Sri Lanka central bank to retail treasuries

July 05, 2007 (LBO) – Sri Lanka’s central bank will use its regional offices to sell government securities to rural investors, the bank said, as real returns on treasuries are turning positive in a market that has been shaken with a series of aborted auctions. The bank runs the government’s debt office as an agency function for the finance ministry.

The Central Bank is setting up new retail outlets at its regional offices in Matara, Matale and Anuradhapura as well as its central banking study centre in Rajagiriya and its Customer Centre at the Ceylinco building in Colombo.

LankaClear, the island’s central clearing house which was spun off from the Central Bank, will also sell government securities through its regional offices.

“This new initiative is expected to enhance the access of retail investors and the general public to the government securities market and thereby enhance the investor base of the market,” the Central Bank said.

The outlets would be managed by NSB Fund Management Co. Ltd., a primary dealer owned by state-run National Savings Bank and LankaClear.

“It has been observed that, at present, the government securities market is largely concentrated in the Western Province, in particular around Colombo and suburbs,” the Central Bank said.

“In this context, the CBSL has recognized that there is a vast potential for Treasury Bills and Treasury Bonds market outside the Western Province as well.

“Accordingly, these new sales outlets are expected to popularize government securities among retail investors who do not have much experience in investment in government securities.”

Starting from the mid-90s the central bank established a network of primary dealers who bought into treasury bills and resold them with the dealers collectively having a portfolio of about 60 billion rupees.

From about mid-2004, Sri Lanka started to practice severe financial repression ultimately leading to negative real rates which put investors off treasury bills.

Secondary trading in government securities collapsed and primary dealers cut their positions and the central bank became one of the largest holders of treasury bills as billions of rupees were printed to finance a growing budget deficit.

However, the bank has tightened monetary policy from January 1997, and real returns have turned positive with 3-month treasury bills yielding 17.40 percent.

Inflation has come down from 20.5 percent in January to 13.0 percent in June.

But analysts say chronic cancellations of bond tenders which recently spread to the treasury bills auctions continue to undermine the re-establishment of the government securities market.