Sri Lanka stocks revive after rate cut, tea tonic

Jan 13, 2009 (LBO) – Sri Lankan shares rose almost across the board Tuesday with fresh interest in plantations although trading volumes remained modest, after a central bank rate cut and a recovery in tea prices, brokers said. Over 1.1 million shares of Malwatte Valley Plantations changed hands with the stock ending up a rupee at 22 rupees and adding 23.4 million rupees to the day’s turnover.

“There was some interest in plantations because tea prices appreciated from the last auction to this week’s sale,” said Arjuna Dassanayake of DFCC Stockbrokers.

Monday’s central bank rate cut may also have had a positive influence on retail investors.

“It could also help companies with heavy borrowings,” Dassanayake said.

The central bank slashed the rate on its unrestricted discount window by 200 basis points to 17 percent on Monday and said it expects banks to lower market rates.

Brokers have said the island’s high interest rates were the main factor that had kept the stock market in the doldrums for months.

Dassanayake said further gains by the army against the Tigers with the capture of their remaining jungle strongholds might see the stock market bottoming out.

But other brokers said investors lacked cash to invest in stocks and noted that funds and high-net-worth individuals remained out of the market.

“There was more interest seen in the market today but the market can only be sustained by an influx of local and foreign institutional funds,” said Mohan Thangarajah of First Guardian Equities.

Bartleet Mallory Stockbrokers said foreign participation was more on the selling side resulting in a net outflow of 28.13 million rupees.

Analysts said even if the war ends given the military’s recent gains against the Tiger rebels, an economic recovery might be delayed with the global credit crunch.

Lanka Cement was the most actively traded stock of the day and most active in terms of volumes.

It ended up 50 cents at 9.50 rupees on the back of a one rupee gain Monday.

Dassanayake of DFCC Stockbrokers said there was interest in Lanka Cement on anticipation that its defunct factory in northern Jaffna could be revived now that the main highway to the area had been freed of Tamil rebel control.

John Keells Holdings went up five percent to end at 56.75 after peaking at 58 rupees with 239,800 shares done and adding 13.5 million rupees to the day’s turnover.

But ACL Cables fell further following its nine percent plunge Monday, losing over two percent to end at 28.25 rupees.

The company has issued a profit warning saying it expects losses from hedging on copper, its main raw material.

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But only renewed fund buying could sustain the gains while fears remain that recession could erode company profitability, even if military gains against Tamil Tiger rebels pave the way for a domestic economic recovery, they said.

The All Share Price Index rose 2.77 percent (42.46 points) to end at 1,576.25 while the more liquid Milanka went up 3.05 percent (48.93 points) to close at 1,655.71.

Turnover was 134.7 million rupees.

Brokers said that despite the rise in share prices trading volumes were still modest and that investment funds should return to equities if the recovery is to be sustained.

The plantations sector led the gains, rising over 10 percent and being among the most actively traded stocks

Kegalle Plantations shot up 25 percent or 6.25 rupees to 31.25 rupees while Madulsima Plantations, the second most actively traded stock of the day, rose over 15 percent to 9.25 rupees.