Sri Lankan shares edge up; block deals boost turnover

COLOMBO, April 24 Thu Apr 24, 2014 8:36am EDT

COLOMBO, April 24 (Reuters) - Sri Lankan shares ended a tad firmer on Thursday, led by telecom and banking stocks while block deals in George Steuart Finance PLC boosted turnover amid continued moderate foreign inflows into the island nation's risky assets.

George Steuart accounted for 30 percent of the day's 1.13 billion rupees ($8.65 million) turnover, the highest since April 9, and more than this year's daily average of 965.9 million rupees. The stock soared 76.24 percent to 53.40 rupees.

The company said in a disclosure to the bourse that its largest shareholder, Divasa Equity, sold 11.4 million shares, or 50.8 percent, to George Steuart & Company Limited at 28.80 rupees a share.

Sri Lanka's main stock index rose 0.09 percent, or 5.36 points, to 6,178.13.

The bourse saw net foreign inflows for an 11th straight session with offshore investors buying 355.8 million rupees worth of stocks. But they have sold a net 7.23 billion rupees of shares so far this year.

Lower interest rates have helped the market gain in the past weeks, also helping some retail investors, stockbrokers said.

The benchmark 91-day treasury bill yield dropped to its lowest since January 2007, data showed on Wednesday, a day after the central bank kept policy rates steady at multi-year lows.

Shares in Bukit Darah PLC rose 9.98 percent to 595 rupees, while Sri Lanka Telecom PLC rose 3.64 percent to 48.40 rupees. Commercial Bank of Ceylon PLC, the nation's biggest listed lender by market capitalisation, rose 0.39 percent to 127.30 rupees.

Stockbrokers expect the nation's 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 depending on Sri Lanka's moves 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 = 130.6250 Sri Lanka Rupees) (Reporting by Ranga Sirilal and Shihar Aneez; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu)