Emerging Asia

Sri Lanka

Interest rates and inflation to remain low

Growth in China will weaken further over the coming year as a downturn deepens in industry and construction. The outlook for the rest of the region is improving. We expect many economies to rebound strongly as governments ease restrictions on the back of faster vaccine rollouts and success reining in COVID outbreaks. Central banks – unlike in much of the emerging world – are in little rush to tighten. Inflation hasn’t emerged as a concern and, with large output gaps set to keep a lid on price pressures, we expect policy rates in most countries to remain on hold over the coming year. In contrast, the consensus and financial markets are expecting central banks to begin tightening in 2022.

20 October 2021

Asia reopens, more hikes in Korea & Sri Lanka

Countries across Emerging Asia are making renewed efforts to reopen their borders to boost flagging tourism sectors. However, the recovery is likely to be very gradual, not least because China (which was the source of around one-third of all tourists to the region before the pandemic) is in no rush to reopen its border. The poor prospects for tourism will weigh heavily on the Thai baht over the coming year and lead to further balance of payments strains in Sri Lanka. Meanwhile, the central banks of Korea and Sri Lanka left interest rates unchanged at their scheduled meetings this week, but we think it won’t be long before both raise interest rates again

15 October 2021

Time to worry about inflation?

The recent jump in energy prices will put upward pressure on inflation across the region, but the impact should prove short lived and is unlikely to worry policymakers.

8 October 2021
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Asian central banks in little rush to raise rates

Over the past month or so, the central banks of Korea, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have all raised interest rates, but we don’t think other countries will be in any rush to follow suit. There is certainly little to worry about on the inflation front. Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka are the only three countries where headline inflation is above 5% y/y. With GDP still well below potential in most parts of the region, underlying price pressures will remain subdued. Similarly, with the exception of Sri Lanka and Pakistan, where large current account deficits are putting downward pressure on currencies, external factors are unlikely to prompt central banks into hiking rates. Although the US Fed is likely to announce plans to taper its asset purchases later this year, large current account surpluses mean Asian economies are well placed to withstand any sudden shift in capital flows that tighter monetary policy in the US could trigger. Meanwhile, unlike in Korea, there is no sign elsewhere in Asia that low interest rates are fuelling a rise in financial risks. Credit growth has slowed in many countries, with policymakers in Indonesia and the Philippines encouraging commercial banks to lend more. Finally, most countries still have large output gaps, and with the virus continuing to cause significant economic disruption across the region, central banks will remain keen to support economic activity.

External strains unlikely to ease as tourism slump drags on

Countries across Emerging Asia are making renewed efforts to reopen their borders to boost flagging tourism sectors. However, ongoing travel restrictions and the spread of the more infectious Delta variant mean that tourism will continue to struggle. This will hold back recoveries in places such as Thailand and Malaysia and lead to further balance of payments strains in Sri Lanka.

Debt risks come back to the fore

Problems at Evergrande in China have dominated the headlines recently, but (sovereign) debt risks are brewing in other EMs too. Concerns about higher government spending and rising public debt levels are building in parts of Latin America. Meanwhile, sovereign dollar bond spreads have surged in a handful of frontier markets including Sri Lanka, Tunisia and Ethiopia. These economies all face the worrying combination of large external foreign-currency debt burdens, low FX reserves and weakening currencies. We are most worried about Sri Lanka. While the country will probably muddle through this year, it will face a crunch point in early 2022 when large bond repayments are due. A default is now looking the most likely option.

Can Sri Lanka avoid default?

Falling foreign exchange reserves, a declining currency and a high level of foreign currency debt mean the risk of a sovereign default in Sri Lanka is growing. While the country should be able to muddle through for the next few months, it faces a crunch point early next year when more bond repayments are due. A default is now looking the most likely option.

Evergrande & frontier sovereign debt risks build

The combination of large foreign-currency debt burdens, low FX reserves and weakening currencies means that the risk of sovereign defaults in Sri Lanka and Tunisia is growing. Elsewhere, China’s largest property developer, Evergrande, appears to be close to collapse, which would cause large losses for banks and bondholders. Were this to cause stress in the banking sector, the government would ultimately step in to restore stability. Elsewhere, banking sectors in Turkey, India and the UAE are points of concern.

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