Sri Lanka Central Bank to keep rates steady ahead of budget

COLOMBO, Oct 27 (Reuters) – Sri Lanka’s central bank is expected to keep its key interest rates steady on Monday, a few days ahead of the national budget and the government’s five-year policy, analysts said.

The central bank has already tightened its monetary policy stance three times since December, to fend off pressure on a fragile rupee currency and curb stubbornly high credit growth that has pushed up inflation.

Ten of the 13 economists surveyed in a Reuters poll expect the central bank to keep both its standing deposit facility rate (SDFR) steady at 7.00 percent, and its standing lending facility rate (SLFR) unchanged at 8.50 percent.

Two economists expected 50 bps hikes in the both policy rates while one expected hikes of 25 bps. All 13 economists
expect the statutory reserve ratio (SRR) to stay at 7.50 percent.

“The central bank will wait until the budget,” said Danushka Samarasinghe, research head at Softlogic Stockbrokers.

The national budget is scheduled on Nov. 10, while the government is expected to announce a five-year economic policy framework in detail next month.

Private sector credit growth hit a more than four-year high of 28.5 percent in July, and central bank chief Indrajith Coomaraswamy expects credit growth to slow to 18 percent by the end of 2016.

The sizzling credit growth has kept inflation high, though it slowed in September to 3.9 percent on the year, from the previous month’s 4.0 percent.

The rupee has come under pressure because of lower interest rates, higher imports, and foreign outflows from government securities last year.

Though the currency steadied after the central bank raised $1.5 billion from a sovereign bond sale in July, it has been under downward pressure again since mid-October as foreign investors have been exiting government securities amid a rise in imports, due to seasonal demand.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) last month welcomed the central bank’s preemptive move in July to raise policy rates to maintain inflation within its target band.

The central bank has raised both the SDFR and the SLFR by 50 bps each in February and July. That followed an increase of 150 bps in commercial banks’ statutory reserve ratio (SRR) in December.

Following are poll forecasts for rates on Tuesday:

SDFR SLFR SRR
(in pct) (in pct) (in pct)
Median 7.00 8.50 7.50
Average 7.10 8.60 7.50
Minimum 7.00 8.50 7.50
Maximum 7.50 9.00 7.50
Rates in September 7.00 8.50 7.50
No. of economists 13 13 13