratio during 2002-18. The data indicates that during key points in time, the debt levels have being significantly higher than what it is now. However, no one spoke of a debt crisis or debt trap at those times of high debt to GDP ratio – e.g. during the early 2000s. In fact, after 2004 the ratio has been generally below 100pct. In most years after 2004, the ratio was indeed below its current debt to GDP ratio of 83pct.
The total debt stock, as at 2018, remains at USD 73.7 billion. Of this the foreign currency debt is USD 36.4 billion – 49pct of total debt or 43.3pct of GDP. The remainder is LKR based debt stock. This is still manageable given that Sri Lanka can always roll over its existing LKR based debt without too much of a problem. The banking sector’s appetite for risk free assets is high and there are the captive sources like EPF and ETF. These indeed have been the natural long term players in debt markets.
Sri Lanka’s Shift to Commercial Borrowings
The portfolio of foreign currency loans is categorized into three sub sections, namely, a) concessional, b) non-concessional and c) commercial loans. Prior to 2013, 85pct of foreign borrowings was on concessional terms (see Figure-2). This has changed in 2009 with Sri Lanka successfully entering the international sovereign bond market in its debut. This also amounted to taking the pressure off domestic financing, which until then was the only source apart from donor funding that was available. The concessional external borrowings from multi-lateral agencies and bi-lateral funding sources have continued to be on a declining trend on a net basis since 2008.
Sri Lanka was pushed into international financial markets mainly due to the fact that concessional funding was not available after the country moved up to a lower ‘Middle Income’ country status from around 2004. In fact, IMF, IDA and the World Bank have taken Sri Lanka out of the “financially vulnerable” country status, on the grounds that the country as a ‘Middle Income Country’ has the ability to access international financial markets. Sri Lanka is not among the group of 37 ‘heavily indebted poor countries’ (HIPC), which are eligible for special assistance from the IMF and the World Bank.
As at 2018, Sri Lanka’s total foreign currency debt portfolio was USD 35.4 billion. Of this only USD 9.1 billion was obtained at commercial rates from financial market sources. The remainder is at concessional and non-concessional development funding rates. In other words 53pct of the foreign loans are commercial/non-concessional.
The foreign currency debt mix is dominated by USD borrowings given that our cash inflows from external revenue sources are also predominantly based in USD. This helps the country to manage any exchange rate volatility, as the matching of cash flows does not impact the debt servicing. In 2017, infact, 61pct of the total foreign debt portfolio comprised of USD, while the next largest was in SDR (20pct) followed by Yen loans (12pct) (Figure-3).
The bilateral debt component in Sri Lanka has contributed to modern infrastructure development much more than multilateral debt (i.e. WB). A closer examination of our foreign debt profile indicates that it has long term maturities. More than 75pct of the loan portfolio is maturing beyond 5 years (Figure-5). Market borrowings comprise only 39pct of the total. Refinancing of debt stock per se is not therefore, an issue. Debt servicing is the main concern.
External Debt Holders
The noise around the China debt trap too has found its resurgence since 2014. Given the investment into capital formation pursued by the then government, these investments were undertaken given the dilapidated and outdated infrastructure Sri Lanka had prior to the war ending. Therefore, such investments were paramount in order to create investor appetite for setting plants beyond the boundaries of the Western Province.
However, the data contradicts the China debt trap rhetoric created by politicians and non-academics as it is unsubstantiated and ill conceived; in fact the largest form of external debt is by way of International Bond issuances, while bilateral borrowings are from the ADB, World Bank, and Japan, while China comes in at 4th place (Figure-6). In this context what is important to understand is that all internal bonds are fungible and hence there is no financing risk but a mere cost of financing the stock of bonds.
Sri Lanka’s export earnings are one important source of cash flow which technically can be used to service the country’s current foreign debt. The higher the potential for foreign currency earnings through exports, the better it is. The country as potential lenders are unlikely then to be over-concerned about the borrower country’s capacity for repayment. International rating agencies would consider it good for Sri Lanka if our export earnings are growing on a year on year basis at a satisfactory rate. This also reduces the foreign exchange exposure attached with rupee based debt servicing.
Sri Lanka’s foreign currency denominated commercial debt as a percentage of exports, continued to show vulnerability as year on year growth of export earnings declined in 2009, 2012 and 2015. The volatility of our merchandise exports continue. The declines in export receipts (i.e. income) have added significant pressure on the ability to service foreign debt. This has made the cash flow conditions for foreign debt management per se challenging. The need is to secure USD cash flows/revenues from revenue generating activities and assets and / or cutting down USD import expenses further. This appears to be the path towards managing our ability to maintain this debt to equity mix.
Foreign Debt Servicing
The ratio of debt service ratio to merchandise exports is the ratio that gives us comfort on the ability to service our external debt payments (i.e. principal + interest). A country’s international finances are deemed healthier when this ratio is low and ranges between 10pct to 20pct. In other words, the lower the ratio the better, as it indicates that the country consumes less of export earnings to pay off its foreign debt. The ratio of total debt service payments to exports is therefore, an important measure of a country’s ability to service foreign currency loans/debt obligations. This ratio had remained well within the stipulated norms of 10pct-20pct from 2011 to 2015. The ratio has deteriorated, moving out of the applicable norm, from 2016reflecting the impact of bunching of repayments on medium term external debt. The decline of this ratio in 2018 reflects the impact of the rise in merchandise export revenues in that year.
Moody’s Credit Rating Agency on the 23rd of November 2018 announced that they have downgraded Sri Lanka’s sovereign credit by one notch from B1 to B2. Many political statements have been made of this downgrade.Let us examine what it really means to Sri Lanka.
Table-1-Credit rating range From Aaa to Ca
Source: Econsult & moody’s
Each country is rated based on their governments likelihood to default on their external borrowing obligations. The credit rating therefore looks at the default probability of the state. In doing so Credit rating agencies take into account GDP growth, per capita growth, monetary conditions, fiscal deficits, external debt burden and a host of other quantitative and qualitative data in arriving at the credit rating political risk is also one such variable.
Moody’s have an established rating score which is Aaa which indicated the highest quality of credit with a probability of default of 0.03 percent while speculative grading’s are from Ba1- Ba3 with a probability of default 2.60 percent. The lowest credit score is classified as High risk or Highly Speculative obligations which are rated by Moody’s as B1, B2 and B3 (probability of default 9.58 percent). With the lowest and most riskiest being Carated sovereign credits (two year default probability of 35.9 percent).
Sri Lanka Credit Rating B1 to B2
In this regard Sri Lanka was already rated as a high speculative country B1 (stable) since July 2013 and later the rating outlook downgraded from stable to negative rating reaffirmed in 2016, 2017 and 2018 . Therefore Sri Lanka a B1 credit was below investment grade to begin with the outlook changing from ‘stable’ in 2013 to ‘negative’ from June 2016. (Source: countryeconomy.com). The corrective action plan could have reversed this outcome; however, the trajectory was unadjusted.
Moody’s appears to place a higher weight on GDP growth, inflation, growth in per capita income in order to achieve a higher grade rating, while lower inflation and lower external debt also consistently relate to higher ratings.
Therefore the overall credit rating of Sri Lanka in terms of its high risk rating has become more pronounced as the external debt and external foreign reserves situation has decreased since 2014 with warnings not heeded by persons responsible for managing the external debt. Added to this our external Foreign exchange reserves too has continued to decline and has declined by 30pct from USD 9.9 billion in April 2018 to 7.0 billion as at November 2018
Chart-1-External Debt Maturities
Source: Econsult & moody’s
Putting the Impact into perspective
The credit rating impact thus must be seen as a testimony of the shift in the economic model which has seen a shift to consumption demand which is supplied by external sources, thus this has lead to the trade deficit widen to USD 14 billion. Non-consumer import demand during the past three year have witnessed an increase by 47pct growing from USD 1,700 million to USD 2,500 million over the period 2012-2014, 2015-2017 With the rupee depreciation rapidly to stem the imbalance in the overall current account.
Therefore the reason for the downgrade is three fold a) Sri Lanka’s growing debt to GDP ratio which had increased from 71% of GDP in 2014 to 85% of GDP as at 2018 June and b) its deteriorating external finances and c) the deterioration in GDP growth from 9% in 2012 to 3.1% in 2017 and also a stagnant per capital growth over the past 3 years.
Chart-2-All Share Index and USD/LKR price behavior
In fact the financial markets had already factored the credit downgrade of Sri Lanka since June this year (Chart-3) as depicted in the Colombo Stock Exchange All Share Index breaking the 6000 mark (Yellow line) and the flight of foreign bond holders from the government debt securities market which resulted in the Rupee depreciating by 15% on year to date basis (Purple line) therefore it is not professionally correct to underpin the downgrade to the last two weeks of political swings
Chart-3- Sri Lanka Sovereign Bond secondary market behavior
Source: Econsult & moody’s
The deterioration in the country’s external finances also had a significant bearing the ability raise finance as the 2025 USD Bond with a coupon of 6.875pct witnessed a sell off in the secondary market. The sell off of the Sovereign bond (ISIN 85227SAQ9) was witnessed since January 2018 but exacerbated during the past one month, reaching a yield of 9.04pct
This negative sentiment has thus prevented Sri Lanka tapping the Euro bond markets for refinancing its external maturities. This can pose a short term stress condition.
While it also provides Sri Lankan risk takers with the opportunity to buy the Sri Lanka credit at a discounted value, and factor in high yields as part of their investment portfolios