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27th February 2000

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Meet the equity gamblers of Matara

Not horses but companies, not race sheets but a market information board, not pieces of paper but intercoms, not a bookie but the Investor Service Centre (ISC) in Matara.

Buy that! Sell this! No PE ratios, earnings per share and the likes of all those fancy figures guiding them, but pure speculation driving them.

Any indication of a price gain saw a flurry of investors rushing to the nearby intercom booths or race upstairs to their broker's respective offices. A sight that made the Colombo retail trade look weak and wary in comparison. While Colombo's sophisticated retailers pour over research reports wrestling fundamentals to fine-tune decisions to buy or sell and get advice from two sources at least before taking the plunge, down in the deep south pure gut instinct seems to influence trading.

Stock trading in Matara is approached with the full blooded enthusiasm and gut instinct characteristic of the typical son of the South whose approach to life itself is a 'no holds barred'. It was an experience worth the bumpy ride to Sanath Jayasuriya country, to see them in action.

The Colombo Stock Exchange opened their first branch -- the Investor Service Centre (ISC) in Matara last June. Life's never been so good for these hardened Southern entrepreneurs, who have put their sharpened business skills to use gambling in bearish circumstances. Since inception, the ISC is recording an average monthly turnover of Rs. 1.2 mn. Check out their hot tips and their success stories...

By Mel Gunasekera and Shafraz Farook

MATARA: Ubeyasiri Wickremaratne watched the market information screen eagerly as the price of Glaxo Ceylon climbed to Rs. 51.00. He dashed across to a phone booth, called his broker on the intercom and executed a sell order for his 300 shares. He had bought the shares on Friday for Rs. 43.00 and sold them for Rs. 53.75 making a capital gain of Rs. 3,600 in the process.

A firm believer of astrology, Ubeyasiri Wickremaratne, checks his horoscope in the daily newspapers before leaving home. An Aries, his stars read that he was in 'for some minor financial gains'. He later tells us sheepishly, that statement prompted him to stop by the Matara Investor Service Centre (ISC) that Monday morning and check on his little portfolio.

Over here in Sanath Jayasuriya's country, Ubeyasiri Wickremaratne represents an average retail investor who trades from the ISC.

If your stockbroker told you to look at fundamentals before buying a stock forget it, that theory doesn't work here. Out goes, price earning ratios, dividends per shares, earnings per shares, fundametals of assessing a good stock.

In the 'Master Blasters' country' people from all walks of life trade on, astrology, lucky numbers and gut instinct. They thrive on speculative stocks and pay little heed to broker warnings. Their main aim is to make a quick buck on their little portfolios.

Most retailers represent retired government pensioners investing their modest savings, school children gambling with their pocket money and ordinary traders, who simply trade on luck and gut instinct.

"These are the daily clients and they are not interested in fundamentals," says MMBL Phillip Securities, D P Wickremasinghe Manager.

On the other hand, you also get the serious retailers who go for medium to long term stocks and buy on fundamentals. These people don't come daily and prefer to execute their orders over the phone, he says.

Wickremasinghe has been in the business advising clients for the past three years in Matara. His company has an impressive 2,700 clients at present with around 10 percent having a Rs. 1 mn portfolio.

He says business has never been so good since the ISC opened up offering better facilities to clients.

The Matara ISC has a large market information screen, which scrolls itself each time a stock is traded. The top half of the screen lists companies in alphabetical order, while the bottom half lists the stocks that are currently being traded. A Reuter screen is also available in the auditorium. A few phone booths are lined up to a side, which links clients with the three stockbrokers (MMBL Securities, Jardine Flemings and ABN Amro) upstairs. Investors also have around 30 chairs and make themselves comfortable while they eagerly watch their stocks rise and tumble.

The ISC also has a strong investors association, which lobbies ISC Manager Prabash Wanigatunga for more facilities and education programmes.

Wanigatunga says that since inception, they have conducted around 78 seminars during the 110 working days.

The programme is not limited to Matara, but extended throughout the Southern Province like Galle, Hambantota, Tissamaharama, Embilipitiya etc.

"The education is not limited to investing in the share market, but also unit trusts, debenture market, and reading and understanding treasury bills and other investments," he says.

When the ISC opened last year, they sent out notices to schools, societies, businesses, government departments, traders, grama Niladharis and Samurdhi Niyamakayas informing them about what the stock exchange was and offering services to explain to people what the ISC does. Direct mailers were also sent out throughout the province.

The awareness levels were rather low and Wanigatunga says some people thought stocks were like a guarantee which you can pledge to the stock exchange and borrow on.

Although there were a few retail investors already playing the market, training programmes began with the basics and went up to annual report interpretations.

School children were targeted, since capital markets is part of the new A/L curriculum. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) with USAID's assistance, has introduced a book on capital markets in Sinhala to help students.

The project has whipped up enthusiasm, with some children encouraging their parents to invest, while others use their spare time (and spare change) to invest.

Nine months later and after opening 700+ new CDS (Central Depository System) accounts, the ISC has become a favourite gambling haunt.

The investors awareness level on market trends, rule changes of the Exchange were amazing. For instance, S M P Sisiradasa interrupted us to ask Wanigatunga why Nations Trust Bank unaudited accounts were late. Being the President of the Matara Investors' Association he says that members are asking him why the accounts are delayed.

The Association counts 101 members todate with around 30 active investors. The Association was formed two years ago, when the sole stockbroker in the area, MMBL Phillips Securities decided to fold their operations in Matara.

"We rallied a group of investors and lobbied the company not to close down. Later one of our members gave some space in his building for MMBL Phillips to move in. They have been here for around six years, but there was a time two years ago when the market was down it was not profitable for them," Sisiradasa said.

He feels that the success and lobbying helped to set up the first branch in Matara.

Before MMBL Phillips set up shop, investors used to channel their business through agent, Mr. Balapatebendi, who used to give them investment advice and pass on their orders to brokers in Colombo. Others simply wrote to their brokers in Colombo whenever they wanted need to trade.

Sisiradasa got hooked on to the market eight years ago, through his friend Mr. Balapatebendi.

Most of the members like him began investing in the late 1980's, making their monies when the market shot up in the early 1990's. With the downturn in the market, they have seen their fortunes disappear, but cling on, still hopeful of making a quick buck.

Sisiradasa himself doesn't invest on fundamentals. Recently most new investors bought into plantation stocks and sold them off in the secondary market. "We like speculative shares, because we don't need to keep our monies there for long," he said.

Whenever an IPO trades on the secondary market, the number of active clients double making it difficult for daily comers to operate.

"Though the market has dropped over the last few months, I think there is more retail interest here than in Colombo. Most of us are here for the short term. There are some who buy in the morning and sell in the afternoon," he said.

His sentiments are echoed by H W P Ariyadasa, former secretary of the Association. Ariyadasa had bought a small parcel of Blue Diamonds Jewellery Worldwide shares at Rs. 2.50 that morning, to cash in on the wave.

Blue Diamonds shares seemed to be the present hot bet at the ISC, and we were told that most people buy and sell to make a quick capital gain.

Most investors of Blue Diamonds told us that their broker warned them about the poor financial state of this company but they did not seem to care!

Sisiradasa say that price movements are the main fundamentals over here.

"We don't pay much interest to research reports. For instance, Galadari Hotels is always a loss according to research reports. But we are making a profit on it, by buying and selling for a rupee or more. We know the share doesn't have much value," he said.

All low cap stocks are not firm favourites, we found out. They warned us against buying Vanik (the company is not doing too well) and companies within the Ceylinco Group (the company is too big with no direction).

With tea prices expected to pick up this year, there has been renewed interest in plantation stocks.

Despite the Exchange conducting classes to interpret financial statements, the majority of investors still cannot come to grips with it. Ariyadasa says that the Association hopes to form a committee to study financial statements. The Association will also register itself as a society and make constructive criticism at AGM's.

For instance, Kapila Heavy recently declared a bonus and then withdrew it. These are some of the things we would like to go and ask at AGM, he said.

However, most investors don't go for AGM's. It's either the distance or the lack of time. Most don't even sign a proxy and give it to the few who go for AGM's.

They were all quick to point out that AGMs were not productive as most people come there to eat the short eats and not to see the situation of the company.

Apart from equities, investors are rather wary about new financial products. For instance HNB's non voting shares were not snapped up. Brokers warned against them, while others felt they could not get a capital gain on it. The few who bought them, sold them off at a discount within the second week of trading.

Debentures is another 'no go area'. They had the common misconception that debentures were fixed deposits. With debentures trading below par in the secondary market, they feel it's not a worthwhile investment. One investor told us that The Finance Company is offering a one year fixed deposit for 16 percent, which is more worthwhile.

Although they were all aware of Sri Lanka Telecom's up coming debenture, most were still undecided, opting to wait for the equity issue instead.

Unit Trust are another 'red light area'. Despite various promotional campaigns most investors were still in the dark about unit trust and the importance of fund management. They seem to go by the fact that unit trust did the samething that they did and gave poor returns.

Treasury bills and treasury bonds was also blacklisted. The start up fee of Rs. 250 seemed to deter investors and they felt the banks were more interested in selling their fixed deposits than explaining the benefits of government securities.

One investor told us that he got disinterested with government securities when interest rates came down after 1994.

What about the present market conditions, are they optimistic of a revival of their fortunes? Yes, they all told us. All of them had gambled during the pre-election run expecting a change of government and sold off after the election.

They were all quick to point out that though they were not UNP supporters, they felt the UNP had more commitment to the economy, had more contacts with foreign investors and better at managing the day to day affairs of the country.

Those we spoke to were quite happy with the present regulations. They wanted stricter enforcement, more transparency and harsher fines on those convicted of manipulations.

They all felt that the authorities were too lenient to allow plantation management companies to charge a management fee. They felt it was a ruse by the directors to earn extra monies at minority shareholders expense.

There was also a general consensus that directors should spend more time with their companies. An example of a director heading a conglomerate was cited, and they felt he was not giving value to his shareholders. It was rather evident when he recently said he controls 100 odd companies and could not possibly go into all the day to day affairs, they said.

They were of the opinion, that the authorities should put a ceiling on the number of companies a director could sit on. They felt a maximum ten companies was the ideal limit.

The investors were also asking for continuous seminars on market development. Wanigatunga says that Management Development Programmes conducted for the ISC staff attracts ordinary folk as well.

Apart from Exchange information, Wanigatunga is also consulted on how to draft letters, what subjects children should follow for their A/L etc.

D P Wickremasinghe feels that three brokers are quite adequate at this branch. Though competition may intensify when internet trading comes here.

Unlike their Colombo counterparts, the brokers here don't have to deal with a Wide Area Network system breaking down often. Power interruptions seemed to be the only hiccup and Wanigatunga says the Exchange is exploring possibilities of buying a generator.

At the end of a whistle stop visit, Wanigatunga puts a buy recommendation for curd sold at a certain shop. He swears the curd sold at the 'Army Kade' is one of the best.


Market Update

Foreign selling causes dip in market

Heavy foreign selling caused the market to dip further last week.

The All Share Price Index shed 10 points to close at 548, the sensitive Milanka Price Index shed 25 points to close at 901 and the MBSL mid cap index closed at 12 points to close at 967.

Total foreign outflow was Rs. 111.9 mn. Total turnover was Rs. 270.65 mn. Friday's turnover of Rs. 61.8 mn was mainly concentrated in the banking and diversified sectors, the former posting Rs. 32.6 mn in turnover and the latter Rs. 22.5 mn.

Friday's foreign purchases of Rs. 10.8 mn were overshadowed by sales of Rs. 28.6 mn, with Aitken Spence accounting for most of the outflow amounting to Rs. 18.2 mn. Heavy foreign selling was also witnessed in John Keells Holdings.

Most of the foreign selling was taken up by large institutional investors.

There was a trading halt on Blue Diamonds Jewellery, when the shares rose as high as 250%. The company later said a parcel of 4.8 mn shares were bought up by Ceylinco Insurance Company.

Retail investors too had a field day speculating on Blue Diamonds shares.

The minor tremors that took place post budget seemed to have diminished with the shares of insurance companies dropping marginally this week.

Analysts felt that people were too pessimistic about the market.

With third quarter corporate results tipped to be better than the previous quarters, is expected to perk up the market, they said.

"Tea prices are expected to pick up this year. We seemed to have seen the worst and can expect a mild recovery to set in," an analyst said.

On the macro economic side, the Central Bank released a provisional figure of 4.2% of GDP for 1999, indicating that the economy posted a strong fourth quarter.

NDBS Stockbrokers say that the year end corporate earnings should reflect this improvement with a positive impact on some share prices, though cumulative year on year earnings are likely to be flat at best.

Performance over the week ahead will centre on December earnings that are now trickling into the market, NDBS said.


Tea Update

Leafy varieties gain

Last week's Colombo tea auction was very lacklustre as many grades witnessed marginal price gains or remained closed to the previous auction prices.

One of the encouraging factors was the better leafy varieties gaining in value. This has created a distinct price variance between the better varieties and the poorer varieties.

Officials said that teas similar to those at the Mombassa auctions witnessed a good demand as buyers of that variety picked it up to supplement the shortage in Kenya.

Asia Siyaka's report said that prices at last week's Mombassa Tea Auction moved up further on the previous week's high levels. This is the third consecutive week that tea prices have risen following the frost damage to an extensive acreage of tea in late January.

As a result, Asia Siyaka reported sources saying that Kenya did not expect full production to resume till April. This would add to the 45 million kilo short fall recorded at the end of 1999.


New communication system at Aitken spence

Keells Business Systems Ltd. (KBSL) a member of John Keells Group, have teamed up with Sri Lanka Telecom (SLT) to provide a Distributed Enterprise Wide PABX from Lucent Technologies as a part of a total communications solution to the Aitken Spence Group.

The Lucent Technologies Definity PABX system is the No.1 communications system in the United States and Asia Pacific and is one that is used by almost all the Fortune 500 companies, a Keells Business release said.

The Lucent Technologies System was supplied and will be integrated by Keells Business Systems (KBSL), the sole distributor in Sri Lanka for Lucent Technologies. The Lucent Technologies System came on top as the most preferred solution for the Aitken Spence Corporate Head Office due to its state-of- the art technology, powerful networking and call routing capabilities as well as its user-friendly features.

The selection of Lucent Technologies system by Aitken Spence reiterates the emphasis blue chip companies place on such investments in managing voice, Data and Video on an enterprise Wide Network.

KBSL and SLT are working closely to provide Total Communications Solutions to customers who utilize technology to gain and sustain a competitive edge. Currently Lucent based solutions have been implemented in over 40 strategic installations islandwide. The Solutions implemented by KBSL include PABX, Voice Mail, Interactive Video Response (IVR) Computer Telephony Integration CTI, Voice Over IP and Call Centres.


Hutchison to enhance services

Hutchison Telecom is investing substantially in its customer service, engineering and IT operations under a new expansion plan geared to further enhance the quality of service. This is in accordance with the company's aim of reaching the enviable standards set by its parent, Hutchison Telecommunications International, a powerful player in the global telecom business, says a company news release.

Only recently, the company introduced the advanced Unicorn billing system in order to be able to manage its rapidly expanding subscriber base which now exceeds 30,000. The installation of this system which can handle up to 70,000 subscribers was a timely move as Hutchison Telecom continues attracting many new clients through its successful "Home Zone" strategy.

General Manager, Finance Operations and Control, Bandunath De Alwis said their new billing system will facilitate the introduction of unique tariff schemes. He pointed out that it has adopted to Hutchison's pioneering features such as per second billing, transparency in disclosing interconnect fees and the breakdown of charges, and the flat incoming fee of Rs. 4 per call irrespective of time of day or duration. De Alwis said the new billing format includes a detailed statement where items are categorized separately (e.g., incoming calls, outgoing calls) and timing of the call is recorded on a per second basis.

"This bill, which we conceived after analyzing various local and foreign bills and conducting our own surveys, is specially designed to satisfy the requirements of our target clientele," he added. The new monthly statement is customer-friendly and will enable clients to conveniently locate the information they require while also assisting budget planning.

Some of the company's clients began receiving the new bill formats on February 18 and all subscribers would receive the new bill formats by March 10.


Focus on the Economy February 2000

The fundamental weaknesses of our public finances

Budget     Figure     Outcome

1995          7.5          10.1
1996          7.8            9.4
1997          7.3            7.9
1998          6.5            9.2
1999          6.0            8.0
2000

By Dr Nimal Sanderatne

Budget 2000 was no exception in disclosing the fundamental weaknesses of our public finances. Our public finances are burdened by debt, plagued by a war, weakened by welfare and encumbered by the costs of public administration. Debt servicing, defence expenditures, welfare dole outs and costs of administration absorb nearly our total revenues.

There is hardly any money in the kitty for other expenditure. So borrow we must to meet other expenditures and cut we must costs so essential to our long run economic growth. This state of our public finances, which has evolved over several decades thwarts the state from playing its developmental role.

Budget 2000 illustrates the fundamental weaknesses of our public finances. The final outturn is likely to be much worse than the budgeted figures, as in recent years. Expected government revenue amounts to Rs. 234.0 billion (excluding privatization proceeds). Government expenditure is Rs. 330 billion.

Expenditure exceeds revenue by Rs. 96 billion, which is about 8 per cent of GDP. These estimates of revenue will cover expected current expenditure, which are estimated at Rs. 227 billion and is expected to yield a surplus of Rs. 7 billion. Capital expenditure of Rs. 103 billion will result in an overall deficit of Rs. 96 billion.

If these targets are achieved, the budgetary position is not adverse as recurrent expenditure are met out of revenue and the deficit is owing to capital expenditure. A position which is justified for a developing country. It can be argued that such a deficit incurred for capital expenditure may not be inflationary in the long run.

The problem however is that budgeted figures and the actual expenditure tend to diverge significantly. In recent years the budgetary outturn has been very different to the estimates. For instance in 1998 too the budget estimated a small current account surplus of Rs. 1.3 billion, the provisional final out turn was a deficit of Rs.24.6 billion. The overall deficit was expected to be Rs. 66.6 billion, the actual deficit was around Rs. 93 billion.

The 1999 Budget estimated a deficit of Rs.68.9 billion. In fact it is expected to be around Rs.89 billion or 8 per cent of GDP. This year's budgetary outturn is also likely to show a similar overrun in the deficit.

This is because of both a shortfall in revenue and a likely over run in expenditure. The reasons are quite simple. The expected tax revenue is much above the levels attained recently. The tax revenue of Rs. 202 billion is 16 per cent of GDP. Although this level of revenue was achieved in 1997, it fell to 14.5 per cent of GDP in 1998. It is likely to be less than 15 per cent in 1999. How can an increased revenue GDP ratio be expected in a somewhat depressed economic situation ?

There is a similar optimism in the expenditure estimates. The budget estimates recurrent expenditure at around Rs. 227 billion. The 1998 budget estimated expenditure at Rs. 187 billion. It turned out to be Rs.200 billion. The 1999 budget estimated recurrent expenditure at Rs.199 billion. It is expected to be around Rs. 207 billion. This year's recurrent expenditure of Rs. 227 billion is based on the underlying assumption that defence expenditure would be reduced this year.While we must all hope for the realisation of this, the experiences of recent years is that the main reasons for the overrun in recurrent expenditure was an increase in defence expenditure. The curtailment of defence expenditure appears to be based on an expectation of peace during the course of the next 10 months.

What is likely to happen this year may be no different to what has been happening in the last five years. The Budget estimates a low budget deficit, the outcome is a much higher deficit. This can be clearly seen from the following figures of the overall Budget deficit expressed as a percentage of the GDP.

This performance is a far cry from the intentions of the government as stated in its Economic Policy Statement in 1994 which said:

"The eventual goal of policy would be to continue to reduce the overall fiscal deficit from a level of 8 per cent of GDP in 1993 to a level of 3 to 4 per cent of GDP well before the year 2000, which would both be consistent with a significant reduction in inflation, and be sufficient to absorb a reasonable amount of concessional aid.

A substantial current account surplus will be generated both by the significant reduction of military expenditure and by curtailing unnecessary and wasteful current expenditure, both through the improved targeting of welfare programmes and reducing the role of the public sector in the economy. The long run objective would be to run an overall surplus in the Budget so as to enable the retirement of the high stock of public debt outstanding."

Despite the shortfall in the realisation of Budget deficits, in fairness to the government it must be recognised, that it has been concerned about maintaining the deficit as low as possible. This contrasts with the huge Budget deficits during earlier periods. For instance in the1980s budget deficits averaged a little over 10 per cent of GDP. In 1980 the budget deficit reached 23 per cent of GDP, in 1988 it was 15 per cent cent of GDP.

The containment of the deficit in the 1995-1997 period was achieved by a reduction in capital expenditure. In 1998 the government did not curtail capital expenditure. The 2000 Budget has also allocated a fair sum on infrastructure development. It remains to be seen whether the shortfalls in revenue and overruns in recurrent expenditures, especially defence expenditure, would result in a cutback in the budgeted capital expenditure.

The startling fact of our fiscal situation is that debt servicing, welfare costs, defence expenditure absorb the totality of our revenues in most years.

These four expenditures together exceeded the country's revenue in 1998. Debt servicing absorbed about 23 per cent of revenues, defence around 30 per cent, welfare 18 percent and public administration 32 per cent. And 1998 was no exceptional year. All, or nearly all our revenues have gone on these four items of expenditure in recent years. Therein lies our fundamental fiscal weakness.

Although the budgeted figures for 2000 show a somewhat better distribution, the final outturn is not likely to be any better owing to higher likely actual expenditure on these items, on the one hand, and a shortfall in total revenues, on the other hand.

This fiscal situation is in a large measure a legacy this government inherited.The escalation of war expenditures made the situation worse.The government's expansive commitment to Samurdhi worsened the situation.

Although in 1994 the government stated that it hoped to cut down welfare by "the improved targeting of welfare programmes", it has in fact achieved the opposite. According to the Central Bank Annual Report of 1998, 1,973,183 families received Samurdhi benefits amounting to Rs. 8,652 million. A welfare programme which benefits nearly one half of the households in the country can hardly be described as a well targeted programme.

It is in this context that the Budget fails to be a significant lever of economic policy for growth. Lower levels of economic growth in turn affect the government's revenues and financial capacity. Discussion of details in the budget become somewhat irrelevant when the larger picture is so debilitating.

The fiscal deficit would have had a more debilitating effect if not for the government's divestiture of public enterprises. Had the government no recourse to the privatisation of large assets like Sri Lanka Telecom, the budget deficit would have increased the government's need to borrow in the market or resort to inflationary financing.

The Rs.30 billion it hopes to realise from mainly the sale of Sri Lanka Telecom shares would reduce the need to borrow and could reduce debt servicing costs, through both a reduction in public debt and by maintaining or reducing the interest rates. This same effect was there in 1998 when the government realised Rs. 22.5 billion from the sale of assets. While this is a relief in 2000, the recourse to such revenue is a diminishing prospect in the future.

Therefore this strategy is only a short term option. A more fundamental resolution of the problem remains to be adopted.

The fundamental weaknesses of the Sri Lankan economy is perhaps no where more serious than in the country's public finances.

A change in this situation can only be brought about by an end to the war and its escalating expenditure, bold measures to cut unproductive expenditure, much improved and effective tax gathering strategies and economic growth itself, which would enhance tax revenues.We are not likely to achieve these this year.


CSE all Island essay competition

The Colombo Stock Exchange (CSE) annual all Island essay competition among advanced level students will be held in April, a CSE release said.

The competition is conducted in association with the commerce students foundation of Sri Lanka.

The release said that letters had already been sent to school principals.

"This annual competition now in its fifth consecutive year has helped enhance the awareness among students on the role of the Capital Market of Sri Lanka," the Exchange release said.

Last year schools from 19 districts participated. Entries were received from all three languages and a sum of Rs. 207,500/= were given out as prize money at a ceremony presided over by the Minister of Justice, Constitutional Affairs and National Integration, Prof. G.L. Peiris.

The topics for this years competition are:

Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of raising capital through the stock market., Discuss the recent market developments that have taken place in the Capital Market of Sri Lanka. What are the factors that influence the prices of shares in the secondary market of the Colombo Stock Market.

The rules and conditions are as follows:

1. Entries should reach the Colombo Stock Exchange before April.

2. Every entry should have a maximum of 350 words.

3. Name of the student, name of the school and private address should be clearly marked on the top right hand comer of the essay script.

4. Every entry should be certified by the Principal and Sectional Head or by the Class Teacher to the effect that the essay is an independent effort of the student.

5. The essay can be sent in Sinhala, Tamil or English.

6. The decision of the Colombo Stock Exchange in selecting winners will be final and binding.

All entries should reach the Colombo Stock Exchange, 04-01 West Block, World Trade Centre, Echelon Square, Colombo 1., on or before April 5.


Bottomline by KalQlus

Aitken spence profits soar

Aitken Spence and Company Ltd's profit after tax for the nine months ended 31 st December 1999 soared 49.4 % YOY to Rs 179 mn. Turnover increased 17.4 per cent YOY.

The tourism sector, comprising hotels and travels made the major contribution towards profits, a company release stated. While Kandalama Hotel earned a profit of Rs. 30 mn the Maldivian properties too continued to show profits despite competition. The cargo logistics sector recorded a marginal growth in profits. However the plantation sector did not perform well. The Insurance sector showed a significant improvement in performance.

Meanwhile the company announced a 15 % interim dividend, payable in March.

Hayleys profit after tax declines

Hayleys Ltd's profit after tax for the nine months ended 31 st December 1999 fell 30.6 % YOY to Rs 371 mn. Turnover increased 4.8 % YOY to Rs. 6.6 bn

The profits attributable to shareholders for the third quarter was in line with the corresponding quarter of the previous year, Chairman, Hayleys Ltd, Sunil Mendis told shareholders in his interim report. The reduction in profits for the nine months was due to a drop in profits in the first quarter of the year, he said.

"The reduction reflected in the nine months results is due mainly to a drop in profits from the plantation sector. The sector has shown improved results as the year progressed and we expect this trend to continue for the remainder of the year," Mendis said.

The group's coir, environment, inland marketing and transportation business contributed significantly to profits attributable to the nine months.

Earnings per share for the period were Rs 9.62 compared to Rs 10.99 for the corresponding period last year. Net assets per share at 31 st December1999 were Rs125.17 compared to Rs. 118.10 YOY.

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