By Shihar Aneez
COLOMBO, March 26 (Reuters) - Sri Lankan shares inched up on Wednesday, with bluechip Sri Lanka Telecom SLTL.CM leading the way as investors expected a stake in the firm to be sold at a premium to Malaysia's Maxis soon, traders said.
The rupee closed firmer on profit taking.
The Colombo All-Share index .CSE rose 0.15 percent or 3.78 points to 2,549.56. The market has been choppy since it hit a 3-½ month closing high on March 12.
Sri Lanka Telecom, the country's top fixed-line operator, closed 0.62 percent up at 40.50 rupees a share as calculated on a weighted average. It accounted for around 30 percent of market turnover of 586.8 million rupees ($5.44 million).
"Investors heavily traded SLT (Sri Lanka Telecom) shares expecting the stake sale to go through soon," said Vajira Premawardhana, head of research at Lanka Orix Securities.
The firm's stock has risen over 8 percent since the Supreme Court on March 10 allowed Japan's Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp (9432.T) to sell a stake in the firm to Malaysian mobile network operator Maxis Communications.
The deal was earlier tipped to go through last week at above 42 rupees a share, but some traders now see it topping 52 rupees.
Despite the optimism, some investors booked profits in the firm.
Conglomerate John Keells Holdings JKH.CM, which accounts for 10 percent of total market capitalisation, rose 0.84 percent to 120 rupees a share. Investors expect it to announce strong earnings for the year to end-March, traders said.
Local lender Nations Trust Bank NTB.CM closed 3.45 percent firmer at 30 rupees on strategic buying, while large cap diversified holdings Ceylon Theatres Ltd CTHR.CM rose 4.44 percent to 4,700 rupees after a share split on Tuesday.
The market is 0.34 percent up for the year so far after sliding almost 7 percent in early January, when the government formally scrapped a shaky truce with Tamil Tiger rebels.
The rupee LKR= closed at 107.72/78 per dollar, up from Tuesday's 107.90/95. The currency hit a 14-month high of 107.40/50 on March 10.
"The rupee strengthened with the profit-taking," said a currency dealer.
Traders said banks sold dollars as rupee borrowing was expensive with the interbank lending rate hovering around 18 percent, offering further support for the rupee.
The interday call money rate CLIBOR fell to 18.315 percent, from Tuesday's 18.711 percent. ($1=107.75 rupees) (Editing by Rob Taylor/Mark Williams)