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4th October 1998

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An easy flow of savings for productive uses brings growth

Private capital flows have become much more important to the international monetary system, and an increasinghly open and liberal system has proved to be highly beneficial to the world economy.

By facilitating the flow of savings to their most productive uses, capital movements increase investment, growth, and prosperity.

Provided it is introduced in an orderly manner and backed both by adequate national policies and a solid multilateral system for surveillance and financial support, the liberalization of capital flows is an essential element of an efficient international monetary system in this age of globalization.

The IMF's central role in the international monetary system and its near-universal membership make it uniquely placed to help this process.

During 1997/98, the Board met to discuss various aspects of a possible amendment to the IMF's Articles with respect to liberalizaion of capital movements and the IMF's role.

At the annual meetings in Hong Kong SAR in September 1997, the Interim Committee issued a Statement on the Liberalization of Capital Movements Under an Amendment of the IMF's Articles of Agreement.

The statement invited the Executive Board to complete its work on a proposed amendment of the IMF's Articles to make the liberalization of capital movements one of the purposes of the IMF and extend, as needed, the IMF's jurisdiction through the establishment of carefully defined and uniformly applied obligations regarding the liberalization of such movements.

The IMF hosted a seminar in March 1998 to elicit views from a wide range of private and official observers outside the IMF on bringing the liberalization of capital movements within its mandate.

Participants included senior government officials, private sector representatives, academicians, and representatives from international orgaizations. IMF senior staff, management, and members of the Executive Board also participated. Seminar participants agreed that the Asian crisis confirmed the importance of orderly and properly sequenced liberlization of capital movements, the need for appropriate macroeconomic and exchange rate policies, and the critical role of a sound financial sector.

In the current globalized environment, the trend toward greater liberalization was here to stay, and the real issues were how, when and under what circumstances capital flows should be liberalized.

A number of speakers noted that weakness in the financial sector lay at the heart of the crises in Indonesia, Korea and Thailand. The main problems were the limited capacity of financial institutions to assess and manage risks, inadequate prudential supervision, and ad hoc liberalization of capital movements.

With respect to the latter, it was noted that it was not liberalization per se, but its form and sequence that rendered countries vulnerable to chages in market sentiment.

A number of speakers felt that the Asian crisis demonstrated that liberalization should be approached cautiously in concert with progress in other areas to realize fully its benefits.

Participants acknowledged that the IMF had a central role to play in promoting the orderly liberalization of capital movements, but views differed as to whether IMF "advocacy" of freer capital markets or "jurisdiction" over its members capital account regulations was the more appropriate means for the IMF to achieve this goal. (IMF Survey)

Quick Service With 'Global Connect'

The Colombo office of Emirates, the international airline of the UAE has been linked to the airline's "Global Connect" system facilitating and expediting services to passengers in Sri Lanka. Every staff member at Emirates Colombo has now been provided with a Personal Computer connected to a mainframe server linked to the Airline's Operations Centre in Dubai, says a company release.

Emirates' Area Manager Sri Lanka and Maldives Tissa Bibile said Colombo was the sixth station of the Emirates network to receive the "Global Connect" facility underlining its importance to the airline."No other airline operating in Colombo has a comparable facility," Mr Bibile said. "We are proud to bring Colombo inline with other major stations on the Emirates network like Dubai, London, Frankfurt and Singapore".He said passengers booking in at Colombo would benefit from faster reservations and an overall enhancement of customer services.

More gas cylinders to answer demand

The short supply of gas cylinders will be sorted out during the course of next year, Shell Gas Lanka Ltd new Managing Director, Idris Jala said.

"It is actually a backlog that has to be cleared," Jala clarified.

Since the company bought over 51% per cent and management of the Ceylon Gas Company in 1995 the demand for LPG gas has grown by 45%. Correspondingly filling capacity grew only 42%.

Responding to the increasing demand the company had plans to expand their terminal facilities in the Colombo port. The plan was aborted due to congestion in the port.

With the opening of their new 25-acre terminal in Kerawalapitiya, Hendala, next November, current capacity of 80,000 metric tons will almost double to 150,000 metric tons.

We can then supply the full demand for gas and still have unutilized capacity and room for expansion, Jala said.

A task force appointed to look into the backlog has ordered 40,000 new cylinders as an immediate measure.

Four new bowsers will also added to the fleet by January.

The company is also exploring the possibility of acquiring one more 2000-ton ship, which could increase supply by another 100,000 13-kg cylinders.

The current backlog is estimated at around 3000 cylinders.

LPG gas prices have gone up periodically since privatisation in 1995. For example the price of the most popular 13-kg LPG gas cylinder which was selling at a subsidized price of Rs. 250 in 1995 now sells at Rs. 310.

The privatisaton agreement says that the company who has a five-year monopoly of the market could effect price increase with a ceiling of 10% annually on the price at privatization, which works out to an annual increase of Rs. 25.

Sri Lanka has one of the lowest prices of Shell gas, Jala says. In fact we have made a loss in the last two years in Sri Lanka because world price of oil went up by 80% but we could only unload 35% of this price increase on the consumer according to the agreement, Jala said.

However, world oil prices have now come down again.

Price increases will be controlled up to Rs 25 per year until 2000, when the agreement terminates.

Then other world leaders in LPG will come to Sri Lanka and prices will be market driven, Jala said. We should then have the regulator in place to regulate prices, he added.

Young eagles leave nest with positive returns

The Eagle Mutual Fund's interim report the six months ending June 30, 1998, shows the net asset value of the Eagle Growth Fund at Rs 77.8 mn and the total number of the unit holders at 751.

The Net Asset Value per unit was Rs 8.97. The return of the trust for the period under review, based on the manager's buying price, was -10.65 per cent. The Growth Fund has given a negative return, but lower then the market return.

The net asset value of the Eagle Income Fund was Rs 42.1mn as at June 30, 1998 and the total number of unit holders stood at 449. The net asset value per Unit was Rs 10.49. The return of the trust for the period under review, based on the manager's buying price, was 4.84 per cent.

The net asset value of the Eagle Gilt Edged Fund was Rs 46 mn as at 30th June 1998 and the total number of unit holders stood at 270. The net asset value per unit was Rs 10.49. The return of the trust for the period under review, based on the manager's buying price, was 4.84 per cent.

The Gilt Edged Fund and the Income Fund are giving a positive return, though not very high. They hope to start publishing comparative performance figures on a regular basis and believe that sales figures too should be published, so the public would know how well each company is performing and what their respective market shares are, Manjula De Silva, GM Eagle NDB Fund Management Company said.

The fund is investing their funds in short-term maturities, as the average yield is higher than long term maturities.

In line with the strategy, Eagle income fund has been gradually investing into corporate debt with 28 per cent in commercial papers and 59 per cent in TB Repos. Of this 85 per cent is invested in one month maturity investments.

The Eagle Growth Fund has 71 per cent of its funds in equity.

During the peak of the stock exchange it had 90 per cent of its funds in equity, the maximum that could be invested in equity. However this had to be brought down to 55 per cent due to the uncertainty created by the nuclear tests by India and Pakistan.

The Gilt Edged Fund has invested 79 per cent of its funds in one-month maturities and the rest in 1 to 6 months' maturities.

"Shifting from one fund to another at the right time, there is a lot of opportunity to make money and in future we will actively encourage this" he said

Digital Arcade draw at IT show

By Asif Hussain

A major attraction at this year's Infotel show would be the introduction of the Digital Arcade, a VCR , Laser disk and satellite connectable multi-media facility which would serve as a fully functional TV with projection capability.

Sri Lanka's premier Information Technology fair Infotel '98 from October 7-11 billed to be the biggest such event in South Asia this year will bring together the latest innovations and trends in the IT field and place emphasis on solving the year 2000 challenge, its organisers said.

The exhibition which will be held from October 7-11at the Sri Lanka Exhibition and Convention Centre is organised by the Council for Information Technology (CINTEC), the apex body for IT in Sri Lanka which functions under the Ministry of Science and Technology.

Chairman of the Organising Committee, Infotel David Dominic said that visitors are expected to include a large number of foreign and local entrepreneurs, IT solution seekers and potential users of IT such as the youth of the country.

The 151 stalls which have been taken by 51 IT equipment suppliers and service providers such as Lanka Internet have been required to only display products which are year 2000 compatible. Mr. Dominic attributed the drop in this year's stalls when compared with last year's 207 to the current Asian Economic Crisis.

He explained that unlike last year, many Singaporean and Malaysian principals were today not in a position to defray the expenses incurred by their agents in participating in the exhibition.

Mr. Dominic added that the organisers would also be bringing in a competitive edge to the exhibition by conducting competitions among the exhibitors including Best Product Display, Innovative Booth, Futuristic Booth and the Overall Winner. The winners will be judged by a special selected panel of judges on the date of the opening. Besides this, the Best Quality Software Awards to recognise original and innovative locally designed software would also be introduced by the British Computer Society.

The fact that the International IT Convention is being held concurrently with the exhibition is also expected to serve as a major pull to visitors.

US environmental trade mission

The United States-Asia Environmental Partnership (US-AEP) is organizing a trade mission to Sri Lanka and the Philippines, for US providers of environmental technologies to meet with potential business partners in Asia. Representatives of these US companies will also meet with government agencies and local authorities responsible for establishing and enforcing environmental regulations.

In co-ordination with the Technology Initiative for the Private Sector (TIPS) programme in Sri Lanka, the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham, and the American Embassy, US-AEP's Office of Technology Co-operation in Sri Lanka arranged this Trade Mission to assist Sri Lanka address its environmental issues by mobilizing US environmental experience, technology and services.

US-AEP activities are focused on the objective of promoting an Asian "clean revolution" - the extensive continuing development and adoption of ever less-polluting and more resource-efficient products, process, and services in the Asian region. The forthcoming event seeks to generate business linkages which will contribute to the economic development and help meet the environmental challenges facing Sri Lanka.

With growing concern from the local community for the environment and degradation of natural resources as a result of urbanization and rapid industrialization, US-AEP believes that this Trade Mission is well timed to assist Sri Lanka's economic growth.

For the local business community this is an ideal opportunity to meet with representatives of US companies with a view to partnering for either an agency agreement, distributorship, joint venture or direct purchasing opportunity within the environmental sector. Arrangements are being made to have several types of US environmental technology on display.

Having studied Sri Lanka's current environmental conditions and concerns, the organizers have selected three priority technology sectors for participation, namely:

Wastewater treatment, groundwater pollution, large scale drinking water treatment projects;

Paper, rubber, plastics and wood waste (sawdust);

Solid Waste
Waste minimization, solid waste management.

Site visits to industrial estates and to the premises of industrialists who are keen on addressing and solving environmental issues are planned on October 24, the final day of the Trade Mission.

Opening of Salalah, Oman threat to Colombo port?

By Gunapala Ranasinghe

With the inauguration of Salalah in Oman as the new hub in November 1998, the future of the Colombo Port is being discussed in shipping circles.

Sealand and Maersk Line have announced that the first phase of the terminal development in the Port of Salalah, located in Southern Oman, will be completed on schedule. Maersk Line and Sealand are both shareholders in the terminal and Sealand will manage day-to-day operations.

The introduction of Salalah as the hub Port, linking the east/west routes directly to the Eastern Africa, Indian Ocean and Arabian Gulf services, will improve the transit times by as much as eight days.

Operations will commence early November and initially the AE3 and AE4 services will call both east and west bound linking Europe, Asia and the Americas with a unique feeder network.

With this main threat coming from the new Port of Salalah, Colombo will lose a substantial portion of transhipment cargo which is originating in India.

The implications for Colombo are the withdrawal of direct shipping opportunities to Sri Lankan shippers and Colombo being pushed to a feeder Port as the main liners will be calling Salalah directly and not Colombo any more.

During the last four years a super shipping policy was developed but it was not implemented. Owing to the short-sightedness of the authorities, it is regrettable that Colombo will be pushed to become another feeder Port in this region. The Port development has been confined to talk only and the shipping community has seen little action.

Sri Lankan companies so far have been successful in getting foreign principals to call at Colombo and did a very good job in convincing them. However, due to lack of response from the Port, development and improvement of productivity in Port has resulted in lines moving away to other Ports in the region.

Already one shipping agency has offered a golden handshake to its employees and with the pruning down of activities by the two major lines, Sri Lanka will lose not only valuable foreign exchange, but also many job opportunities. This operator was a forerunner in urging the government for liberalised controls and permitting foreign investment in the industry.

Major super powers have been exerting pressure on the Government of Sri Lanka into changing the shipping policy of Sri Lanka even to the extent of giving 40% shareholding to foreign vessel operators in Sri Lanka with promises of higher revenue and increased cargo traffic, and also creating more job opportunities.

But, unfortunately, quite the opposite has happened. With the decrease in cargo movement, there is the possibility of large scale retrenchment in the Port causing severe problems to the country's economy.

The major operator who is pulling out of Colombo has already retrenched a large number of staff, causing shipping professionals to lose their jobs. Shipping circles feel that the government has been taken for a ride by these super power shipping lines who enjoy their benefits as and when they needed. We urge the shipping minister to look into this carefully.

The ministry should also look into the large number of foreign representatives working in Sri Lanka. These positions are quite unnecessary as Sri Lanka has enough qualified professionals to handle their jobs, shipping sources said.

Box price slide goes on

Contrary to the earlier hopes of many box building companies, there has been no recovery in newbuild container prices so far during 1998.

Indeed, quite the reverse has happened, with prices continuing their downward slide from the second quarter onwards.

Reports received recently from China suggest that, after a brief interlude at the start of 1998, when prices appeared to stabilise, factories have since resumed their under-quoting with renewed vigour.

the cheapest prices are still on offer from plants operating in the over-subscribed areas of central and southern China.

They contain the all-important Guangzhou and Shanghai zones, where factories are responsible for building 55-60% of global dry freight TEU.

Recent quotes from plants based at these locations indicate that 20ft production is now available ex-works (or from local container yard) at an average price of around US$1,750.

Comparable 40ft production is priced at around US$2,750-2,800, while the average cost of a 40ft high cube container (delivered under the same terms) is about US$2,950.

There have even been reports of factories offering 20ft exworks production for prices below US$1,700, and even down to US$1,650, which only just covers raw material and factory labour charges.

Standard box prices had already hit a low point in early 1997, when they averaged around US$ 1,800 from plants in central/southern China.

However, at that time, many manufacturers expected the situation to change markedly from the start of 1998, when price controls were due to be enforced by the Chinese Custom's Bureau at the behest of the government.

FMC's Asian battle to resume

Three Japanese shipping companies are calling for the return of surcharges totaling $1.5m paid to the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC).

The request comes from K-Line, NYK and Mitsui OSK for monies paid at US ports. The FMC still refuses to remove the sanctions, imposed over what it calls 'unfair port practices' in Japan.

The reluctance of Japan's dockside workers to compromise with the Ministry of Transport (MOT) puts the Japanese government in an uncomfortable position with the FMC, even though the MOT has formally agreed to modify its port practices.

As the dispute runs into its second year of heated debate, there is still no sign of change.

In a separate effort, the hammer-wielding FMC is pressing ten Asian shipping lines into submitting information on their pricing practices. The companies, all members of the Asian Ship owners Forum's (ASF) Stabilisation Committee, have requested a time extension to complete pricing reports required by the FMC as they plan to raise their rates.

Washington mandates that rate-setting organisations must first notify the FMC before deciding on prices for trades involving US ports, in accordance with the 1984 Shipping Act.

But for a start, the ASF claims it is not a rate-setting forum, but rather an informal discussion group. There is also a conflict of opinion between the ASF and FMC as to whether Washington's request is an investigation or simply a fact-finding mission.

JF: Insight into valuing plantation stocks

By Mel Gunasekera

Investing in stocks with low prospective PERs (Price Earnings Ratio) can be dangerous in the plantation sector, Jardine Fleming Research Analyst, Avanka Herat says in this comprehensive report on the sector.

This traditional PER based valuation theory cannot be applied successfully to cyclical industries like tea, he says.

Tea is a key factor in the domestic economy. To get the tea industry listed on the stock exchange is a major reflection of the economy, Herat said.

How to value tea plantation stocks has been a much talked-about subject among both local retail investors and foreign institutional investors.

JF analyst Avanka Herat says various ideas and suggestions have been thrown around, but industry analysts have found it difficult to value this commodity-based equity for several reasons.

Globally, there are few pure tea plantations companies listed on the stock market. Even though there are tea exporters/processors in Kenya and India, there are no plantation players.

Historical data is available for only two years, though this is not the first time tea plantations have been listed on the CSE. The exchange was created in 1920 to raise finance for tea plantations, but the companies were de-listed after they were nationalised in the early 1970s.

Traditional PERs misleading

Herat quotes the traditional PER (Price Earnings Ratio) based valuation theory which says an investor should buy when prospective PER's are low, in anticipation of increased future Earnings Per Share (EPS). However, in cyclical industries like tea, investing in stocks with low prospective PER's is dangerous.

Overall, low prospective PER's for cyclical stocks suggest that commodity prices have reached their peak and are about to come off. Buying such stocks would spell impending disaster as falling tea prices and EPS would topple share prices.

Selected buying

The need to recognise and react promptly to the cyclicality of the industry can be seen in the performance of plantation stocks in the past six months. Most investors suffered heavily because they failed to realise that tea prices were at their peak; few read the cycle properly. As tea prices fell, share prices crashed.

Apart from long term cycles, earnings for plantation companies also tend to be seasonal. During prime season such as 'Dimbulla' in February-March and the 'Uva' in July-August, better quality teas are priced and these fetch better prices. As a result, overall tea prices during these seasons are higher than during the rest of the year.

Plantations such as Maskeliya, Talawakelle, Kotagala, Watawala and Bogawantalawa enjoy the 'Dimbulla', whereas Malwatta, Udapussellawa, Hapugastenne, Madulsima, Namunukula and Maturata enjoy the 'Uva'. Plantations such as Kelani Valley, Agrapatana and Maskeliya benefit from both.

Here are some of Herat's hot tips to value plantation stocks:

Management Quality: Due to the difficulties faced in making PER-based valuations, priority has been given to valuations based on the quality of the Managing Agent (MA) or the managing company. The management quality will be the key to determining the true values of the plantations. The agent's ability to steer these plantations in the right direction and to inspire trust in investors is the most important factor for survival, Herat said.

Herat believes the fee itself shows the quality of the MA and how much the agent is willing to re-invest in the company to enhance the value of shareholders' wealth. The key point is that MA fees are an operating cost and beneficial only to the MA.

RPC's that charge lower fees and of course those that are willing to disclose their fee structures are most favourable stocks to invest. This is a key indicator of the MA's quality and of his RPC's ability to survive in the long term, the report says.

Investors should look at the reputation, fee structure and management skills of the owning company of the MA before investing in a plantation. For instance, John Keells, James Finlay and Stassens have been in the industry for several decades. Their management skills and expertise are based on years of experience in the tea industry, which will be beneficial to the plantations and to minority shareholders.

Yield: Since privatisation, the plantations have enjoyed improving productivity thanks to technological changes, capital outlay and managerial innovations in optimising returns from the land.

The most widely used parameter, land productivity (yield per ha), is also a good indicator of the state of the plantations, the quality of their management and the strength of their earnings growth.

The yields of Sri Lankan plantations have been low mainly due to 30 years of state-run mismanagement.

Over the past three years, some plantations such as Maskeliya and Bogawantalawa have shown significant yield improvement with the institution of better management practices such as timely re-planting and infilling.

However, these plantations might actually show depressed earnings growth as they may have reached their maximum potential.

In contrast companies such as Balangoda, Hapugastenne and Watawala still have room for yield improvement, which means their earnings growth could also improve, JF says.

Labour productivity: Another vital yardstick in valuing plantations is labour productivity. This plays a key role in profitability as wages account for more than 55 per cent of production costs. On average, an RPC employs more than 10,000 labourers.

Return to shareholders should not be ignored

JF estimates indicate that plantations are currently enjoying an average Return on Equity (RoE) of 32 per cent, a 40 per cent premium to the market RoE of 12 per cent.

This is due to the high RoA (Return on Asset) of around 8 per cent (1997: 6%) enjoyed by the sector. Its high RoE structure has helped the sector to maintain its strong growth, as has the dividend-payout policy (dividends are fairly low given the fat margins enjoyed by the sector).

The sector could be following a stringent dividend policy because this is the very first year that the plantations are making a profit after two decades of making a loss under state management.

Therefore, RPC's will have to maintain a high dividend-retention ratio in order to bring their estates upto par.

However, Herat cautions that investors should not expect the RPCs to provide a healthy dividend income stream from plantations; rather, they should view them as long-term investment for capital gains.

The RPCs that fetched RoE of over 25 per cent in 1997 - Maskeliya 52.9 per cent, Kelani Valley 43.2 per cent, Hapugastenne 41.7 per cent, Balangoda 39 per cent, Bogawantalawa 36.4 per cent and Watawala 33.2 per cent - are favourite picks on both management quality and PER discounts.

Plantations such as Agalawatte, Horana and Kegalle have low RoE's due to depressed performance in their rubber divisions. Kelani Valley also has considerable exposure to the rubber industry, but its RoE is still remarkably high due to its high RoA.

Strong balance sheet

Investors should look for companies with strong balance sheets that will enable them to survive the next downturn in tea prices.

A debt-equity ratio below 20 per cent and a quality-managing agent with a sound track record will be the earmarks of a survivor, should share prices hit rock bottom.

Commodities wrap

Price decline will continue

Tea prices, which are on a slippery slope since the Russian economic crisis, slid further last week at the Colombo auction and many teas were withdrawn by brokers as the offered prices were unrealistic, trade sources said.

"We are looking at a declining market and this scenario is unlikely to change in the next few months," one broker noted.

Most of the teas at the auction fell sharply last week. Some of the best off grades, that sold at Rs.140 per kg earlier this year, are now selling at only Rs. 45 per kg.

Russia, which buys a substantial portion of Sri Lankan tea exports, has been absent from the market in recent weeks owing to a deepening political and economic crisis that has curbed spending.

The Colombo markets have been hit by this crisis and the government has been unable to bail out exporters struggling to recover their monies from old shipments to Russia, and respond to several pleas for fresh credit from commercial banks for new purchases.

Maxwell Fernando, veteran tea consultant at broker Somerville and Co Ltd, said that the future for tea was bleak. "We are looking at a gloomy future. My assessment is that we would have a crisis for the next two years with global output rising sharply, and supply outstripping demand."

Last week's all-round Colombo tea auction average is expected to show an alarming drop at around Rs.121-122 per kg compared to Rs.135 last week. The averages earlier this year were high, and at the February 18 sale, the highest ever auction average of Rs.151 per kg was recorded.

Brokers feel that in view of the current financial crisis, Colombo may lose a portion of the Russian market segment to India, which has bilateral arrangements with Russia that may be favourable in credit terms.

Meanwhile Somerville in a report last week said that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) had emerged as Sri Lanka's biggest tea importer for the month of July, 1998 ousting Russia from that position.

Quoting figures released by the Sri Lanka Tea Board, Somerville's said that the UAE's emergence as Colombo's biggest buyer was signficant since last year the purchases were less than half of Russia's intake.

According to the figures, in July the UAE has secured 4.1 million kg against 3.5 million kg by the CIS. "If however the total exports to the CIS that includes imported teas, re-exported, are taken into account, then the CIS enjoys a marginal edge over the UAE, " the Somerville report noted.

Unit Trust dividend is 50 cts a unit

The Unit Trust Management Company. (Pvt.) Ltd. the manager with the concurrence of the Bank of Ceylon, the Trustee, has announced a dividend of 50 cents per unit to the unit holder of the Ceybank Century Growth Fund as at September 30.

The dividends will be paid out of the profits of the fund for the period ended March 31, and 46 per cent of the dividend received by the unit holders will be exempt from tax., a company release said.

The Ceybank Century Growth Fund was launched on December 3,1996 when the investors were fighting shy of the stock market. The fund is a growth fund which seeks to provide capital appreciation to the unit holders in the medium to long term by investing primarily in equity.

This is the first dividend declaration of the fund since the launch, out of capital gains generated from the buoyant market conditions in the first half of 1997, the dividend received and interest income.

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