September 20, 2017 / 1:06 PM / a year ago

Sri Lanka considers listing of major state firms-sources

COLOMBO, Sept 20 (Reuters) - Sri Lanka is considering listing two state-owned banks and an insurance company next year, by selling stakes of at least 10 percent in each, government, regulatory and exchange officials told Reuters on Wednesday.

Bank of Ceylon, the largest lender in the island nation, People’s Bank, and Sri Lanka Insurance are all earmarked for possible sales, the sources said.

“The idea is to list at least 10 percent of the stakes in each institution by the first half of next year,” a top government official, with knowledge of the initial discussions on the matter, told Reuters.

“We want to increase the liquidity in the market.”

Regulatory and exchange officials confirmed the government was considering making the sales, both to raise money to meet debt obligations and also to improve market liquidity.

Sri Lanka is planning to reschedule some government loans to ease its heavy debt repayment burden over the next two years.

Approving a $1.5 billion loan to Sri Lanka last year, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) urged more reform of state- owned enterprises.

Bank of Ceylon posted a 43 percent rise in its profit to 24.8 billion rupees ($162.5 million) last year, while Sri Lanka Insurance recorded more than tripled its profit to 12.7 billion rupees.

People’s Bank recorded a 1.1 percent fall in its profit after tax to 7 billion rupees for the financial year ended on June 30.

“The government might want to list other non-strategic enterprises before considering listing these firms. This could be more of a revenue measure,” said Shiran Fernando, an analyst at Colombo-based Frontier Research.

Trade unions oppose any privatisation as it could result in redundancies. Protests have dissuaded successive governments from listing state firms in the past, though the listing of Sri Lanka Telecom in 1997 was a notable exception. ($1 = 152.6000 Sri Lankan rupees) (Reporting by Shihar Aneez; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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