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Sri Lanka bourse among world's best performing markets

COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lankan shares jumped 2.61 percent on Thursday to become one of the best-performing bourses among the world stock markets after a global recession, with top bluechips hitting over one-year highs.

Turnover hit a record of 2 billion rupees ($17.5 million), more than four times last year’s daily average of 464 million rupees, according to a bourse official.

The rupee closed flat with the central bank preventing appreciation through buying dollars.

The bourse has risen around 59.9 percent so far for this year and 26 percent since the government declared victory in a near 26-year war.

Only China’s Shenzhen Stock Exchange has given a higher return this year among Asian bourses, according to Reuters data.

The bourse’ performance is more than double of the benchmark emerging market equities, Reuters data showed, and among one of the few global stock markets to have recovered almost all its losses since September.

The market fell 59.2 percent last year due to an intensified war and high inflation.

The Colombo All-Share Price Index rose 61.05 points to 2403.97, its seventh straight rise and the highest close since Sept. 1, with foreign inflows yet to pick up.

“There is some renewed foreign interest on John Keells shares,” said Geeth Balasuriya, head of research at Acuity Stockbrokers. “IMF loan hopes and the interest rate cut also helped the market.”

The central bank on June 10 said Sri Lanka’s request for a $1.9 billion IMF loan is expected to be approved by the end of June, though IMF has yet to comment.

Two central bank officials told Reuters the central bank had only asked for $1.9 billion, but said the IMF could increase the amount to $2.5 billion before finalising the package.

The central bank cut its policy rates by 50 basis points on Tuesday to boost access to credit and spur economic growth, while T-bill rates have steadily fallen and the benchmark 91-day T-bill was at 11.56 percent on Wednesday.

John Keells Holdings jumped 7 percent to 137.25 rupees to its highest close since Nov. 1, 2007, on a weighted average, while market heavyweight Sri Lanka Telecom rose 5.6 percent to 47.25 rupees, its highest close since June 11, 2009.

Top listed private lender Commercial Bank of Ceylon jumped 5.04 percent to 135.50 rupees, its highest close since May 23, last year, while development lender DFCC Bank gained 5.26 percent to a 17-month high of 135 rupees.

The 2009 daily average turnover, which was 260.7 million rupees up until May 15, has now jumped to 399.4 million rupees since the military declared victory in a 25-year war though there are still concerns over foreign inflows to the bourse.

Net foreign inflows had been 1.4 billion rupees before the end of war, but turned to a net outflow of 229.2 million rupees as of Wednesday, with foreign investors gradually coming in.

Sri Lanka’s economic growth in the first quarter of 2009 hit a 7-year low of 1.5 percent, while unemployment also has seen a rise for the first time in more than five years due to global recession, the government said on Tuesday.

The rupee closed flat at 114.90/95 a dollar as the central bank bought dollars at 114.90 rupees with active trading on foreign exchange forward market after the central bank’s decision to relax banks’ foreign currency holdings, dealers said.

The rupee hit a record low of 120.80/121.10 on April 23, as the central bank stopped preventing depreciation amid discussions on the IMF loan.

The interbank lending rate or call money rate edged up to 9.888 percent from Tuesday’s 9.725 percent.

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