30th May 1999
Some people will go to any 'length' to get into the book of records. Like tailor M.A.M. Ibrahim who spent 8 hours, with 8 men, 180 yards of denim to zip up the world record. He has also pocketed out Rs. 35,000 in the process.
The massive pair of trousers probably weighs well over 300 pounds, stands tall at 53 1/2 feet and has a waist that could go around 32 feet. Enough to fit at least two elephants or more than 25 average sized people. The previous record stood at 33 feet in length. Like any normanl pair of trousers this too had a zip, a button and pockets, and they were huge.
This giant dropped in at The Sunday Times and hung out the building with the Sunday Times staff clinging on to it with all their might because Mr. Ibrahim did not want his pants to fall down.The trouser is being exhibited at Dematagoda near the Ketththarama Stadium this week.. Pic: Laksman Gunetilleke
By Mel Gunasekera
The Colombo Stock Exchange (CSE) will broadbase stockbrokers' activities to permit margin trading and dealing, CSE Director General said.
"With the purpose of giving stockbrokers other ways of generating revenue, we are going to permit brokers to do margin trading and dealing activities and the necessary rules are being drafted," Director General Hiran Mendis told The Sunday Times Business At present brokers merely act as agents, not as market makers and the transaction commission is their only source of revenue.
Brokerage fees for local clients are 1.4 per cent (orders below Rs. 1 mn) and 1.15 per cent (orders above Rs. 1 mn).
Foreign clients are charged 0.825 per cent (orders below Rs. 1 mn) and 0.7 per cent (orders above Rs. 1 mn).
Commissions regulated by the CSE are split between the stockbroker, the CSE, SEC and the CDS, which is run as a separate company.
The relatively high local commission fees is a drawback to attracting more market participants.
International broking houses offer value added services which enables them to bring their brokerage down.
Some stockbrokers have been lobbying for a free float on the brokerage, to bring down transaction costs for investors..
Margin trading lets investors borrow part of the money needed to buy stocks.
Investors can leverage their purchases by buying on margin. They set up a margin account with a broker by depositing cash or eligible securities and maintain a minimum balance.
At present, merchant banks do margin trading but they are not regulated.
Most top stockbrokers offer margin trading, operate through their associates who do merchant bank activities.
For instance, Forbes ABN Amro Securities through Vanik, John Keells Stockbrokers through Waldock McEnzie, Asia Securities through Asia Capital and NDBS Stockbrokers through NDB operate margin accounts..
While the proposal will make little difference to these brokers, they would help smaller broking houses, and other brokers who do not have associate companies as merchant banks.
A few years ago when the market was down, the CSE permitted brokers to trade on their own account. But the proposal never took off as a minimum capital of Rs. 20 mn was required and there were no proper set of rules.
The government's decision to sell Sri Lanka Telecom's (SLT) 10.5 per cent stake to a private buyer was described by analysts as a desperate bid for funds to ease the ballooning budget deficit.
SLT's much awaited IPO, which was expected to boost the Colombo market with its first billion dollar company with adequate liquidity, was put on hold when the Public Enterprise Reform Commission (PERC) formally called for expressions of interest last week.
SLT is partly owned and fully managed by Nippon Telegraph & Telephone Corp. (NTT) of Japan.
Analysts estimate the sale could net the government around US$ 100 mn-200 mn. They said the 10.5 per cent stake was unlikely to attract much interest. With no potential buyers immediately known, there were speculations that NTT may have already agreed to a certain price. "It looks like an already done deal," an analyst said.
The government desperately needs to get a grip on its budget deficit to sustain economic growth and revive investor confidence.
The Central Bank said they are forecasting a 9 per cent budget deficit for 1999, due to falling tax revenues and the escalating cost of war.
With the unavailability of state institutions of material size that could bring in revenue at this time, SLT's sale seems the best option.
SLT CEO, Hideaki Kamitsuma said last week that they hope to list part of the company by end 2000. However, he declined to give details on the size of the stake.
PERC said, in 1997, SLT had assets worth US$ 845 mn, turnover of US$ 224 mn and profit after tax of US$ 40mn.
In August 1997, NTT paid US$ 225 mn for a 35 per cent stake and management control of SLT.
Since then, SLT has been battling with the telecom regulator and rival operators to maintain its monopoly status and the issues are now before the courts.
With the proposed 10.5 per cent sale, the government retains 51 per cent, NTT 35 per cent and the employees 3.5 per cent.
SLT controls 66 per cent of the domestic telecom markets and a monopoly for fixed wireline and international voice services till 2002. PERC said.
Sri Lanka has shown remarkable progress in a highly liberalised and effectively regulated telecom sector in the recent years, and significant scope exists for further expansion of services.
Telecommunication facilities to rural post offices will be provided through competitive tenders in the future, the Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (TRC) annouced last week.
The three fixed access operators (Sri Lanka Telecom, Suntel and Lanka Bell) as well as cellular operators (Celltel, Hutchinson, Mobitel and Dialog) and the wireless payphone operators will be eligible to compete for these tenders once the details are worked out, TRC Director General, Prof. Rohan Samarajiva said.
There are around 3,300 sub post offices spread across the rural areas of the country. Post offices are considered to cover almost all the villages in the country.
But unfortunately about 25 per cent of such post offices do not have access to any telecom facilities.
A further 8 per cent of the sub post offices connected to the network is provided access by the major operator Sri Lanka Telecom (SLT)
Sri Lanka should make a concerted effort to attract middle class Indian tourists whose potential seems as lucrative as western markets, a leading research house said.
Though there have been intermittent promotions to market Sri Lanka amongst Indian tour operators by various local tour operators, this is grossly inadequate considering the size and diversity of the market.
A sustained and concerted effort with the necessary financing to reach a minimum audience is needed to develop the market, whose potential is seen as lucrative as western markets.
Sri Lanka stands out as a destination that could well be marketed alongside the famed resort destinations of India such as Cochin, Goa and, Agra, a recent NDBS Stockbroker report said.
The middle class Indian population of 300 million is equal to the entire population of Western Europe. It is estimated that the per capita annual income of the Indian middle class ranges from US$ 120,000 -600,000 in PPP terms, with the upper middle class real annual income estimated at US$ 120,000.
The 40 million population of the Indian upper middle class is definitely too lucrative to be ignored, not to mention the potential in the upper class. The entire middle class in India is estimated to grow at 5-10 per cent annually.
Though the overall per capita income of the whole population stands at less than US$ 100, the opportunity lies within the middle class.
The average middle class traveller, the industry estimates, spends more money on domestic tours in India than what is yielded by Sri Lankan hotels from the average western tourist.
Besides, considering the airfare, which is somewhat equivalent to Indian domestic rates, as against the long haul rates from Western Europe, the industry is in a position to offer much better packages.
It is estimated that about 40-50 per cent of the value of a tour package to Sri Lanka sold in European markets constitutes airfare.
The infrastructural facilities remain a serious impediment to the development of this market, the report highlighted.
Indian routes are frequently overbooked and the number of flights is inadequate even for existing demand. A significant improvement in the number of flights to Indian destinations is needed if the market is to be developed and sustained. Indian domestic airlines such as Sahara, JetAir need to be encouraged to fly charters or regular flights to Colombo.
The visa procedures is another impediment in this regard, though this is a difficult issue to tackle with the current security situation, measures have to be taken to make it convenient for the traveller to obtain visas.
At the hotel level, guest relations, food and beverages etc. will have to be adapted as they are currently geared towards catering to Western European markets.
Government pensions which cover only about 350,000 per sons absorb as much as 10 per cent of government expenditure. Pension costs were as much as Rs.19.5 billion and accounted for about 20 per cent of the 1998 budget deficit.
If these figures presented at the World Bank-Central Bank Seminar on Ageing Population and Social Security Systems is startling, then the future scenario are indeed alarming.
With the country's ageing population and pensioners living longer after retirement, the pension costs are rising. Around the year 2020 it is estimated that as much as 20 per cent of the government expenditure would be on pensions.
This would have serious implications for the government's capacity to play its role in stimulating economic growth. It would seriously distort the priorities of fiscal expenditure and important capital expenditure would no doubt suffer.
Pension reforms which reduce the government's burden are considered vital if the country is not to suffer in terms of economic growth.
There are of course several other unsatisfactory features of our social security system crying for reform. The pensions and provident funds cover less than one half of our working population. The rest are self employed and have no protection for their old age.
Feeble attempts have been made by banks and insurance companies to come up with pension schemes. These too cover a small number. The provident funds are poorly managed and at the time of retirement the amounts paid , except for the highest earners are inadequate. This is due to two reasons.
The interest earned on contributions is too little and inflation eats into the real value of the savings. Therefore better managemnet of these funds is necessary. Perhaps the contributions of employees too could be enhanced once the mangement of these funds are improved.
The experiences of other countries appear to suggest that private sector management would yield better returns. Pension reforms in the context of an ageing population should attempt to extend the coverage of pension benefits, enhance such benefits to ensure adequate funds in old age, be on a contributory basis, be properly managed to obtain higher returns and should reduce the government's burden.
Such reforms would not only benefit the elderly but also bring benefits to the country by pension funds being invested in the capital market and by reducing the budget deficit. First steps in such a reform must be taken immediately. Time is running out.
Emerging markets, once the darlings of the daring investor, recorded their worst ever year in 1998, and share prices fell in 24 of the 31 countries making up a key investors' index, Reuters reports the IFC says in its 1999 Emerging Stock Markets Factbook.
The IFCI index fell a record 24.1 percent in 1998, while the broader IFCG index was down by 22.9 percent, the story notes. The latest data take account of problems in emerging markets which started in Thailand almost two years ago and spread relentlessly across Asia and beyond, hitting Russia in July last year and reaching Brazil three months later.
Investors now appear to be differentiating more among individual markets, assessing risk on a country-by-country basis rather treating emerging markets as "one asset class," the IFC says. "This may be good news for governments considering privatisation. The Calgary Herald, the Toronto Star, and Xinhua also report.
The news comes as Global Finance reports that the IFC was deep into implementing a new strategy meant to dramatically alter the way it invests in developing markets, when the currency crisis flattened Thailand. The IFC had little choice but to restore calm in the chaos, even if the companies hardest-hit were not part of its new mandate, the story says. "Many good and otherwise viable companies got squeezed by the changes in exchange rates and the loss of confidence by lenders who took their credit and went home," IFC Executive Vice President Peter Woicke is quoted as saying.
Meanwhile, the IFC had no intention of abandoning its frontier strategy. To avoid competing with private sector investors that were finally embracing the largest emerging markets, IFC would concentrate on the "frontier economies" of sub-Saharan Africa and smaller Latin American and Asian countries.
If the two-front investment policy has stretched the IFC's human and capital resources thin, it has also given a renewed sense of purpose to the corporation, the story says. Observers suggest that a better capitalised IFC could play a pivotal role in the new global financial architecture. "Banks and investors are our indispensable partners," says Woicke, "but they want and need us there with them to help soften the risk profile. The debate about IFC's role in the future really has to do with whether our shareholders would like us to play a more significant counter-cyclical role in crisis prevention and response."
In other news, The Journal of Commerce reports that the IFC signed an agreement to advise the government of Ecuador on restructuring and privatising state-owned enterprises, including power generation and distribution, telecommunications, hydrocarbons, airports, postal services and possibly the water and sanitation sector.
Separately, the IFC said it will take a 15 percent equity investment of up to US$ 75,000 in Thomson Ratings Philippines, which will offer independent rating services to the Philippine domestic market using internationally accepted standards, the piece adds.
Also, the IFC will provide $114 million in financing for Juan Minetti, an Argentine cement company. The investment will support the construction of a clinker grinding plant in Campana to produce one of the main ingredients in cement, which will supply the Buenos Aires market. IFC's financing consists of two loans amounting to $4 million for its own account and a syndicated loan of US$ 70 million for the account of participating commercial banks and financial institutions.
Asia's financial crisis may be over but debate still rages on its causes and treatment, with the role of the IMF criticized in a new report by the ADB Institute, reports Agence France-Presse.
"Given the new nature of the crisis, the inadequacy of the initial policy responses may be partially forgiven but the same mistakes should not be repeated in the future," the institute's report says.
It offers "a new set of policies to cope with the new Asian-type systemic currency crisis."
The turmoil that spread across the region from Thailand nearly two years ago was like a double phenomenon, with a capital account crisis, marked by sharp reversals of private capital flows, and a banking crisis linked to a massive credit crunch.
"The vital mistake was made when policy prescriptions for current account crisis were applied to this capital account crisis," the report says.
In the case of a new crisis the institute put forward recommendations for both international players and local governments.
The former should provide quickly and in practical terms, without conditions, the financing needed to contain any liquidity crisis.
In an interview with Nirmala Lakshman of the Hindu Times (5/25) World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn says that the Comprehensive Development Framework, which underpins many of the current programs of the Bank, emphasizes the need to build development strategies that will include specific social goals essential for long term sustainability and equitable growth. "When you look at a country, you cannot just look at fiscal or monetary policy, macroeconomic policy, exchange rates and budgets. If you have to get a complete picture you have to look at its legal structure, its governance. Then you have to look at the elements that go into development, that includes educational systems, knowledge transfer, water, power", Wolfensohn is quoted as saying.
Also, "the World Bank the UN, or some bilateral agency can't do it", Wolfensohn adds, noting that what is needed is a partnership between the government of the country and state governments.
"You need to look at governments at different levels, you need to look at providers of funds like the Bank, and the Fund, and regional banks. Then you have to include, very importantly, civil society and the private sector. You need new methodologies of development that will include those four partners," he said.
On the issue of corruption, Wolfensohn stressed the need for corruption-free effective governance so that development assistance is not squandered.
Also, he is keen on continuing a dialogue and debate with NGOs and civil society, the piece says. "What I want to do is to lift the level of the debate so that it is not just name-calling but is a substantive debate, and I think the Comprehensive Development Framework gives us an opportunity," Wolfensohn said.
By Dinali Goonewardene
A top government official is calling for a market based social security system to cater to the fast ageing population of the country.
Sri Lanka's population of sixty five years and above is projected to rise dramaticaly to 11.7% by the year 2021.
Projections of the index of ageing which depicts the number of persons aged 60 and above per 100 population also creates an alarming picture.
The index which was 26.0 in 1991 is projected to rise to 80.6 by 2021.
"These developments indicate that social security will become one of the major issues in the next two decades," Superintendent Employees Provident Fund (EPF) W.A.Wijewardena said, addressing a seminar organised by the Central Bank and the World Bank.
A market based well planned voluntary pension scheme will constitue the best strategy to achieve this objective, since it is not a burden on current tax payers and assigns the responsibility for providing for old age to the individual himself, he said.
The problem of such market based systems is the long term solvency and viability of the financial institutions concerned.
Since a retirement savings plan is a long term savings plan, the confidence of the public could be earned only if, in their eyes, the institutions concerned could honour their commitments.
"This confidence could be built up by authorities by ensuring proper safegaurds and enforcing effective supervision of the financial institutions," he said.
Hence, in the final analysis, an important responsibility falls on the authorities as well in establishing an efficient and effective social security system in the country.
The Widows and Orphans pension scheme too has administrative deficiencies. Annual contributions are treated as general revenue of the government and the scheme therefore has to be funded through current taxation.
EPF, which is available to wage earners in the private sector is not only the largest fund in the country but also the largest tax payer.
Contributions are predominantly invested in government paper causing it to yield lower returns.
"This situation is compounded by the imposition of a 10 per cent tax on the EPF's gross income, by the government," Mr. Wijewardena said.
"There is a need to allow private sector employees to transfer retirement benefits tax free to retirement funds which invest significantly in the stock market and offer prospects of better inflation adjusted income," President of the Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Sri Lanka, Lal de Mel said.
The Colombo Stock Exchange announced that an Investor Services Centre (ISC) will be opened in Matara next month. This is part of a CSE initiative to get domestic investors to play an active role in the stock market, which is at present propped up by foreign investors. The ISC will provide investors access to on-line trading, share prices and on-line information, stock broking services, facilitate the opening of CDS accounts and deposits of share certificates, the CSE announced during a press briefing.
"A survey conducted on bank deposit mobilisation revealed that market potential for the stock exchange outside the western province was predominant in the central province and southern province. Thus the decision to locate in Matara" Manager Marketing CSE, Rajeeva Bandaranaike said.
A special feature of the ISC is that brokers will operate within its premises. Forbes ABN Amro Securities, MMBL Phillip Securities and Jardine Fleming HNB Securities will offer stock broking services in Matara.
"MMBL Phillips Securities has conducted operations in Matara for the past five=and=a half years and we have 2500 clients. I feel the market in Matara is saturated to a large extent", General Manager MMBL Phillips Securities, Dimuthu Abeywardene said. "There may however be potential in other areas such as Hambantota and Galle", he added. Ray Abeywardene of Forbes ABN Amro voiced optimism about the southern market. "A large proportion of applications for Vanik's 200 million unsecured, unlisted debentures was from the outstations" he said, justifying his optimism.
Regional Indices Jan/May 99
A Templeton Investment Management study has reveled that Asian bull has got at least three more years to run.
The study is on trends of the Asian Market covering a period from 1969 to 1998.
The study showed that the average bull market in Asia (excluding Japan) lasted 47 months and the average Asian bear market lasted just 17 months. Suggesting thet if history was used as a guide, Asia's rally which began six monts ago has more than three years left to run. This though has not been the case in Sri Lanka, because when other Asian markets started their upward rally six months ago the Sri Lankan index came down 8.6% from end 1998 to the 18th of May 1999.
The study on the Asian markets was done in addition to an initial study based on nine global bull market and eight bear markets for the period 1954 to 1998. This study showed that the stock prices went up 100% adjusted to inflation when the bull reigned and plummeted when the bear ramble in.
This study defined the bear market as any period when the Morgan Stanley Capital International World Indx falles more than 15%. The bull market was defined as a rise of more than 15% of the same index.
The report also said that a bear market was always followed by an even stronger bull market. Head of Globla Equity, Templetion had said that the downward trend of the bear was an ideal buying opportunity for the investorst.
The company also stressed that past performance was no guide to the future. Asian Market Indices for the period 31st December 1998 to 18th May 1999. (SF)
By Business Bug
Is any publicity, good publicity? Apparently not, as the golden network, which took over the broadcast of the World Cup, is finding out. They messed it all up by running their ads well into playing time after promising "live and uninterrupted" programmes leading to angry complaints from viewers. The network apparently ignored these complaints but the last straw was when viewers called the advertisers to voice their displeasure and said their products will be boycotted.
With the national team performing disastrously local viewer interest in the final stages will not be high and many advertisers swear they will never advertise on the network again. Some are even thinking of pulling their ads out of the rest of the tournament!
Private medical schools may be risky business but private hospitals aren't: they just go on making money.
But a call by a new hospital for recruits from medical and para-medical staff has raised eyebrows among its rivals.
The salaries on offer are very high- in the range of Rs. 20,000 for a nurse and Rs. 40,000 for a junior doctor- and are likely to attract many, many takers. Now, the other hospitals are busy revising their salary scales, just so that they will not lose their staff to what promises to be an oasis for underpaid medical staff.
Carry on Prof.
The regulatory body was doing a good job with the professor in charge not allowing the networks- specially the state owned giant- to dictate terms to subscribers.
But now representations are being made at the highest levels to clip the wings of the commission. But the professor will not give up without a fight. And he has a strong ally in his minister, who insists that a man doing a good job of work should be allowed to carry on.
By Shafraz Farook
Pakistan has agreed to host the first ever Tea Association of South Asia (TASA) meeting in December this year, Tea Board officials said.
Pakistani tea officials confirmed the meeting last week, but objected to the draft constitution saying it was in favour of tea producing countries.
They had also expressed doubts about joining TASA for this reason and wished to put forward alternative proposals at the inaugural meeting, Tea Promotions Bureau Director, Hasitha de Alwis said.
He said the draft constitution was a little biased because Pakistan was absent at the inception of TASA and hence any proposals from them would be considered.
In the local market, CIS countries continue to buy the bulk of Ceylon tea with around 12 mn kilos bought during the first quarter of 1999, a drop of 10% over the same period last year.
The UAE had enough steam to come a close second buying approx. 8 mn kilos for the same period, recording an increase of over 37% over 1998.
These two countries plus many others bought over 60 mn kilos of Sri Lankan tea at an average FOB price of Rs. 161.38, a drop of Rs. 27.38 from 1998.
Tea export figures also showed the largest Sri Lankan tea exporters. Akbar Brothers topped the list shipping a total of 5 mn kilos during the first quarter of 1999.
The tea industry itself witnessed an all time record crop for April at 27.2 mn kilos, surpassing the previous high of 26.5 mn kilos produced in 1990, an Asia Siyaka report said.
The entire gain came from higher elevations, particularly from high growns, which increased by 50% and mid growns, which grew by 16%, but low growns grew only marginally.
Another facility has been introduced by Lanka Bell to the telecommunication industry - the Bellkard - the prepaid International Direct Dialing facility which entitles the user to call the world from any Lanka Bell phone, says a company release.
According to Sunil Lakshmanasinghe, GM Sales and Marketing Lanka Bell, Bellkard is a deposit free IDD facility that connects the holder of a Bellkard to any destination worldwide from any Lanka Bell phone at standard Sri Lanka Telecom rates.
"It is a prepaid service that gives you all the advantages of IDD without any trouble and what's more, Bellkard's Personal Identification Number [PIN] guarantees the user total and complete security by preventing unauthorized usage of your card," he said.
Bellkard comes in denominations of Rs. 300, Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 and the user could purchase a card that is ideally suited to his or her requirements which could be used till the card runs out.
Each time the card is used the holder will be informed of the balance remaining on the card. Another advantage of the Bellkard is that users are not charged for accessing the facility.
Incoming calls to payphone booths will soon be a reality under a recent telecom watchdog directive, The Sunday Times Business learns.
The Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (TRC) has requested Sri Lanka Telecom (SLT) to consider providing incoming facilities to payphone booths. But SLT is stalling on the issue due to technical difficulties, industry sources said.
At present, SLT's network is unable to recognise collect calls going through to payphone booths. SLT will either have to come up with a different number scheme for payphone operators or will have to adjust their network to enable incoming call facilities, sources said.
Last week, the TRC announced a subsidy scheme aimed at encouraging payphone operators to install booths in rural areas.
Payphone operators will get a subsidy of Rs. 50,000 per payphone.
An indidividual operator will be entitled to the subsidy for a maximum of 25 payphones subject to a limit of 100 units per district.
This subsidy will be available across all 25 districts and will be available to all payphone operators.
"The objective is to bring Sri Lanka up to par with countries of similar economic standing with regard to payphone penetration," TRC Chairman, K C Logeswaran told the media during an Asia Pacific Telecommunity conference.
The subsidy, funded out of the licence fees levied on the telecom sector ensures that it is distributed geographically and is available for multiple operators, he said.
At present, there are approximately 5,100 payphone booths scattered islandwide. The distribution of payphones closely mirrors the fixed telephone distribution, TRC Director Economic, Palitha Gunawardene said.
Around 50 per cent are based in Colombo: with at least 64 percent installed in the Western Province. Despite this concentration, it is common knowledge that some of the payphones in the rural areas give significantly higher revenue than others.
Higher installation and other infrastructure costs, vandalism and in some instance non availabiltiy of network coverage precludes further expansion, he said.
There are five payphone operators in the market at present.
The Payphone Company Ltd, operates the Supercard network using electromagnetic spectrum. The company uses radio links to interconnect with SLT. While Lanka Payphone and TriTel operates by leasing loops from SLT. TSG (owned by IWS Holdings) is yet to commence operations. SLT also owns and operates its own payphone network.
With the entrance of wireless operators and cellular services, payphone companies are using their networks to install phone booths in remote areas. (MG)
Last week's report on Sri Lanka's fiscal operation under NDBS's microscope was inadvertently attributed to National Development Bank.
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