Sri Lankan shares close at over 10-wk high ahead of policy review

COLOMBO, April 21 Mon Apr 21, 2014 7:37am EDT

COLOMBO, April 21 (Reuters) - The Sri Lankan share index hit its highest closing level in more than 10 weeks on Monday, led by blue chips ahead of the central bank's policy rates announcement while retail investor interest also helped boost sentiment.

The main stock index gained for a fourth straight day and closed higher 0.1 percent, or 6.27 points, at 6,187.03, its highest since Feb. 3.

"We saw some buying interest from retail investors after the long holiday," said Prashan Fernando, chief executive officer of Acuity Stockbrokers. "The market expects the central bank to keep the interest rates unchanged."

The central bank is expected to keep its key policy rates steady on Tuesday, a Reuters poll showed, in a sign it expects private sector credit growth to recover after rates were slashed to multi-year lows at the start of 2014.

With a lower interest rate regime, both Sri Lanka's central bank and finance ministry have said private sector credit growth will rise in the second half of this year.

Both currency and stock markets were closed for three days last week due to public holidays.

The day's turnover was 814.5 million rupees ($6.24 million), less than this year's daily average of 973.8 million rupees.

The bourse saw net foreign inflows for an eighth straight session. Offshore investors bought 159.6 million rupees worth of stocks, though they have sold a net 7.88 billion rupees of shares so far this year.

Market heavyweight and top conglomerate John Keells Holdings gained 0.42 percent at 239 rupees, while large cap Ceylon Tobacco Company PLC rose 0.72 percent to 1,097.80 rupees.

Analysts said foreign investors could shift from the island nation's risky assets if Sri Lanka does not cooperate in an international probe by the Office of the United Nations' High Commissioner for Human Rights into the country's alleged war crimes and human rights abuses.

Sri Lanka's foreign minister had said earlier this month that the country would not cooperate with the inquiry.

($1 = 130.6100 Sri Lanka Rupees) (Reporting by Shihar Aneez and Ranga Sirilal; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu)

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