The authorities in Sri Lanka have opened a criminal investigation into the crew of a cargo ship laden with toxic chemicals that has been burning off the island nation’s coast for 12 days, spilling debris into the ocean and polluting the country’s beaches, the New York Times reported.
Markets are showing mounting concern about Sri Lanka’s ability to manage debt loads, amid financial deterioration that sparked a downgrade deeper into junk Friday, Bloomberg News reported. Prices of the country’s dollar bonds show that while traders expect securities next year to be repaid, they’re increasingly uneasy about dwindling cash reserves for debt bills down the line. Notes due in 2021 are indicated at about 88 cents on the dollar, according to prices compiled by Bloomberg. That’s a level that shows some misgivings yet not alarm.
Sovereign default risks are on course to rise further in 2021, with Iraq, Sri Lanka, Angola and Gabon at high probability of default, say Goldman Sachs analysts, Reuters reported. Five sovereign debt defaults or distressed debt exchanges - in which investors swap their debt for new bonds, often with longer maturities and a reduced value - have already happened in 2020 in the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis, the most in around two decades.
A would-be hub of Indo-Pacific commerce and global tourist gem, Sri Lanka was already struggling to deliver on grand visions before the coronavirus crisis struck the world economy, Bloomberg News reported. The next few months may determine its ability to avert a painful debt restructuring. The South Asian nation is locked in talks with the International Monetary Fund for emergency-financing aid, after its second longer-term program with the fund in less than a decade expired last Tuesday.
Sri Lanka’s finances were fragile long before the coronavirus delivered its blow, but unless the country can secure aid from allies like China, economists say it may have to make a fresh appeal to the IMF or default on its debt, Reuters reported. All the tell-tale crisis signs are there: a tumbling currency, credit rating downgrades, bonds at half their face value, debt-to-GDP levels above 90% and almost 70% of government revenues being spent on interest payments alone.