Dushni Weerakoon

Sri Lanka’s Runaway Inflation and the Limits of Monetary Policy

Having kept monetary policy too loose for too long, Sri Lanka started its tightening cycle in August 2021. It signalled firm intentions to regain the Central Bank of Sri Lanka’s (CBSL) focus on price stability by engineering a reduction in demand through high interest rates and withdrawing liquidity from the economy. Effectively, in the current dire growth outlook for Sri Lanka, the policy intention means forcing a recession to tame inflation. In choosing between the options of an aggressive hike that will lead to a recession or tolerating a prolonged inflationary spiral bordering on hyperinflation, the former is preferable. Once inflation takes hold, the damage can be corrosive, especially its deeply regressive impacts on lower income households. But a contractionary strategy to suppress demand will not achieve the desired outcomes if (a) inflation expectations are not well anchored and people expect rapid price increases to continue, and (b) supply side factors remain unaddressed.

Sri Lanka’s Sovereign Foreign Debt: To Restructure or Not?

The landscape of sovereign borrowing has evolved from a small group made up of multilateral organisations, a few commercial banks, and the ‘Paris Club’ of rich countries to something much more complicated. In recent decades, emerging markets and developing economies have borrowed proportionately more from international bond markets with their dispersed private investors, and tapped new non-Paris Club lenders like China. From the sovereign’s perspective, this makes a potential debt restructuring operation particularly complicated.

Sri Lanka’s Macroeconomic Policy Setting: Cohesion or Confusion?

Efforts to attract FDI should be coupled with building effective policy strategies that instill and maintain credibility. Indeed, this is all the more important as Sri Lanka appears to be firmly against an International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout. An IMF programme is mostly useful in firming up sovereign credit ratings and reviving the sentiments of investors. But investor sentiments can also improve if governments put forward and implement credible policy strategies. By contrast, the CBSL’s policy rate adjustment to anchor expectations, for instance, will not stick if direct financing of fiscal spending is to continue under yield control measures. Instead, market convictions on the credibility of the policy mix will drive economic fundamentals. As Sri Lanka readies to transition out of pandemic-related emergency support, some notion of fiscal and debt sustainability to anchor confidence should be the priority in Budget 2022 preparations.

Counting the Cost: Terrorism and its Impact on the Sri Lankan Economy

The immediate economic consequences of Sri Lanka’s brutal Easter Sunday terror attacks are obvious. The damage to tourism is the most apparent; investments decisions might be delayed. The impact of a serious breach of security depends on whether it is perceived as an isolated incident or an endemic threat. A swift and efficient response to bring the security situation under immediate control and restore ‘normalcy’ helps establish the former; confusion and disarray only reinforce the latter and delays an economic recovery.

Managing Sri Lanka – China Economic Relations: BRI, Debt, and Diplomacy

As Sri Lanka, like many other developing countries, escalates its engagement with China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the question of debt entrapment requires a more rigorous review. Criticism of Chinese loan disbursements have focused not only on the volume of funds, but also on the terms. However, the author argues that, Chinese loans are not the primary cause of Sri Lanka’s debt imbroglio; but, they have contributed to, and possibly aggravated, the problem.

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