Sri Lankan shares at over 10-wk closing high; banks in focus

COLOMBO, April 22 Tue Apr 22, 2014 7:30am EDT

COLOMBO, April 22 (Reuters) - The Sri Lankan share index ended at its highest level in more than 10 weeks on Tuesday, led by blue chips amid strong interest from banks and financials after the central bank said private sector credit growth would rebound in the second quarter.

The main stock index gained for a fifth straight day and ended 0.08 percent, or 4.80 points, firmer at 6,191.83, the highest close since Feb. 3.

Expectation of private sector credit growth buoyed sentiment, said a stockbroker.

Before the market opened, the central bank kept policy rates steady at multi-year lows, as expected, and expressed confidence that private sector credit growth would rebound in the second quarter and push up the pace of economic expansion.

The day's turnover was 547.2 million rupees ($4.19 million), less than this year's daily average of 967.8 million rupees.

The bourse saw net foreign inflows for a ninth straight session. Offshore investors bought 179.3 million rupees worth of stocks, though they have sold a net 7.7 billion rupees of shares so far this year.

Hatton National Bank, the island nation's second-largest private lender by market capitalisation, and National Development Bank gained 1.29 percent and 1.4 percent, respectively.

Stockbrokers expect the nation's $19.85 billion bourse to gain in the short term due to prevailing lower interest rates.

Analysts, however, 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 = 130.6200 Sri Lanka Rupees) (Reporting by Shihar Aneez and Ranga Sirilal; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu)

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