COLOMBO, Nov 13 (Reuters) - Sri Lankan shares ended firmer on Wednesday at near one-week highs, as investors picked up beverage and diversified shares ahead of Saturday’s presidential vote.
** Though wartime defence chief Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who is backed by majority Sinhala Buddhists, had early lead in the poll, the momentum had now tilted towards his rival Sajith Premadasa, who is backed by all communities in Sri Lanka, political analysts say. There is no official opinion polls in Sri Lanka.
** The country’s main Tamil party last week announced its support for Premadasa, giving him an edge over Rajapaksa.
** There are growing concerns over giveaways promised by the two top presidential candidates after officials and a credit rating agency warned that their pledges could push the country deeper into debt.
** The International Monetary Fund approved the release of sixth tranche of a $1.5 billion loan programme for Sri Lanka, but asked the authorities to show fiscal discipline.
** Premadasa has promised free housing for all, free school uniforms and meals for students, and free fertilizer for farmers among other things.
** Rajapaksa has vowed to cut in half a value-added tax of 15% and abolish some taxes as a way to reignite consumption.
** The benchmark stock index ended 0.58% firmer at 5,989.42. The bourse fell 1.3% last week, ending a four-week run of gains. The index is down 1.04% for the year. Markets were closed on Monday and Tuesday.
** Political analysts say the leading candidates are locked in a tough fight, although Premadasa has been gaining at grass-root level due to his poverty elimination policies and support from minorities.
** The rupee ended 0.17% firmer at 180.20/40 per dollar, compared with Friday’s close of 180.50/65. The currency is up 1.3% so far this year. Markets were closed for holidays on Monday and Tuesday.
** Foreign investors were net sellers of riskier assets in 12 out of 13 sessions on Wednesday.
** They sold a net 11.4 million Sri Lankan rupees ($63,157.89) worth of shares on Friday, extending the net foreign outflow from the equities market to 5.79 billion rupees for the year, according to index data.
** Equity market turnover was 722.6 million rupees, more than this year’s daily average of about 680.7 million rupees. Last year’s daily average was 834 million rupees.
** Meanwhile, foreign investors bought government securities on a net basis for the third time in five weeks, buying a net 1.88 billion rupees worth of government securities in the week ended Nov. 6.
** Total foreign outflows from government securities through Nov. 6 stood at 50.2 billion rupees, central bank data said.
** The central bank left its key rates unchanged on Oct. 11 after loosening its monetary policy this year. However, growth is likely to remain subdued in the face of rising global risks. ** For a report on global markets, click ** For a report on major currencies, click ($1 = 180.5000 Sri Lankan rupees) (Reporting by Ranga Sirilal and Shihar Aneez; Editing by Maju Samuel)