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Sri Lankan stocks, rupee slip ahead of presidential polls

COLOMBO, Nov 14 (Reuters) – Sri Lankan shares ended weaker on Thursday, edging lower from their near one-week high hit in the previous session, as investors sold healthcare and telecommunication shares ahead of Saturday’s presidential vote.

** Campaigning for the polls ended on Thursday.

** Though wartime defence chief Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who is backed by majority Sinhala Buddhists, had early lead in the poll, the momentum has now tilted in favour of rival Sajith Premadasa who is backed by all communities in Sri Lanka, political analysts say. There are no official opinion polls in Sri Lanka.

** The country’s main Tamil party last week announced its support for Premadasa, giving him an edge over Rajapaksa.

** There are concerns over giveaways promised by the two top presidential candidates after officials and a credit rating agency warned that their pledges could push the country deeper into debt.

** The International Monetary Fund approved the release of sixth tranche of a $1.5 billion loan programme for Sri Lanka, but asked the authorities to show fiscal discipline.

** Premadasa has promised free housing for all, free school uniforms and meals for students, and free fertilizer for farmers among other things.

** Rajapaksa has vowed to cut in half a value-added tax of 15% and abolish some taxes as a way to reignite consumption. ** “Whoever wins the election, we won’t see a huge spike … until we see proper policies of the new president,” said Dimantha Mathew, head of research at broker First Capital Holdings.

** The benchmark stock index ended 0.16% lower at 5,980.07. The bourse fell 1.3% last week, ending a four-week run of gains. The index is down 1.19% for the year.

** The rupee ended 0.06% weaker at 180.30/40 per dollar, compared with Wednesday’s close of 180.20/40. The currency is up 1.3% so far this year.

** Foreign investors were net sellers of riskier assets for a sixth straight session on Thursday.

** They sold a net 5.8 million rupees ($32,132.96) worth of shares on Thursday, extending the net foreign outflow from the equities market to 7.3 billion rupees for the year, according to index data.

** Equity market turnover was 635.5 million rupees, less than this year’s daily average of about 686.9 million rupees. Last year’s daily average was 834 million rupees.

** Meanwhile, foreign investors bought government securities on a net basis for the third time in five weeks, buying a net 1.88 billion rupees worth of government securities in the week ended Nov. 6.

** Total foreign outflows from government securities through Nov. 6 stood at 50.2 billion rupees, central bank data said.

** The central bank left its key rates unchanged on Oct. 11 after loosening its monetary policy this year. However, growth is likely to remain subdued in the face of rising global risks. ** For a report on global markets, click ** For a report on major currencies, click ($1 = 180.5000 Sri Lankan rupees) (Reporting by Ranga Sirilal and Shihar Aneez; Editing by Anil D’Silva)