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Shares slump to over 5-year closing low on margin calls

Shares fell 1.1% on Friday to a more than five-year closing low, as margin calls following recent losses forced investors to sell risky assets, analysts said.

The rupee closed firmer on dollar inflows from inward remittances and selling of the greenback by exporters. The IMF has agreed to extend Sri Lanka’s $ 1.5 billion loan program by one year and has reached staff level agreement to disburse the sixth tranche of the loan, government and diplomatic sources told Reuters on Friday.

The Colombo Stock Exchange index closed 1.07% weaker at 5,754.31, its lowest close since 28 November 2013.

The benchmark index fell 1.43% this week. It declined 2.9% in February, its second straight monthly fall. Turnover was Rs. 350.5 million ($ 1.95 million), less than half of last year’s daily average of Rs. 834 million.

The rupee ended firmer at 179.70/85 per dollar, compared with Thursday’s close of 179.95/180.15.

Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera’s 2019 Budget next week will attempt to stick to fiscal targets set by the International Monetary Fund, while raising spending on farmers and public servants to woo voters ahead of polls later this year.

Traders said there was little impact on the exchange rate from the Central Banks last week surprise move of reducing commercial banks’ statutory reserve ratio (SRR) by 100 basis points from 1 March. The decision will increase liquidity by around Rs. 60 billion, the Central Bank had said.

Foreign investors exited from government securities for the first time in five weeks in the week ended 20 February, with net sales of Rs. 1.5 billion, the Central Bank’s latest data showed.

The rupee has climbed 1.6% so far this year as exporters converted dollars and foreign investors purchased government securities amid stabilizing investor confidence after the country repaid a $ 1 billion sovereign bond in mid-January.

Worries over heavy debt repayment after the 51-day political crisis that resulted in a series of credit rating downgrades dented investor sentiment as the country struggled to repay its foreign loans. The rupee dropped 16% in 2018, and was one of the worst-performing currencies in Asia due to heavy foreign outflows.

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