|Wikileaks:||View 02COLOMBO1452 at Wikileaks.org|
|Tags:||ECON EINV ETRD PGOV CE ECONOMICS|
|Redacted:||This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.|
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 COLOMBO 001452 SIPDIS STATE FOR SA/INS, EB STATE PLEASE PASS TO USTR FOR FHUEGEL TREASURY FOR DO/GCHRISTOPOLUS AND ADNAN KIFAYAT MANILA FOR USADB E.O. 12958: N/A TAGS: ECON, EINV, ETRD, PGOV, CE, ECONOMICS SUBJECT: SRI LANKA: FIRST HALF ECONOMIC PERFORMANCE 1. Summary: After a year of declining indicators in 2001, growth in the Sri Lankan economy turned positive in the first half of 2002. Central Bank figures show that GDP expanded by 0.1 percent in the first quarter, far off the government's target of 3.7 percent growth for 2002. Available data do not suggest a major recovery in the second quarter, mainly due to the continuing sharp decline in exports. The downturn in tourism, witnessed after the terrorist attack at the international airport and the 9/11 attacks in the US, has continued through June 2002. Inflation has remained high, but interest rates have come down sharply following Central Bank rate cuts in 2001-2002. The Colombo Stock Market was quite bullish in the first half, although the indices lost ground in July in response to news of political uncertainty, plantation wage demands and weakening global equity markets. End Summary GDP grows slowly ---------------- 2. The Sri Lankan economy, which suffered a recession in 2001, moved back into the positive growth range, but just barely, in the first half of 2002. Latest Central Bank figures show that the GDP expanded by 0.1 percent in the first quarter. This is far from the government's target of 3.7 percent growth in 2002, but an improvement on the declines of 3.7 and 3.4 percent in the last two quarters of 2001. The Central Bank attributed the slow growth to continued negative impacts such as drought, power cuts and the global economic slowdown. The agriculture and services sectors recorded growth rates of 2.4 percent and 1.4 percent respectively. Paddy rice production in the main season partly recovered, increasing by 6.1 percent after a 9.4 percent drop in the same period in 2001. Production of tea declined by 10 percent during this period. 3. The main contributors to growth in the services sector were telecommunications and transport. Telecommunications continued its strong growth momentum begun in 2001, expanding by a further 20 percent in the first quarter. The transport sector also performed well, helped by the expansion of services in the north and east after the ceasefire. Banking performance slowed, due to stagnation of interest income and fee based activities. External and internal trading decreased by 2 percent in response to the downturn in external trade. 4. The industrial sector declined by 4.2, with all subsectors reporting contractions in output. Available data do not suggest a major recovery in the second quarter, mainly due to the continuing sharp decline in exports. On the positive side, the daily power cuts were lifted in May with the addition of emergency power generating capacity. A good monsoon helped agriculture, with tea production rising by 9.5 percent in the second quarter. Foreign reserves stood at $2.23 billion at end of May 2002, sufficient to finance 4.8 months of imports. External trade -------------- 5. Trade figures for the first five months are not encouraging. Exports and imports both recorded declines through May 2002, and pushed the cumulative trade deficit in the year to May up 4.2 percent to $734 million from $705 million in the same period in 2001. Export earnings dipped by 16 percent to $1.676 billion during this period. The market for Sri Lanka's exports continued to be affected by sluggish demand from the US and EU. Textile and apparel exports fell by nearly 20 percent to $824 million from $1.023 billion. Agricultural exports declined by 1.8 percent. Exports to the US, Sri Lanka's main market, dropped by 12 percent during Jan-May with apparel exports declining by 6 percent and travel goods declining by 45 percent. On the import side, imports fell by 10.7 percent to $2.41 billion. All categories of imports recorded declines. Tourism ------- 6. Tourist arrivals continue to suffer from the effects of the terrorist attack at the international airport, violent parliamentary elections, and the 9/11 attacks in the US. Tourist arrivals in the first half of 2002 indicated a 24 percent drop to 173,136 compared with 227,205 in the first half of 2001. Arrivals from the main markets, the UK and Germany, dipped by over 40 percent during this period. Arrivals from India rose sharply by 72 percent, a result of increased promotional efforts by the national carrier, Sri Lankan Airlines, and the tourist industry. Inflation and Interest rates ---------------------------- 7. Inflation remained high in the first half of 2002, but interest rates have come down sharply from very high levels in the first half of 2001. As of July, inflation is running around 11.1 percent compared with 12.4 percent in July 2001. Administered price revisions in 2001-2002 on fuel, utilities (electricity and water), wheat flour, and transport are the main factors contributing to inflationary pressures. The Government is worried about the current high inflation, and recently moved to lift a cost recovery surcharge on fuel in a bid to mitigate inflationary pressures. In addition, the exclusion of a some essential consumer items from the Value Added Tax and inclusion of other essential consumer items under the lower 10% rate should also help ease inflationary pressures. 8. In 2001, the Central Bank reduced interest rates by 850- 900 basis points. The Central Bank announced another 100 basis point reduction on interest rates on July 26, 2002, citing improved liquidity in the domestic foreign exchange and money markets and indicating lower inflationary expectations. The weakness of US dollar has also reduced pressure on the rupee and helped the Central Bank to cut rates. Currently, 3 month T-bill rates average 11.25 percent compared with 18.25 percent in August 2001. Prime lending rates average 13.43 percent compared with 20.44 percent in August 2001. The Central Bank is seeking to raise about $350 million this year in international financial markets in a bid to reduce pressure on the domestic market, and ease interest rates. Broad money supply (M2) grew by 15.9 percent in May. Domestic credit expanded by 10 percent, with government credit expanding by 26 percent. Private sector credit grew more slowly, by 5.3 percent. Stock Market ------------ 9. The Colombo Stock Market staged a partial recovery in the first half of 2002, with the Colombo All Share Price index moving up 14 percent from end-December levels. The Market Price Earnings ratio moved to 9.9 in June 2002 from 7.5 in December 2001. Total exchange turnover was approximately Rs 15 billion in the first half of 2002 compared with Rs 7 billion in the same period in 2001. Foreign investors accounted for 24 percent of exchange turnover. Total net foreign inflow was Rs 1.8 billion ($18.7 million) compared with an outflow of Rs 1 billion ($11 million) in the first half of 2001. Despite interest rate cuts, the stock market lost ground in late July/early August reflecting political uncertainty and plantation wage demands as well due to negative sentiment in equities globally. 10. Comment: A period of readjustment is to be expected after the events of 2001. This year will be one of recovery for Sri Lanka, after external shocks and internal problems caused negative GDP growth last year (for the first time since independence). Though there are still constraints, many positive factors are now in play: the enduring ceasefire, an easing of the drought, some recovery in export markets, a broad agenda of economic reforms, reliable power supply. The effect of these factors will continue to be modest until a lasting peace is in range, economic reforms are in place and internal government frictions are reduced. End comment. Wills
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