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FINANCIAL CHRONICLE™ » DAILY CHRONICLE™ » Sri Lanka Newspapers Sunday 06/05/2012

Sri Lanka Newspapers Sunday 06/05/2012

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Global Moderator

May 05, 2012 (LBT) –Sri Lanka’s Navara Capital group led by emerging businessman Harsha De Silva has agreed to acquire a majority stake (68%) of the MBSL Savings bank, said the MBSL Chairman M.R Shah.

According to him, the new owner’s plans to rename MBSL Savings bank - UDANA Savings bank under the new chairman (nominated) Professor Ranjith Bandara and also list at Colombo bourse before end of year.

"[We're] hoping to finalize a deal very soon and Navara Capital will inject fresh capital to the bank to setoff its accumulated losses which was reported during the Ceylinco Group crisis " he said.

“We have collected deposits of Rs 01 billion.” He also said.

This Central bank approved specialized savings bank earlier known as Ceylinco Saving’s bank.

During the Ceylinco Group crisis it was acquired by the MBSL Group for 300 million rupees.

The bank’s 68 % controlling stake still in the Hands of the MBSL group and rest of the ownership with the major depositors who were converted their deposits in to the capital during the Ceylinco crisis time.

2Sri Lanka Newspapers Sunday 06/05/2012 Empty Sri Lanka Newspapers Sunday 06/05/2012 Sat May 05, 2012 5:41 pm


Global Moderator

25% of 4Q stock market earnings from financial sector : Report

Sri Lanka's financial services sector was the biggest earner for the country's stock market over its December 2011 quarter, contributing 25% to total market earnings. However, while this sector recorded a 2% year-on-year increase in earnings, it also showed a 2% drop when compared to the previous, September 2011 quarter, according to a research report by Asia Wealth Research, a unit of local stockbroker Asia Capital.

The report, titled "Sri Lanka Country Report - 2012", and based on data from the country's Central Bank, also added that earnings by this sector were followed by both the diversified and the beverage, food and tobacco sectors, each accounting for 17% of total market earnings.

It also noted that, in terms of the diversified sector, market earnings were dominated (58%) by two companies, John Keells and Aitken Spence. While, when it came to beverage, food and tobacco, the biggest earners were Ceylon Tobacco (36%), Nestle Lanka (11%), Ceylon Tea Services (9%), Ceylon Brewery (8%) and Ceylon Cold Stores (7%). Although, the report also signalled that top earners such as Ceylon Tobacco and Distilleries Company had faced declining corporate returns and, as a consequence, overall sector earnings for the quarter had been pulled down along with them.

Meanwhile, commenting on trends in the agriculture sector, the report went on to indicate that, while agriculture "continued to maintain its relevance", this was due to "backward linkages" to the industrial sector and exports rather than its import on essential goods. For example, a shift from growing potatoes and big onions, for local consumption, to maize and sesame, for export, was highlighted.

At the same time, the report also suggested that, while coconuts as an export was on the decline, the highly lucrative and in demand palm oil would, more and more, take its place as one of the country's top cash crops alongside tea and rubber. On the other hand, it was also opined that the latter, as an export, would always remain somewhat "limited".

Additionally, while signalling positive growth for the construction and the industrial sectors, mostly as a result of heightened expectation for tourism, the report also predicted that a new trend in the financial sector was a "tendency for the retail credit market and the economy's deposit base to shift towards finance companies from banking sector since former is free from the limits imposed on credit growth. Further, in this setting, medium scale finance companies that are more skewed towards meeting SME sector requirements will prosper over the major finance houses owing to the fact that credit growth of the latter is mainly channeled towards leasing and hire purchase of vehicles; and the vehicle imports are expected to fall 60% to 70% this year due to the rise in import taxes".

Further, the report was of the opinion that the "continued existence of an untenable fiscal mismatch concomitantly with one of region's highest consumer tax rate systems was the critical economic setting under which Sri Lankan governments have been planning its fiscal proposals over the years. When austerity measures are regarded infeasible owing to socio-economic setbacks that carry with it, the persistence of high fiscal deficits averaging eight percent of nominal GDP for the past ten years along with 120% average duty implied that alteration of tax rates sans general macroeconomic planning, is incapable of curbing the fiscal deficit without exposing the economy to solvency problems...

Under this general backdrop, in 2011, government set about to curb the deficit by increasing tax rates on essential inflationary goods such as sugar, wheat flour, milk powder, etc., to which there is a degree of price inelasticity of demand attached, and on the other hand opted to lower taxes on non-essentials such as motor vehicles and consumer durables.

This is the critical terrain where a change in one factor does not fail to lead into another: high tax rates on essentials and low rates on non-essentials meant decreasing fiscal deficit at the expense of rising price levels, decreasing international competitiveness and promoting balance of payments issues. On the other, hand opting to the converse meant rising fiscal mismatch stemming from declining import tax revenue coupled with increasing cost of capital. This contradiction still persists providing an important glimpse into the future".

3Sri Lanka Newspapers Sunday 06/05/2012 Empty Colombo bourse still in a stupor Sat May 05, 2012 5:42 pm


Global Moderator

Stockmarket Review
By Elton Ebert
It was an extension of the stupor for yet another four days at the Colombo bourse. Next week will also be a 4-day trading week, and brokers say the lethargy in the market is due to the series of holidays. Some brokers are telling their investors that themarket should accelerate after the holiday period is over. They predict that the market should take off in early June when the ATS is expected to function properly.
During the week there were no major deals except for the regular demand for Amana Takaful and PC House which evoked extra interest of late. A further nine million shares were transacted on Friday, its closing level being Rs 7.70.

Textured Jersey in which fair support was mirrored of late has changed plans on the organic expansion and now concentrating on acquiring an operating fabric mill within the Indian sub-continent. The company is also evaluating options on an alternate energy source. The share is now priced at Rs 7.90. Piramal Glass in which demand has been steady released impressive earnings of post-tax profits up by 19% for the last financial year. Early last month the EPF purchased a massive 45.3 million shares in the company to become the largest local stakeholder. There is also a first and final dividend of 36 cents per share pending. Among the recent IPOs, Access Engineering was down to Rs. 20.70, while Mackwoods Energy was also down to Rs.13.20. Peoples Leasing in which a dividend of 50 cents is pending was at Rs.11.40

The saga of the 7.8 million shares in The Finance Co (TFC) at an average price of Rs.49.74 equivalent to 13.02% of the company purchased by NSB, continues. The brokers who did the deal justify their action by saying that when a substantial slice is offered the seller can demand a price higher than normal. The other brokers say that this price was too high because the company has accumulated losses of billions of rupees although they made a profit recently. There is a speculation that this quantity was offered to a foreign fund much lower than the transacted price but this news was leaked out, and extra effort was made to beat that offer which became a reality. Meanwhile retailers are hopeful that the NSB might increase its stake in TFC so that they can sell their shares at better levels. Friday’s closing price was Rs 30.

Changes in directorates: Commercial Bank of Ceylon – A.L. Gooneratne retired from the bank as Managing Director and has been replaced by Ravi Dias. Jegan Durairatnam was also appointed to the board; Union Bank of Colombo - Ajita de Zoysa retired as Chairman and has been replaced by Alexis Lovell. Asoka de Silva was appointed Deputy Chairman. Ananda Atukorale and Ajith Wijeyesekera are retiring from the board on May 7;

Chilaw Finance - Chandana Kumarage was appointed Director/CEO and Nilantha Perera as Chairman; PABC - Channa de Silva and G. Prasanna were appointed directors; TFC - Dinal Wijemanne resigned from the Board; Lanka IOC - Subodh Dakwale was appointed Managing Director replacing K.R. Suresh Kumar.

Turnover for the week was Rs.1.9 billion against Rs.2 billion last week. Both indices were lower with the All Share Price Index losing 47.44 points or 0.9% to finish at 5382.14, and the Milanka Index 0.5% or 22.73 points lower at 4830.80.

4Sri Lanka Newspapers Sunday 06/05/2012 Empty ‘Fit and Proper’ directors Sat May 05, 2012 5:43 pm


Global Moderator

A recent announcement about guidelines on ‘fit and proper’ directors to institutions regulated and licensed by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) reminds one of the famous proverb: “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.”

This is not to say these guidelines are not essential or is a requirement. It is, without a doubt, a must and in this context the SEC deserves the blessings of the state, the public and the market for initiating such a consultative process towards implementing these guidelines.

However in the Sri Lankan context, how effective is the implementation of laws and guidelines in the corporate and non-state sector? Professionals including accountants, lawyers and the like have gone scot free when it comes to even self-regulatory guidelines. The issues that the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Sri Lanka have faced over the years with activists like Nihal Sri Ameresekere and Amrit Muttukumaru knocking on the doors of this ‘august’ professional body for the results of various disciplinary committees probing allegations of impropriety against top accountants are well known.
Provisions in the SEC’s ‘fit and proper’ rules call for assessment of a director’s - (a) Ability to carry on the regulated activity competently, honestly and fairly; and (d) Reputation, character, reliability and financial integrity.

In the light of what was discussed earlier is it possible to make a proper assessment of an individual’s character unless there an effective policing or surveillance unit to check all the facts submitted by the applicant, similar to the stringent process that some embassies including the US in screening new applicants for high-profile posts?

Does the ‘fit and proper’ rules for directors of financial institutions governed by the Central Bank work effectively? At least two or three top officials of banks should never have been approved under these guidelines on ethical grounds after figuring prominently in the oil hedging deals, and getting away scot free.

Yet these ‘fit’ and proper’ rules were firmly enforced in the case of a foreign bank that was involved in the hedging case, owing to the growing enmity between the regulator and the bank. Rules applied using different principles!

This week, according to a newspaper report, the head of the broking firm that was involved in the controversial National Savings Bank deal in buying a stake in The Finance Co (TFC) was one of the sellers of the stock. Is that a ‘fit and proper’ thing to do? With these new SEC guidelines still not in place, the market is awash with all these unsavoury dealings, eventually questioning ethics, governance and fair-play in the markets.

Many are the instances of conflicts of interests in all sectors of the corporate world. The inquiry, some years back, into a top member of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce over its involvement in a court ruling had its share of conflicts of interests between members of the ‘probe’ committee and the company concerned.

Last year, a powerful company bought stock in a growing, new entity in a private placement and subsequently the former acted as the advisor to the IPO (Initial Public Offer) and finalized its sale price, which drew all-round surprise and condemnation. Was that ‘fit and proper’? No wonder, small retail players have pulled out of the IPO market, disgusted at the sense of fair-play and justice.
What about the way non-executive, independent directors are appointed? In one recent appointment, the independent director of a hotel company was also a full-time, employee of another company, whose parent group owned the hotel.

K.C. Vignarajah, which this column repeatedly refers to as Sri Lanka’s sole stock market watchdog and fighter for the rights of independent minority shareholders (IMS), is again knocking on the doors of justice. This time, he is raising a series of issues, as seen in the article on this page, on Watawala Plantations Ltd and the alleged stripping of its assets and transfer to other companies. He’s urging the SEC to act in the interests of not only the shareholders but all the investing public to ensure justice prevails over injustice. Most of the assets that have been transferred were the ones that brought profitability to the company in a sector (tea) that is struggling to survive on production alone. While just a few stand-alone tea estate companies are surviving, most of the regional plantations that are profitable are those that have an equal share of rubber plantations which have been thriving in recent years and ensuring sustainability of those tea estates.

Therefore how does the SEC assess an individual’s “ability to carry on the regulated activity competently, honestly and fairly; and whether he or she has a good reputation and is of good character, reliability and financial integrity?

In a general sense, these guidelines are common features in any recruitment process in the public or private sectors. Most companies seek these attributes in new applicants and go by references or some well known person’s affidavit. Unfortunately in today world’s, it’s the well-known person, not the man-on-street, who are the culprits. In the political scene, you see many of them – Mervyn Silva for example - brazenly violating the laws of the land and proudly pronouncing that they are protected by the highest in the land.

That is happening in the stock market too, and led to the unfortunate resignation of the former chairperson of the SEC, Indrani Sugathadasa. So far the SEC under its new chief, former parliamentarian Thilak Karunaratne is making all the right moves. It could do better but given the circumstances in which every institution in this country is highly politicized, the SEC is left with Hobson’s choice in doing what is physically possible, at this moment, with the hope that eventually it would be able to operate as an independent body, not by statute alone.

The cases and instances of conflicts of interests of directors are so numerous to state here that, finally it’s not the guidelines on ‘fit and proper’ directors that the public would watching but rather SEC’s effective, ‘no holds barred’ enforcement of these guidelines.


Global Moderator

Immigration Dept. gets boost with improved service
By Sunimalee Dias
New visa rules for visitors to Sri Lanka involving the payment of a visa fee has generated revenues of US$550 million during the first four months of this year, officials said. Revenue from this new source is targeted at, at least $2 billion this year.

Immigration Controller Chulananda Perera, speaking with the Business Times on Monday just before addressing a section of the business community in Colombo, said the new visa procedures were currently operating "very smoothly."

The new visa processing system or the Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) introduced in October last year was fully implemented on January 1. Mr Perera later addressed members of the Sunday Times Business Club (STBC) at their monthly meeting at the Taj Samudra Hotel on the reforms that has led to a substantial improvement in the Immigration and Emigration Department.

He said visitors are provided the opportunity to obtain visas on arrival at the airport by checking online, which is currently in progress as well has reduced in its numbers. Mr. Perera observed that although previously there were larger numbers obtaining visas on arrival this had reduced considerably with only about 5% of the visitors obtaining visas on arrival at the airport. In future, authorities would work towards tracking tourists while touring the country, he said.

This would provide an opportunity for the authorities to ascertain the movements of tourists to the country to ensure their safety as well especially during natural disasters, Mr. Perera explained. He also observed that this would provide relevant information for the tourism industry to obtain accurate data on room nights spent by tourists as well.

Meanwhile, the department in itself has taken a dramatic change with employees requested to provide an improved service to the people with a pleasing personality and through friendly 'eye to eye' contact when serving them. Mr. Perera explained that these measures were taken alongside motivational factors employed to provide a boost for its employees' welfare. In this regard, the department now boasts of a strong welfare culture, gymnasium, library, theatre and a host of other activities like encouraging practicing yoga and meditation. The department has also provided motivation to its employees by providing free trips for pilgrimages to India jointly with the assistance of the tour operators.

Use of the 5S system is also extensively carried out with the regional offices of the department also taking on a new look, it was explained. He also noted that with private partnerships they were able to obtain the assistance of the three-wheel drivers in the area to control to some extent certain nefarious activities taking place around the building.

Providing an improved service and becoming less rigid, Mr Perera noted they were now able to render a better deal to its customers with increased efficiency. While the Sri Lankan Diaspora presently numbers 800,000, labour migrants total around 1.9 million. The STBC is sponsored by Etisalat, co-sponsored by Hameedia and hosted by the Taj Samudra.


Global Moderator

A top-level delegation to China led by Treasury Secretary P.B. Jayasundera last month secured a loan facility worth US$1.5 billion from a Beijing state bank to finance local projects and also explored the possibilities of more assistance for infrastructure and other development projects from China, informed sources said.

The two projects to be part-financed with the loan are the Sapugaskanda oil refinery refurbishment and Moragahakanda development project. According to the sources, the Chinese bank has already studied the feasibility report on the proposed refinery expansion from 50,000 barrels per day to 100,000 barrels.
While the oil refinery, which needs $2 billion for a complete overhaul, will get $1.25 billion, Moragahakanda will receive the balance $252 million from the Chinese loan.

The sources said the Sri Lankan side also sought the support of Chinese state agencies to tackle the country's balance of trade issues, exploring the possibility of increasing exports to China as the trade balance is currently unfavourable to Sri Lanka.

Against this backdrop, Petroleum Industries Minister Susil Premajayantha said they have turned down an offer from Lanka IOC to invest in renovating the Sapugaskanda refinery. He said the government has been seeking a foreign loan facility of $2 billion to refurbish the refinery to increase its capacity. Speaking to the Business Times, he said he was unaware of the Chinese loan offer.

Earlier Lanka IOC said it was willing to invest up to $2 billion to upgrade the ageing refinery. K.R. Suresh Kumar, outgoing Managing Director of Lanka IOC, said his company was ready to assist Sri Lanka in whatever possible manner towards refurbishing or revamping the facility, and had conveyed their interest in writing to the Petroleum Industries Minister recently.


Global Moderator

By Quintus Perera

Corporate sector financial support is needed by students and undergraduates to become successful entrepreneurs so that they could support the development of the country. Unfortunately today, the university system in Sri Lanka is not producing even 5% in entrepreneurship, according to Chandra Embuldeniya, former Vice-Chancellor, Uva Wellassa University, a university set up to nurture entrepreneurial skills. He was speaking at the launch last week of this year's "HSBC Youth Enterprise Awards 2012", a business plan contest aimed at recognizing young entrepreneurs in Sri Lanka held at the British Council.

The contest jointly conducted by HSBC and the British Council is open to Sri Lankan undergraduates, postgraduates and students aged 16 to 26 years representing universities, private higher education institutions, and professional training bodies in Sri Lanka. Mr Embuldeniya who was assigned the task of 'Lead Judge' at this contest, further said that students do not have money to further their innovative findings and entrepreneurial skills. Therefore as in the present case where HSBC is funding the contest, the corporate sector should support these students.

He said that innovations should come from the university system. On the sidelines of the event, Mr Embuldeniya told the Business Times that the country requires persons with high entrepreneurial skills for the country's ongoing development strategy and the universities could accommodate such skills training. Nick Nicolaou, CEO, HSBC Sri Lanka and Maldives said that the HSBC's objective of identifying and recognizing young entrepreneurs of Sri Lanka works well with the British Council's objective of supporting and promoting enterprise education.

Tony Reilly, Sri Lanka Country Director, British Council said that the next generation entrepreneurs will drive Sri Lanka's economy. He said that the British Council has pioneered a number of initiatives to promote graduate entrepreneurship in Sri Lanka by working closely with the Ministry of Education, University Grants Commission, Vice Chancellors and Lecturers in Sri Lanka and UK's entrepreneurial universities. This year the prize money has been enhanced and the winning individuals/teams will receive Rs 500,000; the first runner up individual /team will receive Rs 200,000 and the second runner up individual/team will receive Rs 100,000 as cash prizes to implement their winning business plans.


Global Moderator

Watawala Plantations Ltd, a listed company, has been in the news recently for the wrong reasons; allegations by independent minority shareholders (IMS) that the directors of the company are taking arbitrary decisions without consultation and consent. These shareholders has raised serious concerns that the company is being stripped off its lucrative divisions like marketing for example and transferring these to other units, eventually reducing the value of the assets of the company, its share value and future prospects. K. C. Vignarajah, an IMS at Watawala Plantations and a well-known proponent of governance, transparency and good management of listed companies and providing value to all its shareholders - not only the controlling interests (CI) -, has written to the commissioners of the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) including the chairman, Thilak Karunaratne and acting Director-General Harendra Dissa Bandara urging the SEC to intervene in the matter.

Here are excerpts of his letter: Watawala Plantation PLC (WATA) was 'peoplised" when the Government leased out 23 well located estates with great potential for developing existing and new Tea, Rubber, Palm oil crops & brands.

The development of new luxury scenic boutique hotels, many restaurants, tourist shops, retail outlets along the exotic, long main road frontages of some of the best plantations in Sri Lanka in all elevations drew the attention of ordinary investors. Hydropower generation from the many waterfalls, 'bottle water' plants, timber resources were also normal expectations!

At the WATA's recent EGM the concerns of IMS' expressed included:

1. The directors' statement regarding WATA spinning off Watawala Marketing Ltd (WML) to concentrate on the 'core business' (the recent buzz word) as against the mantra of consolidation while enhancing efficiency and total company value. Spinning off vital assets and operations were considered deceptive and fallacious by the IMS. The core business of the company has to be integrated to achieve best quality and productivity while getting best prices for the products, branding being such products which functioned well as a division of WATA.

2. A history of continuous and systematic siphoning off/spin-off of tremendous values/assets of the company to unfairly enrich the CI and its related parties, at the expense and loss to IMS.

3. Non-disclosure, even suppression, of important material information in a timely manner. In this instance, even the name of the "Independent" Advisor/Valuer of WML appointed by the CI was not given, when a shareholder requested this information. The valuation report was also refused to the shareholders in direct violation of good corporate governance and provisions of the SEC Act.
The WATA MD pointed out that it was not specified in law for it to be given. It elicited a prompt response that when he obtained a marriage license, all acts that he needs to do are not specified.

4. A wholly owned subsidiary was less detrimental to IMS of WATA even if the CI could hide the full facts of profitability/full potential, by extra fees, commissions, perks, travel/entertainment & other expenses. The annual report has extolled the virtues of the products of WATA. "Fresh from our plantation" etc .... which was foremost among other points of the good Brand value.

5. Board of directors
5.l. The Chairman and Board of Directors of all PLCs are first and foremost trustees of all the shareholders, and in the larger context to the good image of the country's Stock Exchange, its efficacy and reliability!! The SEC must be very firm with all those who will reduce or destroy investor confidence; the trusteeship for the IMS is all the more sacred.

5.2. Managing/Executive Directors, perform managerial functions. Policy review and monitoring functions of the board are given the benefits of balance and checks by electing truly independent Directors, Auditors, Advisors and maybe even company secretaries whose recording of minutes are crucial in many cases. They cannot really be independent if the management appoints them (a famous English Judge once opined that, "it would be like the thieves appointing the Judge and also fixing their remuneration"!).

In some jurisdictions in China, CI and related parties cannot vote in the election of Independent Directors, Auditors, etc. For example Microsoft has announced that the CI and management will refrain from voting in elections for the Independent positions who should be elected by IMS.
6. WATA violated important principles:

6.l. Continuous lack of accurate and timely information of the valuable assets/projects and prospects, which are of intrinsic importance to make informed decisions by shareholders/investors.
6.2. Shareholders of WATA participating in the capital, trusting the directors and managers to manage and develop the entire tangible and intangible assets of WATA for their benefit.
6.3. Conflicts of interest/siphoning off profits/benefits to the parent company, or diverting assets to entities where controlling interest and/or related parties benefit are neither ethical nor moral. It is not legal either.

6.4. Insider dealing - WATA PLC creates WML out of the most profitable division on the basis of insider information available to directors/managers: market/profit forecast, huge hidden values of the brands). They transferred WML to the parent company EMS. The IMS and the Golden Shareholder (GS-state Treasury) have vehemently protested. A churlish reply was sent by WATA to SEC's letter seeking information/clarification.

7. Wrongful sale of WML - the excellent profit making division of WATA PLC, to EMS must be reversed.
8. The Directors' excuse that WATA required urgent funding, and that there was no lending institution which was prepared to give loans to WATA, was a shocking revelation of the extremely poor cash flow and asset management by EMS; Or was it extremely well pre-planned to enable EMS to 'wrongfully purchase the cash cow' of WATA? What happened to the normal one year, three years and five year corporate plans?

IMS have helplessly watched the best potential of the assets of Watawala Plantations PLC being siphoned off to related parties; subsidiaries of parent company (EMS) and or the ultimate parent Sunshine Holding (SH) PLC; TATA Global beverages joint venture.

The ironic part is that EMS has offered to buy the most profitable arm for a paltry sum of Rs 741 million, whereas reasonable valuation was stated at the EGM by an analyst to be Rs 2.5 billion at the very least and probably Rs 3 billion.

All these companies and their directors have been accumulating huge management, directors' fees and profits every year from WATA. They have also spun off the more profitable companies and assets from WATA to themselves and related parties.

The IMS appealed to the Chairman and MD, and later at the EGM, the IMS and the GS cautioned the entire board not to proceed with the resolution using their (CI & related party) majority. However, they proceeded with the transfer of 100% of WML to EMS. The IMS expected the Board of EMS to consult the TATA main board and accept their very reasonable and legitimate request. There has been no response to date.

The SEC and the Treasury should investigate the activities of WATA PLC and Sunshine Holdings over the past five years, including transfers of assets; valuations and patterns of share trading. It will be a salutary deterrent to many other companies who have embarked or are embarking on the same wrongful path.

The IMS representing over 18,000 are a group of average decent citizens investing their savings in productive ventures to earn good returns on their investments while promoting growth and economic wellbeing of the country.

It must be noted that all of the above representatives voted against the resolution at the EGM.
A lack of stern action by the SEC, and anyone of the parties above would encourage insider traders/manipulators and other wrongdoers to bring the Colombo Stock Exchange (CSE) into disrepute. Genuine investors will not only be dissuaded from coming into the CSE but the existing investors will also seek to exit the CSE.


Senior Vice President - Equity Analytics
Senior Vice President - Equity Analytics

The 306-room luxury hotel to open doors in October 2013, making it the first major global brand to debut in post-war
Sri Lanka

nArchitectural contract awarded to W.S. Atkins, designers and engineers of Dubai’s iconic Burj-Al-Arab among others
nLanka Hotels and Residencies and Starwood Group looking for other development opportunities in Sri Lanka identified as emerging market in the global hospitality and leisure industry
The US-based global giant Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, the owners of the internationally-famous Sheraton brand, yesterday signed the deal in Colombo with local partners to manage its first-ever hotel in Sri Lanka.
Lanka Hotels and Residencies Ltd., and its promoters Greenwater Resorts Ltd., of India and Eurcon Building Industries FZC of the UAE, together with their Sri Lanka partners, will be making an investment of $ 80 million to build the new Sheraton hotel opposite the Galle Face Green in Colombo 3.
“This will be the first world-known international brand hotel which will become operational since the end of the war,” the promoters said yesterday after the signing of the agreement.
The 306-room Sheraton Colombo, complete with a Presidential Suite and other themed luxury suites as well as four restaurants, is expected to open its doors in October 2013, they added. The Shangri-La Hotel, an agreement on which was signed in February, is slated to open in Colombo only in 2015.
The architectural contract has been awarded to a leading consultancy W.S. Atkins, designers and engineers of Burj-Al-Arab, The Address Hotel, Dubai’s Metro System and Olympic Games in London 2012. The interior design contract was awarded to Catallo and Associates of Singapore.
“The shareholders of Lanka Hotels and Residencies have demonstrated their commitment to the importance of Sri Lanka as an emerging market in the hospitality and leisure sector and are actively seeking to make further investments in Sri Lanka,” a spokesman said.
The investors of this project as well as the operator Starwood Group considers Sri Lanka as a significant emerging market in the global hospitality and leisure industry, he added.
“We note the myriad of opportunities available in Sri Lanka with the end of the war and appreciate that the Government of Sri Lanka led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa is facilitating the entry of new investors by streamlining and simplifying due processes within an ambiance of peace and opportunity,” the spokesman emphasised. “These measures underscore the Government of Sri Lanka’s resolve to attract foreign inward investments in its drive to build and develop the infrastructure of the nation,” he added.
Lanka Hotels and Residencies Ltd., together with its promoters Greenwater Resorts Ltd., Eurcon Building Industries FZC and its Sri Lankan partners together with the operator of Sheraton, the Starwood Group, said they wish to place on record their sincere thanks for all initiative and efforts of Treasury Secretary Dr. P.B. Jayasundera for making the project ‘Sheraton-Colombo’ a reality.
According to the spokesman, Lanka Hotels and Starwood Group are also looking forward to other development opportunities in Sri Lanka.
Sheraton Hotels and resorts is the flagship brand of Starwood Group and is recognised worldwide as offering luxury hotel and resort accommodation. It operates nine internationally recognised brand names – St. Regis, The Luxury Collection, W, Westin, Le Meridien, Sheraton, Four Points by Sheraton, Aloft and ElementSM – at 1,090 properties in 100 countries employing in excess of 154,000 staff.
The company’s loyalty program Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) is famed for allowing members to earn and redeem points for room stays, room upgrades and flights without blackout dates.

10Sri Lanka Newspapers Sunday 06/05/2012 Empty Rupee slips 0.8% before long weekend Sat May 05, 2012 6:27 pm


Senior Vice President - Equity Analytics
Senior Vice President - Equity Analytics

Reuters: The rupee edged down on Friday as importers sold the currency to buy dollars to settle their bills ahead of a long weekend. The rupee ended at 127.80/128.10 against the dollar, 0.8 per cent weaker from Thursday’s close of 126.90/127.00.
“Importers wanted to make sure that they settle their bills on time ahead of a long weekend. Otherwise they will have to pay demurrage for delays,” said a dealer on condition of anonymity.
Sri Lanka has declared Monday a special holiday after two days of Buddhist religious holidays over the weekend.


Senior Vice President - Equity Analytics
Senior Vice President - Equity Analytics

By Uditha Jayasinghe
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) will extend a US$ 3.5 million loan to Sri Lanka for rural household electrification, a minister said yesterday.
Acting Cabinet spokesman Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeyawardana told media that the loan will assist households in the south as well was the former war torn eastern provinces to obtain electricity at low cost.
“The proposed Rural Household Connection Project intends to improve operational and financial efficiency in rural electrification in the country and to expand coverage of rural electrification,” he said.
The Cabinet also appointed local development bank Sanasa to provide microfinance to the households interested in connecting to the grid.
Abeyawardana added that Sri Lanka’s last large scale hydro-power project would be completed soon and President Mahinda Rajapaksa will undertake an observation tour on Saturday.
Sri Lanka hopes to reach 100% electrification by the end of this year despite massive costs in infrastructure and power generation.


Senior Vice President - Equity Analytics
Senior Vice President - Equity Analytics

SriLankan Airlines expands its operations in the North of Sri Lanka, opening its newest Sales Office in the heart of the Jaffna Peninsula yesterday.
The branch office will facilitate travel formalities to a large clientele in the Jaffna and Kilinochchi areas, being fully equipped to handle reservations, ticketing, Prepaid Ticket Advices (PTAs), requests for special services, information on fares, schedules and packages – essentially offering the same sales activity carried out by any city office of the airline. SriLankan Airlines has appointed Metro Travels and Tours as its Passenger Sales Agency (PSA) to spearhead the operation.
The ceremony began with the blessings of the Buddhist, Hindu, Christian and Islamic clergy and was officially opened by the Minister of Traditional Industries and Small Enterprise Development, Douglas Devananda. Also in attendance were the Mayor of Jaffna Yogeshwary Patgunarajah, special invitees of the Government, a contingent of representatives from the airline which included its Chief Marketing Officer, G.T Jeyaseelan and several Senior Management officials; representatives of the PSA and the media.
“SriLankan is pleased to extend its services to support the development and enhancement of the North, which is one of the highest priorities of the government of Sri Lanka,” said SriLankan’s Chairman Nishantha Wickremasinghe.
Considering the increasing customer base for air travel to and from the northern region, the new operation will expand the size of the airline’s local market.
“We are confident that this initiative will bring more opportunities, just as much as it will fuel the company’s growth. Extending our services to the North has been a priority in our Business Plan,” said SriLankan’s CEO Kapila Chandrasena.
“We are reaching out strategically to establish closer links with the communities in every area of Sri Lanka through our network of PSA offices and I am pleased to announce that Jaffna is among the first such PSA offices to be re-opened,” said Jeyaseelan. “We are also aware of the great potential for growth in the region.”
The North, which is on a remarkable recovery phase, is generating increased domestic and foreign travel, creating a need for more convenient travel options and services.
“Bringing our services closer to our customers by providing direct and easy access under one roof, is our main aim,” said the airline’s Manager Sri Lanka and Maldives, Saminda Perera.
At the ceremony, the airline announced a Raffle Draw to win a ticket to any destination in India, for customers who purchase tickets from the Jaffna Office, during the first six months, from 4 May.
The PSA Office will be manned by proficient staff and is located at No. 272, Stanley Road. It will be open from 0815-1700hrs on weekdays and from 0815-1230hrs on Saturdays (except mercantile and poya holidays).

13Sri Lanka Newspapers Sunday 06/05/2012 Empty Coping with the Balance of Payments Crisis Sat May 05, 2012 7:43 pm


Global Moderator

by R.M.B Senanayake

The country is facing a balance of payments crisis and external finance is undoubtedly required to tide over the situation since our official Foreign Exchange Reserve is not enough to fund the deficit and to repay the maturing debt. The orthodox interpretation of a nation with a declining currency and a large current account deficit is that the nation concerned is "living beyond its means" - with excessive domestic demand that boosts imports; excessive demand that also fuels inflation and restricts exports. The presumption is that the resultantly large deficit must be "financed" by flows of foreign reserves, which, for the most part, must be attracted by high returns and a stable political, economic, and social environment.

This means that if we cannot continue to attract these needed reserves, we must raise interest rates to attract new foreign capital, which in turn will slow domestic growth to reduce imports. Lower prices and wages could also encourage exports. Since any default on foreign debt obligations is unthinkable, economists argue in favor of restricting government spending. Thus, both monetary and fiscal policy ought to be tightened to encourage such capital flows.

Funding or Correcting a Balance of Payments Deficit

No balance of payments crisis can be resolved in the short run for it would cost too much in terms of the people’s living standards. The budget deficit has to be reduced and consumption, investment and growth have to be curtailed - all of which reduces the living standards of the people and particularly of the less affluent sections who depend on government subsidies. So the deficit must be financed through foreign borrowings at least in the short term. It is said that the Treasury Secretary went to China to obtain a foreign currency loan. It is also said that the Government will raise money through another Sovereign Bond issue.

It may be possible to raise foreign currency loans at above market rates with a higher risk premium. But then the question is whether we can service such foreign currency loans without cutting down on our imports which will again reduce our standard of living in the medium term if not in the short term. In fact it is cheaper to go to the IMF. The IMF also provides sufficient time to correct the balance of payments imbalance. But it insists on corrective actions such as rebuilding the Reserves, cutting down on the budget deficit and loss making state enterprises. It insists on austerity budgeting.

Balancing the government’s books

We have to engage in a serious debate on how to balance the books of the government. The golden rule in government budgeting is that there should be no current account deficit; that there should be a primary account (excluding interest payments) surplus adequate to repay at least part of the debt falling due. In 2011 the overall budget deficit was 6.9% of the GDP (below the 8% of 2010); the current account deficit was 1.1% (below the 2.1% of 2010); the primary account deficit was 1.4% (below the 1.7% of 2010). The objective is to bring down the overall budget deficit to 5% and eliminate the other two altogether. If the primary account balance is in deficit, then debt service will tend to escalate relative to GDP (unless GDP growth exceeds the level of interest rates, in which case a small primary deficit is sustainable).

How do we do this? We need a public debate on how to do so. What items of government spending should be cut and what increases in taxation are feasible? But before that the large losses in the state corporations and the government owned business undertakings must be eliminated. The Sri Lankan Airlines, Mihin Air, Petroleum Corporation and the CEB are running huger losses. Obviously we can’t run a competitive airline and these airlines should be privatized or closed down. As for the CEB and the CPC, a phased pricing increase is unavoidable.

There were proposals to promote competition within the industry by re-structuring the electricity industry by separating generation and distribution. Handing over government business enterprises to be managed by politically appointed boards of directors will never make these entities profitable. The government must abstain from interference in their business decisions including pricing decisions.

The World Bank published a book called "Bureaucrats in Business" which analyzed the causes for the failure of government owned business enterprises. The government must realize that the people are paying for the waste, extravagance and mismanagement of these enterprises. The oil refinery is best sold to China or India since we cannot obtain the Iranian crude oil needed for its operations. There should be re-structuring of the CEB as suggested many years before by splitting generation from distribution and allowing competition. Consumer subsidies for electricity and petroleum will have to be phased out and the sooner the better given the rising oil prices.

We have been able to live beyond our means only because of these subsidies which are funded by the government both through foreign and local borrowing and partly through inflation via bank borrowings which increases the money supply beyond what is required for the real growth. Even the fertilizer subsidy would have to be scaled down. Of course this would adversely affect the incentives to farmers. But this subsidy is unsustainable and it is better to give the farmers a better price for their produce.

The government has been spending an enormous amount of money for highways. Perhaps there would be faster returns if the feeder roads linking the villages to the towns were given priority instead. I recently traveled on the southern highway and found very few vehicles and no lorries carrying produce. How can the economy benefit unless the transport of goods is facilitated and made cheaper? Where are the economic benefits from the highway? Is the toll too high?

Free education for all is a burden

Dr Mahim Mendis, spokesman for university teachers, has demanded that the budgetary allocation for education be increased to 6% of the GDP. The nominal GDP in 2011 was Rs 6,543 billion Hence 6% of it would be Rs 392 billion. Total government revenue in 2011 was Rs 949 billion. Hence he is asking for 41% of government revenue. But the discretionary expenditure in the government budget which can be re-allocated is only 19%. The government salaries bill absorbs Rs.319 billion; interest payments Rs. 353 billion and pensions l Rs 99 billion. These can’t be touched. So how can 41% of the budget be allocated for education?

Why do we need schools that are "free"? Suppose our schools were "free" but not "public," what would be the consequences? Economists would say that we do not need schools that are "free." Free only means that somebody else is paying the bill. We think the government is providing the funds for free education. It is not. The government obtains money from the people - from taxation, borrowing and from fee paying services. Who should foot the bill for a service that benefits him? The fairest answer is that the person who benefits from a service should pay for it. But there is a hue and cry to safeguard free education.

It is true that some people can’t afford to pay for education. There are many other things that only a few people can afford. Does it mean that we should provide free say refrigerators, air-conditioners or travel abroad? What is special about education? Some would say it determines the future earning capacity of the recipients of education. But this is not really true today except at the elementary and secondary level. University education is not free in most countries and not even in China. But it is impossible to persuade people that we should charge for university education.

Do we need public or government schools? The consequences of a system where most schools are "free" but "non-public" are such that our major problems will be solved if there is a charge for education and no new problems of consequence will be raised. The government has only two roles in the field of schooling: the first that of making a minimum standard of education compulsory; the second, the paternalistic role of paying the costs of educating those children whose parents are unable to pay.

Can one make the assumption that the great bulk of families are capable of paying directly the costs of educating their own children? Look at the number of school children who pay for tuition. See the rise in the number of those who send their children to private schools, which indicates an increasing demand and ability to pay for private schooling. It must be noted that private schools and those former denominational schools which were taken over by the government have become exclusive. Should not the government encourage private schools to be set up provided they keep some percentage free for needy children who cannot afford to pay? Not only will the quality of education be improved, it would also promote a more responsible student body. Such a system is not really new as it existed with the assisted schools. The way forward in promoting a better quality education is in this model for government running schools is failing not only to provide a quality education it is also failing to produce good citizens. It also depoliticizes the running of schools and hands over control to the parents.



CSE’s first "settlement failure’’ due to non-payment

The controversial stock exchange transaction through which the National Savings Bank (NSB) on April 27 acquired 13 percent of The Finance Company PLC (TFC) is still hanging fire without conclusion, well informed sources said yesterday.

Settlement of the deal had not been made when markets closed on Friday although Taprobane Securities who were brokers for both the big buyers and sellers had completed all docum.entation, these sources said.

However participants were hopeful that the whole issue will be sorted out by Tuesday although there was a newspaper report on Saturday that the president had stopped the deal.

There was no confirmation on whether this was actually so or whether, in fact, it is possible to do so when such a transaction had been concluded.

But the problem has been compounded by what brokers called the country’s first ``settlement failure’’ with the CSE unable to pay a number of brokers what they were owed due to the non-receipt of Rs. 400 million due from NSB on the TFC transaction.

The funds had been released to Taprobane Securities, brokers for both the big buyers and sellers, by the custodial bank following the green light given by the CSE in the belief than the NSB was making the transfer. But the non-receipt has created a major problem.

``This is going to undermine confidence in our market,’’ a well informed source said. ``While the amount is not big, the fact that it happened is a cause for worry.’’

Brokers said there was one previous instance where there was a one day payment delay on a big transaction that had made some waves.

When a deal is struck over shares held by a custodial bank, the buyer and seller must confirm to the bank that the transaction has taken place by the day after the trade or by T + 1 in stock exchange parlance with `T’ standing for the transaction date with one day added.

NSB acts as its own custodial bank and whether it had made the in-house confirmation to itself was not clear.

While at least one broker said that money over TFC transactions on that day had not been paid, another broker confirmed that ``we have been paid.’’

Analysts said that the NSB appeared to be having a strategy of entering the finance company business and acquiring a stake in TFC, the oldest established finance company in business today with a 65-strong branch network and an extensive land bank and real estate assets may have been seen as an opportunity.

The bank was looking for board seats and some resignations from the TFC board was seen as paving the way for at least two NSB directors and possibly three becoming directors.

``Nominations had in fact been made although there was no stock exchange filing indicating appointment,’’ one well informed source said.

Asked how NSB could have increased its stake or taken control of TFC and analyst said that it could have been done through a rights issue or via some kind of debt instrument. If a rights issue was floated, given the weakness of the TFC balance sheet at present and its inability to pay dividends for some time, much of it would have been unsubscribed and an investor like NSB with financial muscle could have mopped up such allotments.

``It could also have been structured by a debt instrument,’’ he said.

At least two of the big sellers, Dinal Wijemanne and Rayynor Silva paid a substantial premium to market to acquire there shares from high net worth investor, Dr. T. Senthilverl, several months ago at a price of Rs. 48 per share.

The sale price of Rs. 50 barely gave them a return on their holding cost, analysts noted.

Senthilverl remains the biggest individual shareholder of TFC with 11.79% according to its latest published financial. He holds a further 6.74% through another account and 2.15% under his own name in an unpledged account. The EPF is the third largest shareholder with 8.43% behind Ceylinco Investments (11.04%). The Ceybank Unit Trust holds 5.19% and Mr. Lalith Kotelawela is No. 16 in the Top Twenty with 0.87%.


Global Moderator

By Hiran H. Senewiratne

The Sri Lankan apparel industry is anticipating a five percent drop in exports due to the financial crisis in the European market. With the increase of the cost of local production, this vital export segment, worth a total US$ 4 billion, is expected to underperform in comparison to 2011, an industry specialist warned last week.

Rohan Abayakoon, the Chairman of Sri Lanka Apparel Exporters’ Association said the industry lobbied the free flow of the rupee for some time, but the currency devaluation has not brought total benefit to the industry due to the of cost of production going up from 15 percent to 20 percent in the recent past.

"The depreciation/devaluation just off set our balance sheet issues but the industry has not yet gained considerable tangible benefits to this sector, which is one of the biggest foreign exchange earners", he said.

However, the real consequences of losing the EU GSP resulted in the loss of about 13 to 15 percent export orders to EU. But, that negative impact could be minimized with the increase of exports to the US market by 10 percent, he said.

He said the target is US$ 5 billion in export revenues by 2015 under the hub status but there are certain issues with regard to legislation enacted. The industry has pinpointed certain issues to be addressed to promote the country as a hub in the region," he noted.

"Of of this figure, we hope to achieve US$ 4 billion through export growth and the balance through hub activities," Abayakoon said

Sri Lanka’s apparel industry says it is gearing to transform the country into an Asian apparel hub, starting this year despite facing many issues like lack of proper drive in the implementation part and internal pressure like increasing the cost of production.

"The government has, in principle, already agreed to the hub concept. So we will be developing a detailed proposal for the government on this shortly", he said.

Sri Lanka will be a hub to source international business that will then be transferred to other suitable Asian destinations for manufacturing. Hub activities include a range of services for local factories and international apparel brands.

A further increase of exports costs due to the increase of shipping freight charges from US$ 900 to US $ 1200 for a 20 foot container have added to the woes of this sector.

Sri Lanka’s geographic location will also be used to provide other centralized logistical services, such as storage and re-export facilities for international buyers. This would allow international brands that manufacture in different Asian countries to use Sri Lanka as a distribution hub.


Global Moderator

Teoria Investment Company Limited, a Japan based company is investing two million US dollars in a beach resort built by Sri Lanka’s Asia Leisure, which is seeking partners for new hotels, officials said.

Teoria Investment Company Limited, is taking a 34 percent stake in a beach front property in Balapitiya in Sri Lanka’s Southwestern coast.

The Tokyo-based boutique-asset management company will invest some two million dollars into the 30-room deluxe ‘TeoriaTaprobana Hotel’.

Teoria’s Chief Executive Shigenori Shinagawa said he hoped the investment will act as a "bridge between Japan and Sri Lanka". The hotel venture also marks Teoria’s first foray into the South Asian destination, which Shinagawa described as "very exciting".

Sri Lanka’s Asia Leisure, a division of listed Asia Capital Plc, is scouting for private cash to develop small luxury hotels along the island’s coastline including Trincomalee in the northeast and Galle in the south.

"Internally we are reaching the limit of raising capital to build new hotels," Asia Capital’s director, Stefan Abeysinghe told reporters on Friday after the deal with Teoria.

"We need to raise seven-to-eight million dollars each (for each hotel), to start projects in Galle and Trincomalee."

Sri Lanka’s interest rates have moved up over the past year as a sudden surge in bank credit taken by state energy enterprises to rein prices triggered a balance of payments crisis.

"Asia Capital will buy the properties, but we need working capital to build. For that we are talking to several foreign parties to invest in each property," Abeysinghe said.

The 30-room Balapitiya boutique property is due to be ready for occupation by April 2013, for which the local partners hope, will attract Japanese holidaymakers.

Formerly known as ‘Taruvillas’, Asia Leisure owns and operates three small luxury properties: The Park Street Hotel, Colombo (13 rooms); The River House, Balapitiya (five rooms); and the Tamarind Hill, Galle (13 rooms).

Another 35-room property is being developed along the southern coast of Wadduwa.

The five properties will raise Asia Capital’s room portfolio to 100 by mid-2013. Abeysinghe said they were looking out to buy an existing brand and rename the hotel chain or add new developments under the existing brand name.

Teoria’s investments come as Sri Lanka’s traditional tourist markets in the West slow down in the face of economic hard times in home countries. The island is looking to new markets of China, the Gulf and Russia.

Sri Lanka has set it’s sights on attracting 2.5 million tourists by 2016, after experiencing a boom following the end of the near four decades-long ethnic conflict in May 2009.

Tourist arrivals hit a record 855,975 in 2011 and continue to grow after the government scrapped the visa-on-arrival system in January.

From January to March 2012, tourist arrivals have climbed 21.1 percent to 260,525 over the same period a year earlier, according to Sri Lanka Tourism figures

"I think now is the time to enter, with things taking on a slight dip," said Abeysinghe. "Tourism is billed for a healthy growth in the coming years."


17Sri Lanka Newspapers Sunday 06/05/2012 Empty Re: Sri Lanka Newspapers Sunday 06/05/2012 Sat May 05, 2012 8:46 pm


Senior Manager - Equity Analytics
Senior Manager - Equity Analytics

Is MBSL Savings bank = MBSL which is listed in CSE.

OR, MBSL savings bank is part of MBSL group?

What will happen to the price of MBSL share as a result of this turnover?

18Sri Lanka Newspapers Sunday 06/05/2012 Empty Re: Sri Lanka Newspapers Sunday 06/05/2012 Sat May 05, 2012 9:44 pm


Senior Vice President - Equity Analytics
Senior Vice President - Equity Analytics

I love this forum. I get to read tommoros newspapers today!!! Unique. Only at

thank you...

I think we should rename this section to 'TOMMOROWS NEWSPAPERS' or 'HETA PITUWA'
This is far superior than so called MULPITUWA!!!

19Sri Lanka Newspapers Sunday 06/05/2012 Empty Re: Sri Lanka Newspapers Sunday 06/05/2012 Sun May 06, 2012 8:27 pm


Vice President - Equity Analytics
Vice President - Equity Analytics

GMNet wrote:I love this forum. I get to read tommoros newspapers today!!! Unique. Only at

thank you...

I think we should rename this section to 'TOMMOROWS NEWSPAPERS' or 'HETA PITUWA'
This is far superior than so called MULPITUWA!!!

Exactly. Fully agree. This is how we could help each other maximizing the benefits of a Forum like this. CSE.SAS and few others make good effort to bring us the future today. We find in most of other web sites only historical news. But we, the proud members of Sri lanka Equity Forum enjoy many privilages compered to most of other sites.

20Sri Lanka Newspapers Sunday 06/05/2012 Empty Re: Sri Lanka Newspapers Sunday 06/05/2012 Mon May 07, 2012 10:04 am


Vice President - Equity Analytics
Vice President - Equity Analytics

dineshfernando wrote:Is MBSL Savings bank = MBSL which is listed in CSE.

OR, MBSL savings bank is part of MBSL group?

What will happen to the price of MBSL share as a result of this turnover?

This is the MBSL saving bank which listed in CSE... Hope this transaction will be a good one ..(not like TFC/NSB deal..) .. Very Happy

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