December 26, 2018 / 11:48 AM / 25 days ago

Sri Lanka central bank seen keeping rates steady despite pressure on rupee: Reuters Poll

COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lanka’s central bank is expected to leave its key interest rates steady on Friday, a Reuters poll showed, despite heavy pressure on the rupee from a political crisis that triggered foreign outflows from stocks and government bonds.

People walk past the main entrance of the Sri Lanka's Central Bank in Colombo, Sri Lanka March 24, 2017. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte

President Maithripala Sirisena was forced to reinstate Ranil Wickremesinghe as prime minister 51 days after sacking him, as his preferred PM, pro-China former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, failed to secure a parliamentary majority.

An uneasy truce between Wickremesinghe and Sirisena could undermine economic policies, analysts say.

All analysts expect the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) to leave key rates steady as Wickremesinghe’s government aims to focus on economic growth, which has been sluggish due to tight policies, ahead of a presidential poll next year and general election in 2020.

All 10 economists surveyed expected the central bank to keep both its standing deposit facility rate (SDFR) and standing lending facility rate (SLFR) to be left at 8.00 percent and 9.00 percent respectively.

The central bank raised SDFR by 75 bps and SLFR by 50 bps last month, while reduced the statutory reserve ratio (SRR) by 150 bps to 6.00 percent.

All 10 analysts saw the SRR remaining steady.

Sirisena’s abrupt change of prime minister and his decision to dissolve parliament, which was later ruled unconstitutional, created panic and uncertainty among investors.

The Sri Lankan rupee hit a fresh low of 181.85 per dollar on Wednesday while the island-nation’s dollar bonds have also plummeted as foreign investors sell their holdings. The rupee has fallen nearly 5 percent since the political crisis started on Oct. 26. It has dropped 18.4 percent so far this year.

“Political pressure would be against increasing the rates,” said Danushka Samarasinghe, the CEO at Softlogic Capital Markets.

“However, if rates are increased, it will be better for safeguarding foreign investments in the bond market and also might be favourable from a fiscal point of view.”

Foreign investors have sold a net 13.7 billion rupees worth of stocks since the political crisis began and about 56.7 billion rupees worth of bonds between Oct. 25 and Dec. 19, bourse and central bank data showed.

Sri Lanka has seen net outflows of 149 billion rupees ($821 million) from government bonds so far this year, central bank data showed.

Reporting by Shihar Aneez; Editing by Robin Pomeroy

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