14th May 2000
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Mind your Business 

by Business Bug 
Guess who ?
Recent weeks have seen the treasury abuzz with speculation that they may have a new boss soon- the leading lady having expressed a desire to hand over the subject to someone else so she could devote more time to war-related matters. But the successor is unlikely to be the professor who is the heir apparent: his hands are already full and he will be needed for tinkering with the constitution anyway. Your guess is as good as mine as to who the new man would be, but indications are that the appointment will only be after the big poll...
No takers
Most businesses are not doing well these days but particularly hard hit are property developers who have undertaken projects in and around the city. For some reason, real estate prices are stagnant and prospective buyers are thinking in terms of a decline in prices in the near future. So, developers are finding there are no takers for their projects- and this includes up-market apartment complexes as well...
Lost cause
Last week we wrote of how the tourist industry is up in arms against the GST; now there is more bad news in store for this sector. Several western nations- from where many tourists come from- are likely to declare Sri Lanka an unsafe destination where travel should not be undertaken unless absolutely necessary. The imposition of emergency regulations and declaring a 'war footing' will of course not help our cause...

More power to women

Government should not give direct loans to the micro- finance sector, a global financial institution's woman chief said in Colombo last week. "The clients can immediately smell it if its about getting votes or if it is about some short term motivation," President, Women's World Banking, Nancy Barry said during her recent visit to Sri Lanka to convene a meeting of 70 bankers and micro- finance leaders from around the world. 

She believes that private sector organisations and non- governmental organisations should spearhead micro- financing in preference to the government , in keeping with the global experience. Over the last five years micro- finance programs subsidised by governments have seen a repayment rate of under 50 per cent in comparison to the private sector which has a repayment rate of above 95 per cent.

Government involvement in micro- financing is viewed by clients as political patronage and repayment performance is low, Barry said. 

The system is viewed as a doling out system which undermines the private sector. The recent conference for the global micro- finance industry provided a forum to exchange best practice and learning among industry specialists. A discussion of commercial banking technologies and policies that enable banks to profitably diversify their financial services for low income markets also took place. Established in 1979, Women's World Banking is a non- profit financial institution whose mission is to expand low income women's economic assets and participation by providing them access to finance, information and markets. 

Its network of micro- finance institutions provide access to over 10 million entrepreneurs world wide. In Sri Lanka its network includes Janashakthi Bank Societies and Sarvodaya Economic Enterprises Development Services (SEEDS).

Commercial Bank floats Rs. 100 mn FRCD 

Commercial Bank of Ceylon recently floated a Rs. 100 million tranche of Floating Rate Certificates of Deposit (FRCD). 

The issue carries a four-year maturity, with a floor of 10% and a cap of 15%, a bank release said. The FRCDs are in denominations of Rs. 100,000 and Rs. 1 million. 

Among the salient features of the scheme include the guarantee of a minimum interest rate, a rate of return higher than the Average Weighted Fixed Deposit Rate (AWFDR) published by the Central Bank, semi-annual (six monthly) interest payments, and exemption from withholding tax and stamp duty. 

The bank has also made arrangements for loans and overdrafts to be granted against FRCDs at very special interest rates, the release said. 

The bank is targeting would be investors who are looking for tax effective (or black money) long-term investment opportunities. Certificate of deposit are medium term, interest bearing instruments. FRCDs are freely transferable with no endorsement being required, the anonymity granted to purchasers and holders, and the assurance that all dealings are handled with utmost confidentiality. 

Certificates of deposit which carry a one and two year tenure carries a 11%-12% interest rate and are sometimes unpopular as early withdrawl carries a 3% stamp duty. The certificates which carry a three to four year tenure are exempted from stamp duty and carry a 14% to 15% interest rate.

The Bank is confident that this issue will be fully subscribed. Any subsequent issues will be at the discretion of the Bank, the Bank added. 

Imedeen for over 35s

Mackwoods Ltd launched Imedeen skin care tablets in Sri Lanka last week. Imedeen reduces the visibility of fine lines and wrinkles on the skin, enhances the skins moisture balance and improves the density of the dermal tissue a spokesman for Ferrosan A/S, the manufacturers of Imedeen, said. Ferrosan is a Danish health care company.

The ingredients of Imedeen include a fish protein, vitamin C and zink and these tablets nourish and rejuvenate the skin from within. Imedeen also reduces the visibility of dilated capillaries, age spots and pigmentation spots.

The target market for Imedeen consists of men and women over 35 years. While men and women with photo aged skin would benefit from using Imedeen, it is also suitable for women with normal and dry skin. A months supply of Imedeen costs Rs. 3900 per month and includes two tablets per day which should be consumed for at least three months initially..

Imedeen was developed by Swedish scientists after 8 years of research and is now sold in 40 countries.

Its largest market is Australia and other markets include Japan and the United Kingdom. The manufacturers of Imedeen Ferrosan A/S have been in operation since 1920 and have developed new product concepts in systematic skin care, nutritionals and gastrointestinal remedies.

Severe crisis grips rubber plantations 

A recent Planters association survey claims that the rubber industry is gripped in a serious financial crisis for the third year running.

The survey covered 17 privatised plantation companies owning 131 estates with rubber interests of which 108 estates incurred losses while the others recorded marginal profits. A statement issued by the Association showed that the average sales prices in 1999 was Rs. 48.04 per kilo as against the cost of production of Rs. 56.67 per kilo. As a result, the figures work out to a loss of about Rs. 8,000 per hectare. 

The statement said that the continuing losses had a devastating effect on the estates operations. 

Further, it said that investments in the field had declined substantially.

The Central Bank report for 1999 also showed that land replanted and new plants introduced had dropped substantially. 

Tea Update 

Tea auctions slump

Tea auctions slumped last week as the market witnessed a 'sharp correction' as brokers called it, in high and mid grown tea prices.

Low growns provided some consolation in the auctions, but in that too saw some grades shed a few rupees. 

Brokers however said that low grown prices were encouraging considering the quality of tea on offer. 

Industry officials are anticipating a further drop in prices in the next few weeks as larger quantities are on offer. In addition, the buyers taking a relaxed stance is expected to apply further pressure on prices. 

Month of records
March tea production recorded an all time monthly high with a production of 32.2 million kilos, an increase of over 32 per cent over the previous March record of 24.4 million kilos. The previous record high for any month was recorded in May 1998 with a production of 28.7 million kilos. 

The highest contribution came from the low growns, which in recent years has been gradually increasing. 

The January - March cumulative figure was also an all time high scaling in at 76.5 million kilos, 4.3 million kilos over last year's record. 

March's accumulated exports also recorded a 11 per cent increase in volume. Most encouragingly, the value of exports for January - March went up 24 per cent from Rs. 9.7 billion last year to 12 billion. This is however lower than the 1998 value of Rs. 12..8 billion.

Backing up or off
Industry rumours suggest that Iraq and Iran would stop sourcing tea from Sri Lanka if Israeli troops are deployed here. Iraq already requires that Sri Lankan exporters wishing to export tea to Iraq, obtain a Tea Board document stating that they do not export to Israel to be eligible to export to Iraq. Iraq and Iran together bought an estimated 19 million kilos of tea from Sri Lanka last year. 

Gestetner bags international award 

Gestetner of Ceylon, the international company in office automation (OA) business in Sri Lanka, has once again won the prestigious international award of excellence for performance in 1999 from Gestetner International. 

The annual international awards ceremony was held in Hanover, Germany in March.

A Gestetner International regional representative who was in Colombo to participate at the Office 2000 Exhibition recently said that the Gestetner Group has a market share exceeding 64% in digital multi functional products in Europe. Mr. Anton Senadhipathi, GM, says in a news release that Gestetner of Ceylon who were the first to market OA products in Sri Lanka launched the entire range of digital laser copiers which started from 6 copies per minute and progressed to 105 copies per minute.

Repo and reverse repo rate up 0.25% 

Central Bank raised the repurchase rate (repo) and the overnight repurchase (reverse repo) rate by a quarter of a percentage point to stabilise the rupee exchange rate and mop up domestic liquidity, the Bank announced last week.

The excess liquidity in the market prompted the latest move, Central Bank officials said. 

The official said that the reduction also will help stabilise the rupee's exchange rate against the dollar.

Last Tuesday, the central bank raised the overnight repurchase rate from 9% to 9.25%. Last Friday, the Central Bank raised the reverse repurchase rate from 13% to 13.25%. 

TRI shear wins award

A tea harvesting shear developed by Sri Lanka's Tea Research Institute (TRI) won an international award at the International Exhibition of Investors held in Geneva last month, the TRI said.

It said the shear - invented by a TRI team led by Dr M.A. Wijeratne, senior research officer in agronomy - won the first prize of a gold medal in the exhibition's agriculture, agricultural machinery and gardening section.

The TRI plans to mass produce the shear for tea estates and smallholders, and for this purpose obtained a patent for the product together with a local company, Messrs P.P.P. Jinadasa.

The cost of a shear, without taxes is at present Rs. 550. TRI said this could be easily recovered within a few weeks of use, depending on the size of the harvested crop.

TRI director Dr Wester Modder said the international accolade comes at a time when the institute marks its 75th anniversary. The TRI shear is the latest in a line of significant contributions the institute has been making, since its establishment in 1925, for improving profitablity in the country's tea industry.

Dr Modder said the new invention could increase worker productivity in an industry that is presently facing a serious shortage of workers, particularly in the low country areas

TRI's tea harvesting shear has the same selectivity as manual harvesting. 

TRI said in a statement the shear is light and manoeuvrable and can be raised and lowered for selecting only the desired two or three leaves and the bud, as in plucking by hand.

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