International agencies Fitch, Moody's and Standard & Poor yesterday assigned 'B (EXP)'and B2 and 'B' ratings respectively to the Sri Lankan Government’s proposed senior unsecured US dollar-denominated bonds.
Fitch said the expected rating is in line with Sri Lanka's Long-Term Foreign-Currency Issuer Default Rating (IDR) of 'B' with a Stable Outlook.
Moody’s said the rating is based on the preliminary offering memorandum received on 19 June, 2019.
The bonds will rank with the Government of Sri Lanka's current and future senior unsecured external debt. The B2 rating assigned to the notes mirrors the Government of Sri Lanka's issuer rating of B2.
The proceeds of the bonds are intended to meet Government expenditures.
“Sri Lanka's credit profile reflects significant Government liquidity and external vulnerability risks. This is balanced against moderate per capita income levels and stronger institutions relative to many similarly-rated sovereigns that support the B2 rating,” Moody’s said in its report.
Foreign exchange reserve coverage of forthcoming Government debt maturities and economy-wide external debt obligations is low. This leaves Sri Lanka with small buffers to manage repayments and, as a result, the Government and country are highly exposed to refinancing risk and shifts in market sentiment.
Lower tourism arrivals and spending following the April 2019 terrorist attacks will impact GDP growth, further straining public and external finances. Moody's expects fiscal deficits to remain around 5% of GDP in 2019-20, from 5.3% in 2018, and Government debt to stay at about 82%-83% of GDP in the next few years – higher than many B-rated sovereigns. In addition, a number of financially strained State-owned enterprises with sizeable liabilities pose material risks to the Government's balance sheet, should financial support be needed.
Set against these challenges, Sri Lanka's growth potential, relatively large economy and high income levels compared with similarly rated sovereigns provide the economy with some shock absorption capacity and help limit some of the risks from the country's very high debt burden.
The extension of the International Monetary Fund (IMF)'s Extended Fund Facility (EFF) program through June 2020 will underpin the continued passage of reforms aimed at enhancing fiscal resilience. Planned changes to Sri Lanka's Monetary Law Act should help the Central Bank to anchor inflation expectations and ensure monetary policy independence from fiscal developments, the report added.
“However, political tensions could also resurface before and after the presidential elections scheduled for late 2019 and the parliamentary election in 2020. That could undermine international investors' confidence in Sri Lankan financial assets, and threaten the Government's ability to refinance its upcoming debt obligations,” Moody’s warned.
The Stable Outlook denotes balanced credit risks at the B2 rating level. Moody's expects that the Government will remain broadly focused on implementing important fiscal, monetary and economic reforms that would strengthen the credit profile over the medium term. However, Moody's assessment is that the Government's debt refinancing will remain highly vulnerable to sudden shifts in investor sentiment in a period of further tightening in financing conditions and political and policy uncertainty, with limited buffers to face such risk.
S&P Global Ratings also assigned its 'B' long-term foreign currency rating to the proposed benchmark size U.S.-dollar-denominated senior unsecured notes to be issued by Sri Lanka (B/Stable/B).
The notes represent direct, general, unconditional, unsecured, and unsubordinated obligations of the sovereign. They also rank equally with the sovereign's other unsecured and unsubordinated debt obligations.