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Rupee appreciates as banks sell dollars; shares steady


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Reuters: Sri Lanka’s rupee closed higher on Thursday as banks sold dollars but political uncertainty dented investor sentiment. 

Sri Lankan shares closed steady near a more than six-week closing low hit in the previous session. 

The Colombo Stock Index ended 0.03% firmer at 5,984.05, narrowly shaved from its lowest close since 27 November 2018 hit on Wednesday, in dull trade as worried investors awaited political cues after the last quarter’s turmoil. The benchmark index lost 5% in 2018. 

Turnover was Rs. 390.1 million ($2.14 million), less than half of the last year’s daily average of Rs. 834 million. 

Foreign investors sold a net Rs. 274 million worth of shares on Thursday. They have been net sellers of Rs. 14.1 billion worth of stocks since a political crisis began on 26 October. The bond market saw outflows of Rs. 74.3 billion between 25 October and 2 January, the latest Central Bank data showed. 

Foreign investors pulled a net Rs. 22.8 billion out of stocks last year, while they net sold Rs. 159.8 billion from Government securities from January through 26 December, Bourse and Central Bank showed data. 

The rupee ended at 181.90/182.10 per dollar on Thursday, compared with 182.25/40 in the previous session, market sources said. On 3 January, the rupee had fallen to an all-time low of 183.00 against the dollar. 

The rupee fell 19% in 2018, making it one of the worst-performing currencies in Asia, according to Refinitiv data, due to heavy foreign outflows.  The rupee has declined about 5% since the political crisis started. 

The Central Bank said last week it would stick to an exchange rate policy of cautious intervention in times of excessive volatility in the forex market. 

The policy is designed to maintain a competitive exchange rate and support the rebalancing of the current account, thereby supporting a gradual build-up of reserves, Central Bank Chief Indrajit Coomaraswamy said last week, unveiling economic policies for 2019. 

The Central Bank on Wednesday said that the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) had agreed to provide $400 million to it under a regional swap facility and it had also requested a further bilateral swap arrangements of $1 billion. 

Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena appointed a Cabinet of Ministers from his rival party on 21 December after he was forced to reinstate Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister, 51 days after he was sacked. The crisis is expected to ease, though tense relations between the two men could cause fiscal problems, analysts say. Parliament has approved Rs. 1.77 trillion ($9.39 billion) to meet the first four months of expenditure in 2019, averting a Government shutdown from 1 January. 

Sri Lanka plans to increase government spending by 13.2% from last year to Rs. 4.47 trillion ($24.51 billion) in 2019, the Finance Ministry said on Tuesday. 

Credit agencies Fitch and S&P downgraded Sri Lanka’s sovereign rating in early December, citing refinancing risks and an uncertain policy outlook.

 

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