Harry J’s shareholding in JKH approaching 10%, stake valued at close to Rs20bn

Krishan Balendra during a Bloomberg Television interview in Hong Kong. Photographer: Lam Yik Fei/Bloomberg via Getty Images

February 5, 2019 (LBO) – Sri Lanka’s richest man, Harry Jayawardena, has increased his shareholding in Colombo Stock Exchange bellwether John Keells Holdings (JKH) to near 10%.  The total value of his shareholding is now worth close to Rs20bn.

As of December 31, 2018, Jayawardena’s Melstacorp PLC owned 8.4% of JKH.

After the quarter ended, the company executed a buyback transaction in which JKH bought back 5% of its total outstanding shares for Rs160/share.

After the company buyback, and possible subsequent purchases by Jayawardena after the December quarter, it is likely that the Melstacorp holding in JKH is close to 10%.

JKH is Sri Lanka’s most important stock exchange listed company. It is the only local company that has been able to attract in excess of a billion dollars in foreign investment through the capital markets, and it is likely the only local company with the financial muscle to embark on billion dollar projects like its upcoming Cinnamon Life property development.

JKH has just recently undergone a leadership transition where the Board of Directors chose Chairman/CEO Krishan Balendra (45) to lead the company for at least the next decade. Balendra and the Board have yet to express views on shareholders accumulating large stakes of the company in excess of 10%. It is also unclear if representatives of such large shareholders will be invited to join the JKH Board of Directors.

Some market watchers are of the opinion that if control of JKH were to fall into the hands of one of Sri Lanka’s oligarchs, that it would be as significant detriment to the country and its economy.

Sri Lanka has written legislation that has prevented local banks fro falling into the hands of a controlling shareholder. Previously, it was the same Harry Jayawardena who made plays to take over Sri Lanka’s largest listed banks: Commercial Bank (COMB) and Hatton National Bank (HNB).

Other than with banks, policy makers have yet to express views on control of Sri Lanka’s largest companies by high net worth investors.