EXPLAINER: Why Sri Lanka’s economy collapsed and what’s next

EXPLAINER: Why Sri Lanka’s economy collapsed and what’s next
A Buddhist nun falls next to a barricade after inhaling tear gas during a protest against the economic crisis. (AP)
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Updated 24 June 2022

EXPLAINER: Why Sri Lanka’s economy collapsed and what’s next

EXPLAINER: Why Sri Lanka’s economy collapsed and what’s next
  • Sri Lanka seeking help from neighboring India and China and from the IMF

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka: Sri Lanka’s prime minister says the island nation’s debt-laden economy has “collapsed” as it runs out of money to pay for food and fuel. Short of cash to pay for imports of such necessities and already defaulting on its debt, it is seeking help from neighboring India and China and from the International Monetary Fund.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who took office in May, was emphasizing the monumental task he faces in turning around an economy he said is heading for “rock bottom.”
Sri Lankans are skipping meals as they endure shortages, lining up for hours to try to buy scarce fuel. It’s a harsh reality for a country whose economy had been growing quickly, with a growing and comfortable middle class, until the latest crisis deepened.

How serious is this crisis?
Tropical Sri Lanka normally is not lacking for food but people are going hungry. The UN World Food Program says nearly nine of 10 families are skipping meals or otherwise skimping to stretch out their food, while 3 million are receiving emergency humanitarian aid.
Doctors have resorted to social media to try to get critical supplies of equipment and medicine. Growing numbers of Sri Lankans are seeking passports to go overseas in search of work. Government workers have been given an extra day off for three months to allow them time to grow their own food. In short, people are suffering and desperate for things to improve.

Why is the economy in such dire straits?
Economists say the crisis stems from domestic factors such as years of mismanagement and corruption, but also from other troubles such as a growing $51 billion in debt, the impact of the pandemic and terror attacks on tourism, and other problems.
Much of the public’s ire has focused on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his brother, former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. The latter resigned after weeks of anti-government protests that eventually turned violent.
Conditions have been deteriorating for the past several years. In 2019, Easter suicide bombings at churches and hotels killed more than 260 people. That devastated tourism, a key source of foreign exchange.
The government needed to boost its revenues as foreign debt for big infrastructure projects soared, but instead Rajapaksa pushed through the largest tax cuts in Sri Lankan history, which recently were reversed. Creditors downgraded Sri Lanka’s ratings, blocking it from borrowing more money as its foreign reserves sank. Then tourism flatlined again during the pandemic.
In April 2021, Rajapaksa suddenly banned imports of chemical fertilizers. The push for organic farming caught farmers by surprise and decimated staple rice crops, driving prices higher. To save on foreign exchange, imports of other items deemed to be luxuries also were banned. Meanwhile, the Ukraine war has pushed prices of food and oil higher. Inflation was near 40 percent and food prices were up nearly 60 percent in May.

Why did the prime minister say the economy has collapsed?
Such a stark declaration might undermine any confidence in the state of the economy and it didn’t reflect any specific new development. Wickremesinghe appeared to be underscoring the challenge his government faces in turning things around as it seeks help from the IMF and confronts criticism over the lack of improvement since he took office weeks ago. He’s also fending off criticism from within the country. His comment might be intended to try to buy more time and support as he tries to get the economy back on track.
The Finance Ministry says Sri Lanka has only $25 million in usable foreign reserves. That has left it without the wherewithal to pay for imports, let alone repay billions in debt.
Meanwhile the Sri Lankan rupee has weakened in value by nearly 80 percent to about 360 to $1. That makes costs of imports even more prohibitive. Sri Lanka has suspended repayment of about $7 billion in foreign loans due this year out of $25 billion to be repaid by 2026.

What is the government doing about it?
Wickremesinghe has ample experience. This latest is his sixth term as prime minister.
So far, Sri Lanka has been muddling through, mainly supported by $4 billion in credit lines from neighboring India. An Indian delegation was in the capital Colombo on Thursday for talks on more assistance, but Wickremesinghe warned against expecting India to keep Sri Lanka afloat for long.
“Sri Lanka pins last hopes on IMF,” said Thursday’s headline in the Colombo Times newspaper. The government is in negotiations with the IMF on a bailout plan and Wickremesinghe said Wednesday he expects to have a preliminary agreement with the IMF by late July.
The government also is seeking more help from China. Other governments like the US, Japan and Australia have provided a few hundred million dollars in extra support.
Earlier this month, the United Nations began a worldwide public appeal for assistance. So far, projected funding barely scratches the surface of the $6 billion the country needs to stay afloat over the next six months.
To counter Sri Lanka’s fuel shortage, Wickremesinghe told The Associated Press in a recent interview that he would consider buying more steeply discounted oil from Russia to help tide the country through its crisis.


Google to pay $90 million to settle legal fight with app developers

Google to pay $90 million to settle legal fight with app developers
Updated 01 July 2022

Google to pay $90 million to settle legal fight with app developers

Google to pay $90 million to settle legal fight with app developers
  • Some 48,000 app developers are eligible to apply for the $90 million fund, if the court approves the proposed settlement

WASHINGTON: Alphabet Inc’s Google has agreed to pay $90 million to settle a legal fight with app developers over the money they earned creating apps for Android smartphones and for enticing users to make in-app purchases, according to a court filing.
The app developers, in a lawsuit filed in federal court in San Francisco, had accused Google of using agreements with smartphone makers, technical barriers and revenue sharing agreements to effectively close the app ecosystem and shunt most payments through its Google Play billing system with a default service fee of 30 percent.
As part of the proposed settlement, Google said in a blog post it would put $90 million in a fund to support app developers who made $2 million or less in annual revenue from 2016-2021.
“A vast majority of US developers who earned revenue through Google Play will be eligible to receive money from this fund, if they choose,” Google said in the blog post.
Google said it would also continue to charge a 15 percent commission to developers who make $1 million or less annually from the Google Play Store. It started doing this in 2021.
The court must approve the proposed settlement.
There were likely 48,000 app developers eligible to apply for the $90 million fund, and the minimum payout is $250, according to Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP, who represented the plaintiffs.
Apple Inc. agreed last year to loosen App Store restrictions on small developers, striking a deal in a class action. It also agreed to pay $100 million.
In Washington, Congress is considering legislation that would require Google and Apple to allow sideloading, or the practice of downloading apps without using an app store. It would also bar them from requiring that app providers use Google and Apple’s payment systems. 


 


SpaceX’s Starlink Internet gets US regulator’s nod for use with ships, boats, planes

SpaceX’s Starlink Internet gets US regulator’s nod for use with ships, boats, planes
Updated 01 July 2022

SpaceX’s Starlink Internet gets US regulator’s nod for use with ships, boats, planes

SpaceX’s Starlink Internet gets US regulator’s nod for use with ships, boats, planes
  • SpaceX has steadily launched some 2,700 Starlink satellites to low-Earth orbit since 2019
  • It has amassed hundreds of thousands of subscribers, including many who pay $110 a month for broadband Internet

WASHINGTON: The US Federal Communications Commission on Thursday authorized Elon Musk’s SpaceX to use its Starlink satellite Internet network with moving vehicles, green-lighting the company’s plan to expand broadband offerings to commercial airlines, shipping vessels and trucks.
Starlink, a fast-growing constellation of Internet-beaming satellites in orbit, has long sought to grow its customer base from individual broadband users in rural, Internet-poor locations to enterprise customers in the potentially lucrative automotive, shipping and airline sectors.
“Authorizing a new class of terminals for SpaceX’s satellite system will expand the range of broadband capabilities to meet the growing user demands that now require connectivity while on the move,” the FCC said in its authorization published Thursday, echoing plans outlined in SpaceX’s request for the approval early last year.
SpaceX has steadily launched some 2,700 Starlink satellites to low-Earth orbit since 2019 and has amassed hundreds of thousands of subscribers, including many who pay $110 a month for broadband Internet using $599 self-install terminal kits.
The Hawthorne, California-based space company has focused heavily in recent years on courting airlines around Starlink for in-flight WiFi, having inked its first such deals in recent months with Hawaiian Airlines and semi-private jet service JSX.
“We’re obsessive about the passenger experience,” Jonathan Hofeller, Starlink’s commercial sales chief, said at an aviation conference earlier this month. “We’re going to be on planes here very shortly, so hopefully passengers are wowed by the experience.”
SpaceX, under an earlier experimental FCC license, has been testing aircraft-tailored Starlink terminals on Gulfstream jets and US military aircraft.
Musk, the founder and CEO of SpaceX, has previously said that the types of vehicles Starlink was expected to be used with pursuant to Thursday’s authorization were aircraft, ships, large trucks and RVs. Musk, also the CEO of electric car maker Tesla Inc, had said he didn’t see “connecting Tesla cars to Starlink, as our terminal is much too big.”
Competition in the low-Earth orbiting satellite Internet sector is fierce between SpaceX, satellite operator OneWeb, and Jeff Bezos’s Kuiper project, a unit of e-commerce giant Amazon.com which is planning to launch the first prototype satellites of its own broadband network later this year. 

 


Bitcoin falls below $19,000, further shaking crypto markets

Bitcoin falls below $19,000, further shaking crypto markets
Updated 01 July 2022

Bitcoin falls below $19,000, further shaking crypto markets

Bitcoin falls below $19,000, further shaking crypto markets

Bitcoin dropped 6.1% to $18,866.77 at 2004 GMT on Thursday, putting the biggest and best-known cryptocurrency down $1,226.41 from its previous close and down 60.9% from the year's high of $48,234 on March 28.
Several big players in the cryptocurrency markets have had difficulties, and further declines could force other crypto investors to sell holdings to meet margin calls and cover losses.
Ether, the coin linked to the ethereum blockchain network, dropped 7.5% to $1,016.08 on Thursday, losing $82.38 from its previous close.
Both digital assets have struggled since U.S. based lender Celsius Network this month said it would suspend withdrawals. Bitcoin and ether were further rattled by the apparent insolvency of crypto hedge fund Three Arrows Capital, which a person familiar with the matter told Reuters has entered liquidation.
Many of the industry's recent problems can be traced back to the spectacular collapse of so-called stablecoin TerraUSD in May, which saw the stablecoin lose almost all its value, along with its paired token. (Reporting by Mrinmay Dey in Bengaluru and Hannah Lang in Washington; Editing by David Gregorio)


Crypto rules to make Europe global leader as prices plunge

Crypto rules to make Europe global leader as prices plunge
Updated 01 July 2022

Crypto rules to make Europe global leader as prices plunge

Crypto rules to make Europe global leader as prices plunge
  • EU to subject cryptocurrency transfers to money laundering rules

RIYADH: Europe prepares to lead the world in regulating the cryptocurrency industry at a time when prices have plunged, wiping out fortunes, fueling skepticism and sparking calls for tighter scrutiny.

The EU took a first step late Wednesday by agreeing on new rules subjecting cryptocurrency transfers to the same money laundering rules as traditional banking transfers.

A much bigger move was expected as EU negotiators hammer out the final details late Thursday on a separate deal for a sweeping package of crypto regulations for the bloc’s 27 nations, known as Markets in Crypto Assets, or MiCA.

Like the EU’s trendsetting data privacy policy, which became the de facto global standard, the crypto regulations are expected to be highly influential worldwide.

The EU rules are “really the first comprehensive piece of crypto regulation in the world,” said Patrick Hansen, crypto venture adviser at Presight Capital, a venture capital firm.

Patrick Hansen, analyst

“I think there will be a lot of jurisdictions that will look closely into how the EU has dealt with it since the EU is first here,” Hansen said.

He expected authorities in other places, especially smaller countries that don’t have the resources to draw up their own rules from scratch, to adopt ones similar to the EU’s, though “they might change a few details.”

Companies issuing or trading crypto assets such as stablecoins face tough transparency requirements requiring them to provide detailed information on the risks, costs and charges that consumers face.

Providers of bitcoin-related services would fall under the regulations, but not bitcoin itself, the world’s most popular cryptocurrency that has lost more than 70 percent of its value from its November peak.

Russia probes 400 cases

The Federal Financial Monitoring Service of the Russian Federation is trying to detect around 400 cases in which cryptocurrencies are involved, the agency’s director, Yury Chikhanchin, revealed the number during a meeting with President Vladimir Putin.

Russian law enforcement authorities have already initiated 20 criminal cases related to digital assets, Bitcoin.com reported.

Chikhanchin acknowledged that Russians continue to actively use cryptocurrency platforms located outside the country.

“This phenomenon continues to exist. And only on two foreign sites, two exchanges, several hundred thousand Russian citizens participate in transactions worth tens of billions,” he said.

According to official data released earlier this year, the number of lawsuits related to cryptocurrency mining in Russia exceeded 1,500 in 2021.

$100 million crypto hack

Digital investigative firms have concluded that North Korean hackers are most likely responsible for an attack last week that took as much as $100 million in cryptocurrency from a US company, according to Reuters.

Cryptocurrency assets were stolen on June 23 from Horizon Bridge, a service provided by Harmony blockchain that transfers assets between blockchains. The hackers’ activity since then suggests they may be affiliated with North Korea, which experts say is among the most prolific cyberattackers.

The UN sanctions monitors say Pyongyang uses the stolen funds to finance its nuclear and missile programs.


Fitch cuts view on global sovereign debt over rise in borrowing costs

Fitch cuts view on global sovereign debt over rise in borrowing costs
Updated 01 July 2022

Fitch cuts view on global sovereign debt over rise in borrowing costs

Fitch cuts view on global sovereign debt over rise in borrowing costs

LONDON: Credit rating agency Fitch downgraded its view on sovereign debt on Thursday on concerns about the rise in global borrowing costs and the potential for a flurry of new defaults.

Fitch, which monitors over 100 countries, said the Ukraine-Russia war was stoking problems such as higher inflation, trade disruptions and weaker economies which are all now hurting sovereign credit conditions.

“Rising interest rates are increasing government debt-servicing costs,” Fitch’s Global Head of Sovereigns, James McCormack, said, cutting the firm’s view on the sovereign sector to “neutral” from “improving.”

“Most exposed are emerging market (EM) sovereigns, but some highly indebted developed markets are at risk as well, including in the eurozone.” The number of countries seeing their credit ratings cut has begun to rise again this year as the pressures have built.

Most of the governments Fitch covers have either brought in subsidies or cut tax cuts to try to cushion the impact of surging inflation. But that carries costs.

“While modest fiscal deteriorations can be absorbed by the positive effects inflation has on government debt dynamics, such effects depend on the retention of low interest rates, which are now less certain,” McCormack said.

While commodity exporters will benefit from higher prices, those who have to import the bulk of their energy or food will suffer.

Gross external funding needs will be highest this year in both nominal terms and relative to foreign exchange reserves for EM sovereigns that are net importers of commodities, McCormack added.

“They now face tighter global funding conditions, and with a record-high share of sovereigns rated in the ‘B’ category or lower, it is likely there will be additional defaults.”

The list of countries either in default or whose financial market bond yields suggest they will be currently stands at a record 17.

Those 17 are Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Zambia, Lebanon, Tunisia, Ghana, Ethiopia, Ukraine, Tajikistan, El Salvador, Suriname, Ecuador, Belize, Argentina, Russia, Belarus and Venezuela.