Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Sri Lanka per capita Income US$2400 for 2010

The department of census and statistics has estimated that the 2010 GNP per head is Rs275,000. By any stretch this is a fantastic figure, which when taken in the context of numbers we assume fall well below this level, mean that there are a lot of very very wealthy people to be able to get to this average.

I cannot see any proposals currently of improving the lot of those who are below Rs100,000 who I would assume fall into the poverty line. I am willing to wager that much of the increase in the past 6 years is as a result of those above the GNP average increasing their share, rather than those at the lower end coming up. I would like to be proved wrong in my assumptions, but I believe this period has seen such a windfall for the wealthy so as to take them to stratospheric levels to increase the GNP average.

The Divi Neguma program I am sure is aimed at helping 1,000,000 households which could average 5,000,000 people (25%) of the population to be able to increase their income levels, but is it structured correctly to achieve this result? I don't believe this good idea has been converted into a great action plan with the emphasis and funds as well as the direction that is required.

In my area in Polonnaruwa I was asking some neighbors about this and all they said is that they were given about Rs100 of seeds to plant in their home gardens.

It is a shame that there is no consistent approach to tackle the serious issues of the day and that everything is converted into an election slogan to hoodwink the electorate that there is something very positive for them, when billions are robbed as part of the daylight robbery that is taking place from the people and the country beautifully disguised in the name of projects and promises.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Union Bank - first day of share trading - Interesting to note sour grapes act of Sampath Bank

Today was the first day the shares of Union Bank began trading. The Rs25/- shares briefly touched Rs 45/- for a few moments before settling down around Rs38/- Don't forget that the 15,000,000 shares that were offered at Rs25/- were oversubscribed over 250 times, and 99.9% of the applicants only got 100 shares each. Even if you sent in a cheque for Rs1M subscribing for 40,000 shares all you would get is 200 shares, and the balance Rs995K would be returned to you. So to sell your 100 shares and make Rs1,300 is what I would hardly call a killing!!(before brokerage)

What is more perturbing and smacks of sour grapes, and being self destructive was Sampath Bank who announced in the papers today of all days that it intends to sell their stake amounting to 26,338,000 shares amounting to 7.9% of the Bank. Nothing hangs like a cloud over a new issue than this kind of public disclosure.

I am willing to guess that at least Rs5 per share was wiped out of the subscribers first day sales as a result of this announcement. After all 30Million shares changed hands on the first day, double the number of shares issued. This potential sale by Sampath exceeds the new issue by nearly twice as much and therefore can be considered a material disclosure. So technically I cannot fault Sampath for making this disclosure at this stage, if it truly intended to sell its stake now, but I cannot see any earthly reason for them to rush to a sale, where they can choose a more opportune moment at a more favorable price in the future.

In the interest of the Sampath Bank shareholders, to get maximum value out of this sale, I would not have made this announcement, but waited for the prices to settle and find a buyer for this significant stake at a more favorable price through negotiation at some date in the future. This announcement therefore as shown above does not help either of the Bank's shareholders, and more permanently affects the new Union Bank's shareholders who must be frothing mad at this act.

These are the happenings in Serendipity these days!!!! (Union with a higher PE ratio than Sampath is unpalatable to the latter, is that why? how petty can you get?)

Friday, March 25, 2011

Did you see the 500 Dimo Battas on Galle Face a few days ago?

I noticed the Dimo Battas on Galle Face on my way to the office a few days ago and looked into what this was all about. Of course the Daily News said it was a donation from Dimo, but as always that is stretching not just the truth it is stretching a lie.

Either way I went on to investigate the ramifications of it and I would like any reader who is privy to a more accurate level of knowledge than I who has only gleaned it from various News articles come up with the following points.

They distributed to member of the Self Employed Entrepreneurs Federation, as part of the DIVI NEGUMA program of the Ministry of Economic Development (the Basil and PB show) This was ostensibly for these entrepreneurs to use the vehicle to transport and sell the POSHANA MALLA being a selection of nutritious food items from Lak Sathosa.

Be that as it may, these people have to pay the People's Bank that is giving them the lease (Peoples Bank would have bought it from DIMO at a concessionary 500K)55 monthly payments of Rs 22,135 for a total payment over four and half years of Rs 1,217,425. I would hardly call this concessionary!!!

I can only hope that these people are sufficiently motivated enough to work hard to earn enough to make this monthly lease and then pay for the products that they are distributing, which if they have a reasonable margin at Lak Sathosa rates! can earn a living ( a net profit after lease payment of minimum Rs20,000) I have worked out that before making payments for insurance, repairs and maintenance but after paying for diesel they require a monthly gross profit of Rs50,000 in order to arrive at this basic living wage.

This assuming only one person does everything, that is drive the vehicle (needs a clean driving license) and also sell the produce. Once this becomes a two person enterprise, then it is just Rs10,000 per person making the proposition dubious. In practice rarely in Sri Lanka, have I seen the one person delivery/sales process.

Under the latter alternative of two persons People's Bank earns more in interest per month on the deal than the human being is in monthly earnings, a complete win win for the Bank and lose lose for the Entrepreneur.

The question is then asked, how many fail to pay the lease, and in order to realistically look into the feasibility of such a business venture, I would suggest that the IPS (Institute of Policy Studies) use this as a case study and with help from People's Bank follow the progress of these recipients over the period of the lease and work out the pros and cons of this project.

the noticeable transformation of the plush suburbs of Colombo

If one has been in Colombo over the past 6months one would have definitely notice the transformation of Central Colombo. Roads and sidewalks have been paved and eyesores cleared and a transformation is taking place. It is also common to see Gotabhaya Rajapakse personally inspecting and instructing people on site on what is to be done.

One also sees hundreds of army personnel being drafted into help with the effort as I saw along the Canal behind Christ Church, Galle Face yesterday, where the newly renovated and upgraded waterway was being covered with grass sod, so as to prevent runoff flowing back into the Beira with the expected rains in the next few months.

I know many supporters and detractors of government acknowledging and giving credit where it is due, as proactive action has taken place, despite opposition from those who have been evicted from property that has been occupied for many years without title deeds. It was said that if not for this decisive action, the authorities will be ties up in courts by staying orders that would indefinitely delay any proposal or plan.

It is interesting that the primary beneficiaries of this clean up are the affluent people living in Colombo, and the tourists who visit and stay at the posher neighborhoods. It is reflective of the attitude of the leadership, that is concentrated on heaping benefits unequally. Ironically the UNP could never have helped the wealthy as much as this government has!!

The beauty of the political landscape also is that all the utterings are to help the masses but all the actions are to help the privileged few. This is electoral dynamite as seen by the recent election results, that despite the total lack of tangible benefits, the rhetoric and the belief that the Huge infrastructure projects are for the benefit of all, that ensures continuity of this style of governance for the foreseeable future.

I have no doubt that the exterior transformation of Colombo will take place, and we who benefit from it be glad of it, I just pity those who help transform it are not really even allowed to enjoy it. For example the fancy night market on Green Path on the side of Vihara Maha Devi Park is great for me as I only have to walk 5 minutes to get there, but with no night buses in Colombo, it is out of reach of the majority of the people in Colombo. Then again it is meant to be enjoyed by those who have wheels or can afford to hire wheels ISN'T IT!!!!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

the government deficit - an illusion - a cover-up

I have attempted in layman's terms to explain some of the reasons for government deficits, that are not as obvious. The Sri Lanka government has always run a deficit, and in a sense that is not bad. However the reasons for the deficit and its relative size, relative to the GNP of the country are the amounts that matter. It is now becoming more important to ensure that the projects giving rise to deficits are in fact those that will produce a tangible economic return in the future, justifying its current spend.

In that regard and light of the earlier blog article I wrote below, transferring the unpaid liabilities of the CEB for the use of fuel (amounting in excess of Rs120 Billion over a period of about 5 years) to the treasury, and the treasury then issuing IOU's in the form of Treasury Bonds to the CPC smacks of a hidden deficit that should have been showed earlier.

This act of deft accounting, at a stroke allows the CEB to claim they are making profits, when hitherto they have not been able to pay their debts, and immediately balloons the government debt by over Rs120B while at the same time not treating this as a deficit for 2011, as it relates to previous years, not shown in those years as deficits.

In similar vein the government can deftly use their surrogates, such as the Bank of Ceylon and Peoples Bank and other government entities to give loans on non commercial terms for their political agenda, and then if they so chose, subsidize this resultant loss in the future through the use of an IOU so the deficit so arising from their actions does not get recorded as such.

This is why the losses of state enterprises is permanent and non recoverable should also form part of the Government deficit, just as the dividends the government received from profitable state enterprises, goes to reduce the government deficit. You cannot do one without the other as is the case at present.

It is interesting that no one seems to have picked up on this simple gimmick and made some public display of accountability that must be borne by the state, and not swept under the carpet.

Need I say that a Central Banker who brings this matter up will lose his or her job or lose the next promotion. Such is life of the brain boxes of the land, whose lips are sealed. At least some ex Central Bankers please write about this, you wont lose your fat pensions on account of this will you?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Who pays for street lighting? That is Rs3B of the CEB Rs5B profit

It may be interesting to note that the CEB incurs approximately Rs3B per annum in street lighting charges which it is unable to collect, for whatever reason, and then charges this from the Treasury as an amount due from the Government. This is part of the top line revenue of the CEB which if it provided as an noncollectable item would immediately change the CEB Rs5B profit to a Rs2B profit and that is all accounting gimmickry anyway when it is faced with such a massive payment to the CPC for the use of fuel.

I can turn the Rs5B profit to Rs10B loss on a purely prudent accounting policy, so that the figures bandied about by the Minister of Energy is mere gobbledygook, to hoodwink the masses. Tell me how a Rs55B loss in one year can turn into a Rs5B profit the next without such gobbledygook accounting adjustments!!!

Be that as it may lets get back to the main point of street lighting, and who should pay for it. It should be open to debate and a reasonable basis agreed upon. Some of us have street lighting in the neighborhoods we live in and others are not as fortunate. It does not depend necessarily on the density of population, just more on political patronage, where one is able to persuade a local politician to put street lighting in exchange for a promise of a vote!

I believe all street lighting should come into the budget of the local councils, who are the providers of garbage disposal, and related local services. That is how it is managed all over the world, and I do not see why it should be any different in Sri Lanka. There should be accountability too so that locally measures can be in place to ensure low cost CFL lighting is used, and the lights come on only after dusk and get switched off at dawn, either remotely or on a sensor that detects the level of lighting. Additionally local authorities that use solar street lighting will not be charged, as they will have alternative modes of this provision.

So just think of the logical reasons why it should not be passed on as a burden to the treasury, who have no control over the use or abuse of street lighting and it is the CEB just passing the buck, as it is easier than collecting amounts from errant local councils, who even try to get free electricity for their own offices!

Someone should look into this aspect of the budget deficit and in this light if we look at all aspects of the budget deficit we can find simple ways of saving the treasury from these little expenses that add up to a huge deficit.

Sadly there does not seem to be anyone in this government who understands that the deficit in fact needs to be reduced and that there are measures that can be taken to reduce this, as the corruption rampant in bureaucracy prevents people taking some small unpalatable decisions that may affect the electability of these officials in the future due to the promises made to electors from funds they actually are robbing from the treasury.

Over to you readers for some opinions and suggestions.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

in the hot seat in a forced sell situation

As the Compliance Officer in a stock-brokering firm in Sri Lanka, I have the unenviable task of having to force sell client shares in a market that has no buyers.

The forced selling has come about due to various changes instituted by the SEC in conjunction with the CSE that have to do with no longer granting credit to clients, a practice in the past, which in the determining of the SEC no longer constitutes a business activity the stock broker should engage in. In their opinion a margin provider should perform this service and this should be outside the remit of the stockbroker, who is governed by the rules of the CSE and SEC.

While these noble ideals are good in theory, it is the small investor in an illiquid market that gets massacred in this scenario. However much a stock broker tries to dissuade a small investor in purchasing highly dubious retail stocks that seem to go up and down without any rational reason, these very same investors feel that it is the only way they can make money, a very wrong assumption in my view.

The small investor (and I am generalizing here as there are many exceptions to this rule) is not very savvy and is prone to be misled, sometimes by brokers, but most often by other small investors full of myths and rumors of shares and their expected performance. I have had the misfortune of having to deal with many in the latter category, and trying to persuade them to dispose of shares at a loss, as in my view (and later proved correct) that they would fall further was something they were unable to stomach saying the reverse would happen if I forced sold their shares.

It saddens me to have to deal with this sort of client who in a market where the big boys are making billions and millions of tax free money to live the life of kings in Sri Lanka, are losing their shirt on these theories of theirs. Even worse they don't seem to learn from recent lessons where they have got burnt, not realizing that those unable to or not big enough to manipulate the market should only hold value stocks that will go up. The big boys are manipulating the market daily with no one even getting pulled up by the regulators who are totally impotent in their tasks.

I am and have been trying to safeguard the interests of the small shareholders, but find the regulator is their worst enemy, second being the big player, manipulators who due to the low level of liquidity, manipulate shares up, and the sucker retailers follow the pied piper right into the lake and drown, because the manipulator dumps his low cost shares at a high price on the unsuspecting small guy who gets slammed and crushed and barely comes out alive, only to get suckered again.

No wonder then that our voter gets the same treatment from the unscrupulous politician who lies and hoodwinks to get the votes, and continues to do so, as the elector makes the same mistake time and time again, as he is also a sucker and glutton for punishment.

Tell me of a candidate who has been elected if he speaks the truth!! We just like to hear and believe lies, but here I digress from my original purpose, and hope and pray we can educate the small investor in the virtues of long term value investing.

I earnestly hope that both the CSE and SEC realize that they are driving the small investor away despite all the talk to the contrary, as they are totally ignorant of what it takes to safeguard the small investor. If only they really know what has happened to the small investor in the past 6 months, they would have acted differently. But then again what do you expect from bureaucrats warming more and more chairs not earning their keep in this economy!!!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

kalpanakaranna - all issues have two sides

It was interesting to note that a JVP MP has criticized a plan to offer pleasure boat services in tanks in Sri Lanka, saying they will affect both fishing and farming adversely.

It is important that before making such statements one has to weigh the pros and cons and have a debate about it knowing that the differing opinions are determined on the knowledge or lack of knowledge of what is proposed.

If one looks at the example of my village tank next to my property, that is the beautiful Ratmale tank behind my house which is currently overflowing with water, I would like it to remain in this pristine untouched condition so I can sit by the tank and enjoy the breeze of total quiet with birds flying around and the occasional elephant coming to drink water.

Who are the guardian's of the tank? If it is determined that the village collectively are the guardian's of the tank, then it is they who can legally permit by license or other formality to give permission for persons to fish, what fish they are permitted to catch, the time period they are permitted to fish, and the size of the fish as well as the period for the validity of the license to fish. The money raised from these licenses can then used by the village council in a manner they decide.

If these same villages decide they would like to offer a boar service, or worse if I as an owner of a property adjoining the tank, request the permission of the village to offer a pleasure boat service either for money, or for my friends and family, then one has to look at the legal status of such an undertaking, and follow the law as to how I conduct this venture.

If it was just to use a small fishing boat which can at best take three people, and I use it sparingly only to take my friends on a joy ride, then it may be permitted as long I do not do this all the time, and only for a limited time occasionally not inconveniencing local fishermen and agreeing with them some terms of reference so I do not approach their underwater nets or harm them. It is when I do this in a larger scale, more as a money making enterprise that I may fall foul of various requirements like a license from the Central Environmental Authority or some such body as stipulated in Law.

We must therefore have some guidelines so that all stakeholders are consulted prior to any major change in the status quo. It is sad but true that a government that is all powerful can wake up each morning and change policies at a whim and fancy without any recourse to economic sense, overall cost benefit analysis and without consultation, so that aggrieved parties have no say in the matter. This riding roughshod over people's lives and livelihoods and consultation seems to be a hallmark of the type of dictatorship we have where too much power has been vested on people who do not have the sense and logic to realize their limitations and the limits to a reasonable use of that power vested in them.

The lack of a strong opposition is also very detrimental to the functioning of this democracy where only the people of the country are the scapegoats and sufferers susceptible to further manipulation using spurious rationale for the justification of such directives.

Friday, March 4, 2011

local government elections - an opinion

In my area for the Hingurakgoda Pradeshiya Sabha the JVP is hopeful of making a comeback. I know its leaders, one of whom I have helped in the time he was a provincial counseller, to transport free rice to the needy using my vehicle during a particular time of hardship.

The JVP is campaigning on their credibility of actually doing community service and galvanizing people on small issues such as the irrigation rights and managing the farmer organizations and collection and distribution of fertilizer, namely based on their track record of managing small projects that they have undertaken.

The problem with their campaign is that they are still wrapped up in the virulently anti-capitalist philosophy that I do not believe holds much sway today. Today's youth want remunerative employment. The government has made numerous promises which they have not been able to keep and so their credibility is called into question.

If however the voter identifies with the local government issues, I wonder who they believe can solve the local problems.

If I may use two examples in my area. A new Pola building has been built at great cost in a park that used to be a playground for children in Hingurakgoda. Construction projects are always favored as the contracts are invariably given to a favored few who can make money from them. However this Pola building has yet to be opened.

The most obvious reason is that it is too small, and the spaces for pedestrians to walk and the hawkers to display their produce is wholely inadequate. It is obvious that no proper planning went into the project in the haste for a pal to get the contract. In my opinion the money has completely been wasted and the Pola is unlikely to be moved and no one has taken the blame or flak for this faux pas.

Another stupid rule is for all the shops in Hingurakgoda to be closed on Saturdays to give the staff of the shops a day off. Once they threatened to cut the electricity on Saturday as a few traders were flouting the rules. If they had done so all the shops that had food in deep freezers would have suffered immense loss. It is crazy said one of the traders that I know that rules like this are insisted upon when it harms the traders so much as more business would go to nearby towns instead, with some business never to return.

Far from helping workers with time off, it is killing the goose that lays the golden egg. Ironically on the first day they did this, it rained so hard on Sunday that the Pola had to be cancelled and no trade was done by the open shops on Sunday crippling the businesses. On that Saturday it was nice and sunny but all the shops were closed.

They should understand that time off for workers cannot really be mandated in this day and age except for minimum wage legislation and overtime if more than a certain number of hours was worked. The owners of the shops can then determine how they want to open their shops to maximize profitability to themselves whilst abiding by labor laws, instead of being compelled to close their establishments on a day picked on by the local council.

Those who support such rules are those who really envy the hard working, and want everyone to suffer equally. Unfortunately the election campaign seems to concentrate on the personalities involved rather than the issues at stake.

I somehow wish the electors will be able to see than this election is one that affects their lives directly immediately and readily as opposed to National Elections that take more time to show results, and cast their vote for candidates who appear to better fulfill the individual expectation of the people in that area.