A poll has forecast growth to slump to its lowest in nearly two decades this year. (Photo: Kuni Takahashi/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Sri Lankan shares ended weaker on Monday (3), falling for the second straight session in dull trade as the market shrugged off a widely expected rate cut by the Central Bank while the rupee closed steady, market sources said.

On Friday (31) the Central Bank cut its key interest rates to support its faltering economy, as overall business and consumer confidence slumped following deadly bomb attacks in April.

Traders said the Easter Sunday bombings, violence following the attacks, and worries over slowing economic growth, weighed on investor sentiment. Most investors have shied away from the market since the 21 April bombings that killed more than 250 people.

Sri Lanka is unlikely to hit its full-year economic growth target of 3-4 per cent following the bombings, junior Finance Minister Eran Wickremeratne told Reuters last week. A Reuters poll has forecast growth to slump to its lowest in nearly two decades this year.

The Central Bank chief said on Friday that he expected the economy to grow by 3 per cent or less this year due to the impact of the Easter attacks, and the Bank was preparing a downward revision to its earlier projection for 4 per cent growth.

The benchmark stock index ended 0.22 per cent weaker on Monday at 5,299.50. It rose 0.3 per cent last week, recording its second straight weekly gain. The bourse has declined 12.44 per cent so far this year. The government’s pension fund has resumed investing in risky assets as the stock market is “extremely undervalued at the moment and is considered a good time to go into,” the Central Bank Governor said.

Turnover was Rs. 188.6 million ($1.07 million), less than this year’s daily average of around Rs. 546.9 million. Last year’s daily average was Rs. 834 million. Foreign investors bought a net Rs. 518,433 worth of shares on Monday, extending the year-to-date net foreign outflow to Rs. 5.55 billion worth of equities.

The rupee ended steady at 176.40/60 per dollar, compared with Thursday’s close of 176.40/55, market sources said. Analysts expect the rupee to weaken further as money flows out of stocks and government securities. The rupee fell 0.06 per cent last week but is up 3.5 per cent for the year. Exporters had converted dollars as investor confidence stabilised after a $1 billion sovereign bond was repaid in mid-January.

The rupee dropped 16 per cent in 2018 and was one of the worst-performing currencies in Asia. Foreign investors bought a net Rs. 2.1 billion worth of government securities in the week ended 22 May, but the island nation saw a net foreign outflow of Rs. 19.1 billion so far this year, Central Bank data showed.

Investor sentiment was damaged at the end of last year when president Maithripala Sirisena abruptly removed prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and then dissolved Parliament. A court later ruled the move unconstitutional, but the political turmoil led to credit rating downgrades and an outflow of foreign funds.

Reuters