Sri Lankan rupee steady amid upward pressure; stocks up

COLOMBO Wed May 7, 2014 3:47am EDT

COLOMBO May 7 (Reuters) - The Sri Lankan rupee traded flat on Wednesday in thin trade and dealers expect the currency to be stable in the near term until private sector credit demand and imports pick up.

The rupee was at 130.60/65 per dollar by 0736 GMT, little changed from Tuesday's close of 130.60/61.

"There was nothing much happening and we are awaiting to see the direction. The rupee is under appreciation pressure, but no big movement is taking place," said a currency dealer on condition of anonymity.

Some dealers said central bank's dollar buying to defend the currency from appreciation could be an "expensive exercise" now as it tends to reduce interest rates further by increasing rupee liquidity when the credit growth and imports are lower.

Early this year, the central bank intervened to keep the rupee steady despite sharp volatility earlier this year and has consistently said it will continue to intervene in the event of excess volatility.

The latest trade data released by the central bank on Monday showed imports in February fell 6.2 percent, while exports edged up 5.4 percent and reserves by end of February were sufficient to finance 5-1/2 months of imports.

Despite a multi-year low interest rate regime, private sector credit grew 4.4 percent in February from a year earlier, the slowest expansion since May 2010. That compared with growth of 5.2 percent in January and 13.3 percent in February 2013.

Dealers said lack of credit expansion and a contraction in imports could hit economic growth unless the government props up expansion through infrastructure funding.

The central bank, in its monetary policy statement last month, however, expressed confidence that private sector credit growth would rebound in the second quarter and push up the pace of economic expansion.

Dealers expect the rupee to trade in a 130.60-130.70 range in the near future until credit growth picks up.

The currency has been hovering between 130.55 and 130.70 since March 3, Thomson Reuters data showed, with the central bank intervening to smoothen any sharp volatility.

Sri Lanka's main stock index was up 0.35 percent, or 21.50 points, at 6,247.63 as of 0739 GMT. Turnover was at 616.2 million rupees ($4.72 million), with 23.5 million shares changing hands. ($1 = 130.5950 Sri Lanka Rupees) (Reporting by Ranga Sirilal and Shihar Aneez)

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