Sri Lankan investors on look out for earnings surprises

Feb 01, 2008 (LBO) – Sri Lanka’s share market closed marginally higher Friday with investors selectively buying stocks expected to report higher quarterly earnings this month, brokers said. The market is now more of an ‘event driven’ entity, visible from the choppy trading during January this year in comparison to that of last year, because of the uncertain political and economic outlook, analysts said.

With companies posting earnings in February, investors enter the market to purchase equity based on speculation on how the companies might perform during the next quarter.

Colombo’s All Share Index (ASPI) closed 6.57 points higher at 2,452.70 while the Milanka Index (MPI) closed up 9.69 points at 3,122.76 with turnover at 358 million rupees.

“There will be pockets of good news and investors have to keep watching for positive surprise factor earnings (by companies),” Channa Amaratunga of Boston Capital, a boutique investment house said.

Keels Food Product PLC rose again on the back of Thursday’s gains, closing 2.75 rupees higher at 70 rupees as a result of better than expected earnings.

Colombo Dockyards, with a full order book expected to yield higher returns, also closed higher, the share gaining 2.75 rupees to 61 with 96,000 shares traded.

Nation’s Trust went up 25 cents to 27.50 rupees. with over 1.45 million shares changing hands.

Plantation companies which enjoy better prices for tea and palm oil are another key sector to observe, Amaratunga says.

Sri Lanka’s plantation sector results were positive for the September quarter despite wage hikes and rising costs.

R Muralidaran, managing director of Bartleet Mallory Stock Brokers, expects plantations stocks to start moving once results start coming.

Horana Plantations, the first plantations firms to report quarterly results, has reported sharply higher profits. Net profit for the December quarter was up 1,022 percent year-on-year to 88 million rupees.

“Tea auction prices have gone up so firms with tea also will tend to post reasonably good results for the quarter,” said Muralidaran.

Despite companies showing better growth during September quarter, what should be looked at is whether they can maintain the growth for the coming quarter, said Amaratunga of Boston Capital.

Highly geared companies will have difficulty maintaining the growth pattern since interest rates on borrowings still remain high.

“Companies with high gearing will be adversely impacted,” said R Muralidaran of Bartleet Mallory Stock Brokers.

“With interest rates at high levels, the question is whether to buy now or wait for direction.”

Analysts said that apart from the sensitivity to developments in the local political and economic environment, the financial crisis in US is unlikely to affect the Colombo bourse as there are no strong foreign funds in the local equity market.

“One of the biggest problems is that we are not big enough and liquid enough to get the big guys,” Amaratunga said.