Monetary Policy

Stagflation in Sri Lanka? Risks and Policy Responses

The emergence of a low-growth international environment together with a significant rise in inflation has raised concerns of stagflation; a period of low growth combined with high inflation. A global stagflationary environment can worsen Sri Lanka’s current economic crisis restricting growth and increasing inflation. Increased policy rates to combat inflation will result in lower investments. These factors, combined with political instability, lower-than-expected remittances, and lower productivity due to acute shortages of essential items will further constrict the Sri Lankan economy, pushing it into stagflation. Due to a global economic downturn, rising commodity prices and high rates of borrowing, Sri Lanka can expect a challenging external sector environment next year. Policymakers will need to understand these global challenges and make pragmatic economic decisions to minimise further damage to the economy.

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 Depreciating Rupee: Avoiding a Money-Go-Round

The Sri Lankan rupee (LKR) has depreciated by 10% in nominal terms by end September 2018, posing significant economy-wide risks in view of a hefty total external debt stock at 60% of GDP at end 2017. In this context, the author argues that the Sri Lankan economy is set to face testing times; dollar revenues need to be generated to match dollar-denominated debt service as never before.