Market stagnant, lukewarm response to SLT IPO
The mammoth initial public offer of Sri Lanka Telecom failed to generate the expected enthusiastic response from investors last week, brokers said.
The stock market remained virtually stagnant and trading is most likely to be sluggish in the days ahead because of uncertainty about political developments and the peace process.

The all share price index ended the week at 802.39, having opened on Monday at 805.01 while the Milanka price index closed at 1339.1, down from 1347.87 at the beginning of the week.

Brokers said the response to the SLT IPO, which opened on Thursday, was not as good as expected but many Singapore and Honk Kong investors evinced some interest. About 70 percent of the issue had been subscribed up to noon on Friday.
A broker for Asia Securities said that the IPO could not attract many institutions which are not able to invest in shares unless they could put it down in their financial accounts before December 31.

That would be possible only if the shares are allocated and traded before December 31. Brokers attributed the "sluggish" trading to uncertainty about what would happen after December 5 when President Chandrika Kumaratunga would have the power to dissolve parliament.

Investors were also worried about the future of the peace process, they said.
These worries keep the high net worth individuals away from making big investments. A broker for DSA Securities said that December 5 "could be a market disaster" and that many investors were pessimistic about the prevailing dull market.

The most widely traded shares of the week were Richard Peiris, O'nally Holdings, Asia Capital, NDB, JKH, Sampath Bank, Agalawatte Plantations, Aitken Spence Hotels Ltd, Connaissance, and Lanka Walltiles.

Blue Diamonds Jewellery Worldwide Ltd announced it had entered into a manufacturer, marketing and distribution agreement with Damas Jewellery LLC with the aim of exporting jewellery to the Gulf region. Damas Jewellery will purchase a minimum value of $750,000 during the first year of the agreement. (TM)

Stress lowers workplace productivity, efficiency
Stress is a matter of perception and better stress management can lead to increased productivity in the workplace. "Events and various individuals themselves don't create stress. It is only our attitude and outlook towards these that create stress. If we learn to look at everything in a positive way then it is impossible to be stressed," noted S. Srikanth, a stress management specialist, speaking at The Sunday Times' monthly Business Club meeting held at the Trans Asia hotel last week.

Pressure is an inevitable outcome in life. Adaptation to pressure would lead to growth while lack of it would result in stress and impaired performance.
S. Srikanth, Training and Scientific Affairs Manager of Emerchemie NB as well as Country Manager for Renata Ltd, said stress-related absenteeism in the US alone cost about $450 billion and in UK 60 percent of absenteeism was believed to be due to stress. In addition stress among the employees led to reduced level of performance, low quality service and high staff turnover.

Stress is not necessarily caused by negative things, it can even be caused by positive things too, he said. "Stress is a negative emotional and physiological process that occurs as individuals try to adjust to or deal with stresses, which are environmental circumstances that disrupt or threaten to disrupt an individual's daily functioning and cause people to make adjustments," he added.

All sources of pressure must be balanced by coping mechanisms which will help counter the build up of stress which in turn will eventually lead to exhaustion. Srikanth cited meditation, yoga massages, hydrotherapy (lots of water) and a good diet and nutrition as ways of reducing stress.

At the request of the audience, Srikanth showed a simple way of dealing with stress. The method is as such: When stressed assign a number to a colour and think of a colour and inhale it. Then add all your troubles/problems to it and think of exhaling the colour. Doing it several times with different colours will ease out stress to some extent, he said. (Rajika & Thushara)

Sampath scheme for professionals
Sampath Bank last week launched "Sampath Professional", a novel account scheme to fulfill the needs of professionals who are monthly wage earners.

The bank's Assistant General Manager G. Kariyawasam said this is another innovative product of the bank which is technology driven and caters to needs of a special segment.

Preference would be given to professionals working in any bank who earn a minimum salary of Rs. 20 000 per month. Benefits from this scheme include personal loans up to 10 times the net income and special loans with low interest rates. (HS)

Inconsistent policies retard growth at SLT
Sri Lanka Telecom (SLT) says inconsistent national telecom policies which doesn't safeguard national interests and inconsistent privatization policies are some of the threats retarding growth at the country's main telecommunications provider.

"Tariffs are also not cost based with local call charges being subsidized with the premium earnings of international call charges," SLT chairman Thilanga Sumathipala has said in a presentation to be made to the government, a copy of which was obtained by the Sunday Times FT.

Beyond 2002, SLT's challenge would be to maintain its core business as the protection of its backbone and telephony network while solutions like Internet, payphones, data, prepaid cards, mobile networks, call centres would be viewed as SBUs'.

Currently Sri Lanka's telecom infrastructure serves only seven percent of the population, a total of 1.525 million connections combining fixed line and mobile phone penetration. Of this SLT accounts for 750,000 fixed line connections and 40,000 mobile phone connections through its recently acquired cellular service, Mobitel.

A great barrier restricting the growth of fixed line connections is the high cost of $ 1,693 per connection including backbone costs of which the consumer bears only $ 203 while the rest is borne by SLT.

This, according to Sumathipala, prevents his organization from implementing a national rollout adding that this would be even more unaffordable in a liberalized economy. As a result SLT currently functions on a business model whereby its revenue from international calls are used to subsidize the local tariffs and network costs. Hence, the impending liberalization of international call licensing is a threat to SLT's survival.

He says the weaknesses of SLT is that it is dependent on its core business with problems such as overstaffing in non-technical areas and strong unions resisting change.

However, he complemented his organization's monopoly and revenue base, the majority holding by the government and an 8,000 plus islandwide employee workforce as some of its strengths.

Looking ahead, the SLT chairman said the immediate challenges are to improve the quality and performance of the organization while adding a further 200,000 lines to the network by 2004, and to restructure the management structure.

He further added that to stay competitive SLT would need to explore possible mergers and partnerships that will enhance revenue, service and image from existing market players; and expand into revenue generating businesses.

In the light of these challenges, Sumathipala believes the organization should not be privatized yet but continue to provide revenue to the government and benefit the people by providing more lines in under-developed areas with a better control on tariffs and superior product offerings.

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