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Indian sovereign bond yield touch 7.6% ahead of interim budget: DBS

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The yields on India's benchmark sovereign bonds were hovering around 7.6 percent ahead of the country's interim budget, according to a report by Singapore banking group DBS.

The yields of the most traded 2028 INR sovereign bond were bid in the 7.5-7.6 percent range and are up around 18 basis points since late-2018.

"Yields of the new 10-year are supported above 7.3 percent, with last Friday's auction (for 5-year, 10-year) attracting interests by a large corporate which resulted in a short-squeeze amongst the other participants," according to DBS.

Meanwhile, the Reserve Bank of India's liquidity supportive stance also continues and the last tranche of open market operations (OMOs) for January is lined up for January 31.

In February, the RBI plans to buyback bonds worth Rs 375 billion, taking the FY19 haul to Rs 2.86 trillion.

The report further noted that the next event risk for the INR bond markets is the ensuing Interim budget for financial year 2019-20.

Coming ahead of the general elections in April-May 2019, the interim budget will express the intent of the government, it will outline expenditure and revenue projections for FY20, assuming the incumbent is voted back to power.

An overview of the past five years' achievements and blueprint for the upcoming year is also expected to be a part of the announcement, according to the DBS report.

"With the FY19 target of 3.3 percent of GDP likely to be met (any slippage to be limited to 3.5 percent), we expect the FY20 deficit target to be set higher at 3.2-3.3 percent vs recommended 3.1 percent," wrote DBS Group Research economist Radhika Rao and Strategist Duncan Tan.

Opposition political parties have meanwhile upped the ante, as the Congress party promised to provide a 'Minimum Income Guarantee' to the poor if voted to power, increasing pressure on the incumbent to address the ongoing farm distress.

"If fiscal deficit targets are along our expectations, bond markets are unlikely to witness big swings," wrote the duo.

Indian School of Business' 3 ingredients that put it on the global top 25 list

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Indian School of Business (ISB) is the only Indian institute to feature among the top 25 management institutes in the world as per the FT Global MBA Rankings 2019. Rajendra Srivastava, Dean of ISB talks about what makes the institute's expansion plans. Excerpts:

Q: You are the only Indian B-School to make it to the top 25 in the FT MBA rankings. What are the factors that contributed to this?

A: We've been working at it steadily. There are three major ingredients. The main ingredient is the quality of students. We only admit students with work experience. The average that they have is five years.

Also, when we admit students, we not only look at the test scores but the soft skills as well. Further, we look at emotional quotient, ability to communicate, team-building capability and intelligence quotient. Now, we are also looking at what I call the 'heart quotient'. This looks into whether they care about society and community.

The faculty is also very research focussed. We are looking to add 30 percent to our faculty strength and will have 70 resident faculty members. We get a lot of experienced visiting faculty and this brings a balance that comes from the global perspective of these faculty. Going forward, we are looking to hire faculty members from the East (Asia) as well.

Q: Has the thrust on corporate engagements also helped?

A: We have also focussed on engagement with the corporate community and government. The engagement with the corporate community is not only through recruiting but also through executive education. This is important not as a source of revenue but also helps in brand building.

Also, the corporate community has an opportunity to guide content development and research programmes in areas like infrastructure and healthcare.

Q: Is the institute also looking to develop more India-focussed case studies?

A: About two years ago, we were doing 25-30 case studies a year. We have now pushed it up to 70 a year and the goal is to reach 100 per annum. Out of these, about 85 percent are based in India and the rest are emerging markets focussed. What we have realised is that there is a need to have more India-focussed cases because that is what students are interested in.

Q: Government is working on a second list to give the Institute of Eminence tag. In the first, the tag was granted to a few educational institutes. What is your view on it?

A: We are still waiting to see what is going to happen with the Institutes of Eminence (IoE) list.

We were disappointed (of not being featured on the list) but we will continue on our path.

We will look into the course curriculum and try to bring in additional modules related to analytics, public policy and corporate governance. We had planned these anyway irrespective of whether we get the IoE or not.

Q: Are you in talks with All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) to get an accreditation?

A: We have global accreditations including AACSB and EQUIS. In India, we are continuing to keep our dialogues open. We are well recognised globally as the leader in management education and hopefully, people at home will take notice too.

Q: After Mohali, is there a plan to open up campuses in other parts of the country?

A: In the future, our investment is going to be in soft assets like content development and digital infrastructure. We can have more telepresence. We are already delivering programmes in Gurgaon, Mumbai and Bengaluru for working professionals. But we will not buy real estate and will rent it wherever required.

Q: The ISB management programme is considered premium. Are additional scholarships on the anvil?

A: The fee structures of Indian Institute of Management are not that far behind than us. However, since the reputation of the school and the alumni are high, bank loans are easily available. For students, there are usually four or five banks queuing up to provide education loans.

Having said that there is an endeavour to tap the alumni network for this purpose. We are building up the endowment and the alumni are providing funds for the deserving students too.

BJP warms up to sulking allies in UP, might field candidates from rival parties: Report

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The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)'s Uttar Pradesh cadre has turned warmer towards its sulking allies in the state, including Apna Dal and Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP), after Priyanka's Gandhi's entry, The Economic Times has reported.

According to the report, the BJP top brass in the state is alarmed by the Samajwadi Party (SP)-Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) alliance. With the Congress' decision to make Priyanka Gandhi its UP (East) in-charge, the BJP is likely to accommodate the demands of its smaller partners, sources told the newspaper.

Apna Dal, led by Union Minister Anupriya Patel, and SBSP has been reportedly 'unhappy' with its senior partner. Leaders from both parties have recently criticised the state as well as the central government on issues such as Ram Temple and reservation.

In a symbolic gesture, SBSP president Om Prakash Rajbhar and Patel had, in December, skipped a key rally in UP attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Patel had later also said the BJP should "respect" its allies and "learn from its mistakes".

According to the report, both Apna Dal and SBSP have sizable vote banks in eastern UP, where Priyanka is set to lead the Grand Old Party.

The report states that apart from warming up to existing allies, the BJP is also looking for newer allies in UP as well as states such as Tamil Nadu. Sources told the newspaper that BJP is in touch with Patel's mother Krishna and her sister Pallavi, who have floated a separate outfit after infighting within the Apna Dal had split the party.

According to the report, BJP might poach and field over three dozen leaders from rival parties during the upcoming polls. The saffron party is also trying to stitch a "rainbow alliance" across the country. The party, according to the report, is in touch with both factions of the All India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) in Tamil Nadu, where it hopes to make inroads.

The BJP has also tried to placate the Shiv Sena by sanctioning a memorial worth Rs 100 crore for party supremo Bal Thackeray, who died in 2012.

India's exports up 32% to China, 12% to US during June-Nov 2018: FIEO

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The tariff war between the US and China is benefitting India as its exports to the neighbouring country have increased by about 32 percent to $8.46 billion during the June-November 2018 period, exporters body FIEO said on Thursday.

Exports to China had stood at $6.37 billion in June-November 2017.

In June and September 2018, the US announced high customs duties on several Chinese goods. In retaliation, China also raised levies on American goods.

Federation of Indian Export Organisations (FIEO) President Ganesh Kumar Gupta also said that during the period, India's exports to the US grew by 12 percent.

"Exports to China jumped from $6.37 billion in June-November 2017 to $8.46 billion in June-November 2018," Gupta said in a statement.

He said commodities that have exhibited high growth during the period to China include petroleum products, chemicals, cotton yarn, plastic raw material, and marine products.

"While tariff war is not good for the global trade, the same has come as an opportunity for other countries including India. Our exports to China in June-November 2018 went up by 32 percent and to US by 12 percent in the same period," Gupta said.

If the tariff escalation continues, India has to increase production capabilities to meet the growing demand in both the markets, he added.

Growth in exports to China is beneficial for India as it has huge trade deficit with the neighbouring country.

Trade deficit with China increased to $63.12 billion in 2017-18 from $51.11 billion in 2016-17.

India is taking several steps to promote shipments to China. Recently it has managed to export agricultural goods such as non-basmati rice to China.

Women, non-metros topping up on credit, says BankBazaar survey

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Non-metro cities have emerged as the bigger market for unsecured credit in terms of volume than the metros in 2018, according to BankBazaar Moneymood 2019 report.

The average personal loan ticket size in non-metros is Rs 2.80 lakh compared to Rs 2.55 lakh in metros. The unsecured credit portfolio includes personal loans and credit cards which are used more for consumption activities than secured loans. "Non-metros are as aspirational, if not more, compared to Indian metros, and they are comfortable taking a loan to fulfil these aspirations," BankBazaar noted.

The report, which focuses on emerging trends in the Indian personal finance sector, analysed the transactions of 169 million unique users who logged on to BankBazaar's website in 2018.

In terms of personal loan ticket size, Bengaluru topped the list with a loan size of Rs 47.23 lakh. The highest non-metro personal loan ticket size was from Vapi at Rs 25 lakh.

The change in trend is believed to be a result of the government's digital push, whereby more internet users are opting for online personal finance products.

"The government's strong push for rapid digitisation has ushered in a new wave of change in the buying behaviour of online personal finance products across metro and non-metro cities. We believe that more and more first-time internet users from non-metros will ride this digitisation wave and buy financial products online," Adhil Shetty, Co-founder & CEO, BankBazaar, said.

Women avail bigger home loans

Another trend highlighted in the report is that women are availing a larger home loan as compared to men. The average home loan ticket size for women is Rs 27.57 lakh compared to Rs 22.97 lakh for men.

Women are not far behind when it comes to having their own set of wheels either, with the highest car loan ticket size at Rs 12.93 lakh. Demand for credit cards was also quite high among women. The year gone by saw an 89 percent increase in fuel credit card applications from women.

Women also outperformed men in fulfilling their travelling aspirations, with a 73 percent rise in travel credit card applications as against 71.5 percent by men.

A higher credit demand among women is possibly due to ease of availing of loans quickly. As per the report, there is a 198 percent increase in paperless approvals of personal loans, 11 percent for credit cards and 38.3 percent rise in car loans.

Higher demand for lifestyle, travel and fuel credit cards

The demand for lifestyle credit cards has shown an upward trend, especially from those under 25 years. This is mostly due to attractive discounts and deals that have fuelled demand for cards from first-time and non-metro users, the report stated.

There has been a 64.5 percent year-on-year (YoY) increase in lifestyle credit card applications from non-metros and a 53.67 percent increase from users under the age of 25.

Demand for fuel credit cards also saw a massive spurt, with a 104 percent rise in applications from those under 25 years. A fuel card, or fleet card, is used as a payment card most commonly for petrol, diesel and CNG. Metros witnessed a 62 percent YoY increase in fuel credit card applications versus an 85 percent rise from non-metros, the report highlighted.

Even demand for travel credit cards saw a massive growth owing to the available benefits. Applications for a travel credit card rose 195 percent in the under 25-years bracket. Non-metros saw a whopping 309 percent rise in travel credit card applications compared to a 59 percent increase from metro cities.

Why farmers are opting out of crop insurance despite claim settlement

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Sumitosh Naskar is a farmer from West Bengal who has been making use of the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY) for the past two years. When he faced losses of Rs 200,000 during Kharif 2017, he was hoping the claim would be credited in a few weeks, but it took almost four months.

“I am happy that such a scheme exists but it is a reality that there are claim delays. As farmers when we enquire about the claims, there is a blame-game that continues between the government agencies and the insurers,” he said.

Naskar may not be among the farmers below the poverty line but he added that there have been several of his counterparts in the village whose sustenance is dependent on crops.

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There are hundreds of farmers who have had similar experiences under PMFBY, which has completed three years. Delays in claim settlement in a few cases and requirement of Aadhaar for the joinees has led to a drop a 13.6 percent drop in the number of farmers insured under the scheme.

The scheme

Launched in 2016, PMFBY compensates farmers if any of the notified crops fail due to natural calamities, pests and diseases. The scheme seeks not just to insulate farmers from income shocks, but also encourage them to adopt modern agricultural practices.

Unlike previous schemes, PMFBY is open for both farmers who have taken loans (loanee) as well as those who have not (non-loanee). Naskar, from West Bengal, was a non-loanee.

The scheme covers food crops (cereals, millets and pulses), oilseeds as well as horticultural crops.

Farmers pay 2 percent of sum insured as the premium for Kharif crops while it is 1.5 percent of the sum insured for Rabi crops.

What are the challenges?

Aadhaar has been made mandatory for availing crop insurance from Kharif 2017 season onwards. Therefore, all banks have been asked to mandatorily obtain the Aadhaar number of farmers and the same applies for non-loanee farmers enrolled through banks/Insurance companies/insurance intermediaries.

This, said sources, has led to many farmers not being eligible for the scheme and therefore dropping out of the system.

“There should be a system to accept other proofs like the Kisan Credit Card or ration card for identity purposes under the programme,” said an insurance official specialising in agriculture schemes.

Secondly, there have been delays in the payments of claims. This has dissuaded farmers (non-loanee) from continuing with the scheme.

In an answer to a question posed in the Lok Sabha on claims delays under PMFBY, the agriculture ministry said admissible claims are generally paid by the insurance companies within two months of completion of crop cutting experiments/harvesting period.

This is, however, subject to availability of yield data and total state share of premium subsidy from concerned state government within time.

“Settlement of claims in some states get delayed due to reasons like a delayed transmission of yield data, late release of their share in premium subsidy by some states, yield-related disputes between insurance companies and states,” said the ministry.

They had also said non-receipt of account details of some farmers for transfer of claims and NEFT-related issues are also a factor. This scheme only allows electronic transfer of claims. No cash, cheque payments can be done.

The head of claims at a large private general insurance company added state governments often dispute the payment and delay releasing the subsidies.

“Delay in claims are unavoidable in certain cases because our payments are directly linked to when the government releases the payments,” he added.

Farmers, whose claims have either been delayed or denied, often develop a trust deficit and opt out of the programme. For instance, earlier damage due to wild animal attacks was not covered and claims related to that were rejected. This will now be covered under the new guidelines.

Way forward

The government has revised the operational guidelines of the scheme from the Rabi 2018-19 season onwards. This is aimed at ensuring better transparency, accountability and timely payment of claims to the farmers.

Under the new norms, state governments have to pay 12 percent interest rate for delay in the release of the state's share of subsidy beyond three months of prescribed cut-off date/submission of a request by the insurer. Also, there is a provision of 12 percent interest rate per annum to be paid by the insurance company to farmers for the delay in settlement claims beyond 10 days of the cut-off date.

However, the government has not yet clarified on the facilities for the farmers who are not enrolled under the Aadhaar scheme. Once other modes of identity are allowed under PMFBY, it is anticipated that more numbers will join.

Budget 2019: Unlikely to be progressive for oil & gas sector as fiscal math frail

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The oil and gas sector has witnessed several reforms over the past few years such as Open Acreage Licensing Policy, Hydrocarbon Exploration Licensing Policy, change in under recovery sharing mechanism, dynamic pricing of products. Nevertheless, there are several impediments to boosting the oil and gas production, operational efficiency and competitiveness of the sector, removal and resolution of which have been the recurring demand of the industry incumbents.

In the upstream sector, one of the prominent demands of the industry has been the exemption of exploration activity from the levy of GST as this is a non-revenue generating activity. Moreover, the main products of the exploration & production (E&P) sector viz crude oil and natural gas are outside the purview of GST, making the process of getting input tax credit difficult. However, given the shortfall in GST collections, the government of India (GoI) is not expected to provide these concessions.

Additionally, the upstream sector has been demanding rationalization of cess, which currently stands at an ad-valorem rate of 20 percent and sweeps away a substantial part of the upside at higher crude oil prices, thereby, disincentivizing exploration and production. However, given the falling oil and gas production, as well as, moderate energy prices, the likelihood of this demand being met seems remote.

The industry has been demanding that the government consider reducing the minimum alternate tax (MAT) rate for exploration and production operations, which at about 20 percent of book profits is a significant deterrent for investment. The government of India should also clarify the eligibility to avail tax holiday under Section 80-IB of the Act and that the definition of 'mineral oil' that would include natural gas retrospectively, which has been a long-running demand of the industry.

Additionally, in order to rationalize the tax structure, the industry has been demanding that petroleum products viz. crude oil, natural gas, aviation turbine fuel (ATF), motor spirit (MS) and high speed diesel (HSD) be brought under GST to enable a free flow of credits and avoid stranded taxes. However, this reform would need strong political will and building consensus among the states and Centre and it would not be possible with general elections just around the corner.

In order to promote the use of natural gas as fuel, Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) imports should be exempt from customs duty as crude attracts nil duty whereas LNG attracts 2.5 percent duty. Similarly, to encourage more natural gas consumption, the levy of GST on transmission charges should be exempted.

The Finance Act, 2016, has inserted a sunset clause in section 80-IB(9) of the Act to provide that no deduction shall be allowable to an undertaking that begins commercial production of mineral oil after April 1, 2017. As discoveries in blocks take a long time, the withdrawal of deduction for the assessees commencing commercial production after April 1, 2017 will put investors of the blocks to a disadvantage. Accordingly, the industry has been demanding that the sunset clause should relate to the acquisition of new blocks after April 1, 2017, and not those commencing commercial production on the said date.

The benefit of deduction under section 35AD may also be extended to city gas distribution entities to encourage higher investment in city gas distribution business. Currently, a deduction under section 35AD of the Act in respect of capital expenditure is allowed for laying and operating a cross country natural gas or crude or petroleum oil pipeline network for distribution.

To promote gas as a fuel, removing hurdles of infrastructure and levies is necessary. Setting up of a gas trading hub should be prioritised. However, with strong resistance, divergent views of several industry incumbents and several conditions precedent, implementation of the same seems remote.

ICRA expects the subsidy requirements for under recoveries to remain high considering moderately high crude oil prices, increasingly active management of production by OPEC and others, high dependence on crude imports and depreciation of rupee vis-a-vis the dollar.

Nonetheless, actual subsidy allocation could fall short of requirements as the pressure on fiscal is apparent. Also, with the pressure on government finances, the target for revenues from disinvestment is expected to remain high which may lead to sale/consolidation of oil sector PSU, large dividend payouts, and share buy backs.

Budget 2019: Modinomics did not do enough in boosting startups

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the “Start-Up India” programme in 2016, offering tax breaks, funding options and easier procedures to aid fledgling start-ups.

The signature initiative was intended to build “a strong ecosystem that is conducive for the growth of startup businesses, to drive sustainable economic growth and generate large scale employment opportunities”.

“The Government through this initiative aims to empower startups to grow through innovation and design,” it said.

The 19-Point Startup India Action Plan envisages several incubation centres, easier patent filing, tax exemptions, ease of setting-up of business, a Rs 10,000 Crore corpus fund, and a faster exit mechanism, among others.

For being eligible for tax exemptions for three, a startup’s turnover should be less than Rs 25 crores in any of the previous financial years.

Under the scheme, an entity shall be considered as a startup up to seven years from the date of its incorporation or 10 years in case of startups in the bio technology sector.

The move, however, had faced criticism as three-year tax breaks have not yielded benefits given that small-bore, innovative ventures struggle for several years before breaking even.

Startups and investors are also crying foul over a tough taxation climate in India.

The biggest bone of contention is the so-called `Angel Tax’, which is levied on startups who are raising money from in terms of equity issuance from friends, family and angel investors. It is regarded as taxable income, from other sources.

Angel tax was introduced in the 2012 finance bill aimed at tackling money laundering by investors. Startup entrepreneurs, however, say that this results to an effective taxation rate of 30 percent, and makes it difficult for them to raise funds.

Around 350-400 startups raise angel funding every year and the tax is impacting most of them. The government has allowed tax concession if the total investment did not exceed Rs 10 crore and have said that it will look into the issue again.

The government’s decision last week barring online retailers such as Flipkart and Amazon from selling products of companies in which they own stakes, need to be seen in this context.

The new rules stipulate that such companies will also not be allowed to offer cashback schemes to charm customers to shop at their online market places.

Online retailers will also not be allowed to strike exclusive deals to promote brands through flash/festive season sales.

The new rules, which will come into effect from February 1, 2019, are aimed at levelling the field among online and offline retailers. Offline retailers have been lobbying with the government that online marketplaces, flush with foreign money, are driving brick-and-mortar stores out of business.

Offline retailers say e-tailers such as Amazon and Flipkart were adopting “discriminatory” and “predatory” pricing to attract customers by offering deep discounts. Smartphone flash sales, and festive season sales of fashion and electronic products were examples of such destructive pricing.

E-tailers get into exclusive tie-ups for deep discounts with brands and also push products of preferred vendors which they partly own or have preferential contracts.

Such heavy price markdowns, while very attractive for consumers, appear to have seriously impacted the business of mom-and-pop stores as also large offline retailers selling the same brands

The government’s move comes after local traders complained that they were being put out of business. The new rules appear to be the Modi government’s way of demonstrating its intent to walk the talk in support of the local traders.

Online marketplaces have found the new rules restrictive.

Petrol price hiked by 19 paise, diesel by 28 paise

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Petrol price was hiked on Friday by 19 paise per litre and diesel by 28 paise, the second increase in rates in as many days on firming input cost.

Petrol in Delhi now costs Rs 69.07 per litre - the highest this month - up from Rs 68.88 per litre rate of Thursday, according to price notification issued by state-owned oil firms.

A litre of diesel in Delhi is now priced at Rs 62.81 as compared to Rs 62.53 on Thursday.

In Mumbai, petrol now costs Rs 74.72 a litre and diesel is priced at Rs 65.73.

Rates vary from state to state depending on the rate of local sales tax or VAT.

The increase -- third this month -- comes on the back of a 38 paise increase in petrol rates and 29 paise in case of diesel announced on Thursday.

On January 7, the petrol price was hiked by 21 paise and diesel by 8 paise. Rates were unchanged on January 8 and 9.

In three hikes, petrol price has gone up by a total of 78 paise a litre and diesel by 55 paise, according to the price notification.

Prior to these hikes, rates had cooled to a year low of Rs 68.29 for petrol and Rs 62.16 in case of diesel. This followed a decline in rates on almost all days since October 18, 2018.

In all, the petrol price has fallen by Rs 14.54 per litre since October 18, more than negating all of the hikes that were witnessed in the two-month period beginning mid-August. Diesel price has declined by? Rs 13.53 per litre in two and a half months.

Petrol price had touched a record high of Rs 84 per litre in Delhi and Rs 91.34 in Mumbai on October 4. Diesel on that day had peaked to Rs 75.45 a litre in Delhi and Rs 80.10 in Mumbai.

Prices had started to climb from August 16.

Petrol in Delhi was priced at Rs 77.14 and in Mumbai at Rs 84.58 per litre on August 15. Diesel on that day was priced at Rs 68.72 per litre in Delhi and Rs 72.96 in Mumbai.

Between August 16 and October 4, the petrol price was hiked by Rs 6.86 per litre and diesel by Rs 6.73.

On that day, the government decided to cut excise duty on petrol and diesel by Rs 1.50 per litre each and asked state-owned fuel retailers to subsidise the price by another Re 1 a litre by reducing their margins.

Subsequent to this, the petrol price moderated to Rs 81.50 per litre in Delhi and diesel to Rs 72.95 a litre on October 5. In Mumbai, rates fell to Rs 86.97 for petrol and Rs 77.45 in case of diesel.

As the international oil prices continued to rise, the prices of petrol and diesel in Delhi increased to Rs 82.83 and Rs 75.69 respectively, on October 17. In Mumbai, rates touched Rs 88.29 a litre for petrol and Rs 79.35 for diesel.

Sri Lanka banks on RBI swaps to boost its reserves: PM Ranil Wickremesinghe

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Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Thursday said that the SAARC swap arrangement with the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is part of the international assistance to boost the island's flagging reserves.

"The Reserve Bank of India has agreed to give our Central Bank USD 400 million under the SAARC currency swap arrangement. They (the Indians) are considering a further large sum," Wickremesinghe told parliament.

His remarks came a day after Sri Lanka's Central Bank on Wednesday said that the RBI has agreed to provide USD 400 million under the SAARC swap arrangement to boost the island nation's reserves. It said that a further request to the RBI for another SWAP arrangement of USD 1 billion is "under consideration".

Wickremesinghe said that Lanka will make its highest ever debt payment in history – USD 2600 million - on January 14.

"Within 2019 we have to pay USD 5900 million by way of interest and capital on foreign loans," he said.

Wickremesinghe said that the nearly two-month long political crisis had an adverse impact on the country's economy.

"During the 51 days, our Rupee fell by 3.8 per cent. When all other currencies were appreciating, the rupee was falling. There were capital outflows from the country," he said.

"We are yet to quantify the losses, but it was a death blow to an economy that was struggling to recover," Wickremesinghe told parliament.

President Maithripala Sirisena's dramatic move on October 26 to sack Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and install former strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa in his place following differences over policy issues, left the country without a functioning government for nearly two months. However, a Supreme court verdict forced Sirisena to reinstate Wickremesinghe.

Sri Lanka's reserves dipped from USD 7991 million to USD 6985 million during the crisis, the prime minister said.

Due to the political crisis, the big three credit rating agencies -- Fitch Ratings, Standard & Poor's (S&P) and Moody's -- downgraded Sri Lanka's sovereign rating.

Wickremesinghe said the government is in the process of raising USD 1.9 billion to boost its reserves. One billion dollars are to be raised in international markets while USD 500 million would be raised from Chinese Panda funds and Japanese Samurai Funds in addition to the USD 400 million from India's RBI under SAARC currency swap arrangement.

The government's priority right now is to work for the rupee's stabilisation, Wickremesinghe said. The weaker rupee has caused cost escalation of raw materials and all imports.

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