August 19, 2019 / 11:55 AM / a month ago

Sri Lanka shares hit near two-week closing low; rupee down

COLOMBO, Aug 19 (Reuters) - Sri Lankan shares fell to their lowest close in nearly two weeks on Monday, as investors waited for more clarity after the main opposition party named a hard-line former defence chief as its presidential candidate, to capitalise on public clamour for a decisive leader.

** The benchmark stock index ended down 0.43% at 5,869.07, its lowest close since Aug. 6. The index posted a loss of 0.82% last week, its first weekly decline in eight.

** The market expects to hear a list of policies from former defence chief Gotabaya Rajapaksa as well as the ruling party’s presidential candidate who is yet to be announced, dealers said.

* Gotabaya, 70, served under his older brother, ex-president Mahinda Rajapaksa, and is widely seen as the front runner in a presidential election that must be held before Dec. 9. Gotabaya is immensely popular among the powerful Sinhala Buddhist majority, who credit him with ending the island nation’s 26-year-long civil war in 2009 and believe Colombo needs a seasoned hand after the April 21 bombings. ** Foreign investors exited from risky assets for the third session in four since Gotabaya was nominated. They sold a net 19 million rupees worth of shares on Monday. ** The market had gathered strength early this month amid speculations of the wartime defence chief contesting for presidency, dealers said. ** So far this year, the index has dropped about 3%.

** Turnover was 622.6 million rupees ($3.51 million), lower than this year’s daily average of about 655 million rupees so far. Last year’s daily average came in at 834 million rupees.

** The benchmark stock index was dragged by top fixed-line phone operator Sri Lanka Telecom and Asian Hotels & Properties Plc, which lost 1.7% and 7.9% respectively, bourse data showed.

** The rupee ended weaker at 177.30/50 per dollar, compared to Friday’s close of 177.15/25. The currency was down 0.2% for the last week, but is up nearly 2.9% so far this year.

** Foreign investors bought a net 0.61 million rupees worth of government securities in the week ended Aug. 13. But the market has suffered year-to-date net foreign outflow of 28 billion rupees, central bank data showed.

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$1 = 177.3000 Sri Lankan rupees Reporting by Shihar Aneez; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu

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