(Colombo) REUTERS: Sri Lanka’s rupee closed higher yesterday as foreign banks sold dollars but political uncertainty dented investor sentiment, dragging the benchmark stock index down to a more than six-week low.
The Colombo Stock Index fell 0.17 percent to end at 5,982.19, its lowest close since November 27, as worried investors awaited political cues after the last quarter’s turmoil. The benchmark index lost 5 percent in 2018.
Turnover was Rs.216.4 million, nearly a quarter of last year’s daily average of Rs.834 million.
Foreign investors were net sellers of Rs.4.3 million worth of shares yesterday. They have been net sellers of Rs.13.9 billion worth of stocks since a political crisis began on October 26. The bond market saw outflows of Rs.74.3 billion between October 25 and January 2, the latest Central Bank data showed.
Last year through December 26, foreign investors pulled a net Rs.22.8 billion out of stocks and Rs.159.8 billion from government securities, bourse and the Central Bank showed data.
The rupee ended at 182.25/40 yesterday, compared with 182.50/70 in the previous session, market sources said. On Thursday, the rupee had fallen to an all-time low of 183.00 against the dollar.
The rupee fell 19 percent 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 5.04 percent 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, the Central Bank Chief Indrajit Coomaraswamy said last week, unveiling economic policies for 2019.
President Maithripala Sirisena appointed a cabinet of ministers from his rival party on December 21 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 to meet the first four months of expenditure in 2019, averting a government shutdown from January 1.
Sri Lanka plans to increase government spending by 13.2 percent from last year to Rs.4.47 trillion 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.