Financial Times

Jim Rogers was here!


It came as a pleasant surprise and will certainly stimulate Colombo’s stockmarket which is yet to take off after the LTTE was defeated in May, ending over 25 years of fighting. Unknown to many, Jim Rogers, a 67 year-old entrepreneur who first started business as a 5 year-old selling peanuts and then went on to co-found the mega Quantum Fund with billionaire George Soros, visited Sri Lanka last week in a trip that would have raised a lot of interest if those, particularly, in the private sector were aware.

Rogers, an investor with an adventurous streak and frequently quoted by news media on investment options where he has said Sri Lanka is a better bet than India or China, had spent three days here and also visited Kandy. There was no confirmation as to whether he met corporate bosses or private sector executives and whether he came on invitation from the government (he had met mostly government bigwigs) or flew in as a tourist.

Rogers has said that he would recommend to investors the sectors that they need to put their money in, and if this is true, that’s a huge boost to Sri Lanka. Last month, a Central Bank team of officials went on an ‘investment update’ to Singapore, Hong Kong, the US -- Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, New York-, London, Bahrain, Dubai and Mumbai meeting some 105 big-time investors and explaining investment prospects.

These are investment bankers who can move millions of dollars at any given time, at the press of a button on a computer. The visit of Rogers and his interest in Sri Lanka would lend more strength to these fund managers to speed up any decision on investing here.

The Central Bank’s foreign reserves are also rising for a multitude of reasons including the IMF tranche, some hedge fund monies coming in and dollar purchases from the inter-bank (money) market to stabilise the dollar. Large flows of dollars into the banking sector, mainly through UN agencies and Non Governmental organisations (NGOs) for humanitarian work, has put pressure on the currency and the Central Bank has been mopping up these excess dollars to ensure the currency doesn’t crash and fall below the current Rs 114-Rs 115 level.

Government agencies are also reportedly considering having an investment forum in Sri Lanka in the next few months with the presence of some of these investment bankers to attract investments into the country.

So far only the tourism sector has taken off with the end of the war. Apart from reviving investments that have been on hold, the industry is also seeing a resurgence in new investments while scenic spots like Trincomalee and Arugam Bay are drawing large crowds – local and foreign. According to some reports, on some weekends, getting a room in Trincomalee has been extremely difficult.

The massive Kalpitiya tourism development project – modelled on the lines of tourism in the Maldives with its 1000 plus one islands – is also on stream. Hotel operators like Jetwing also have other issues on their hands – how to manage properties overseas and here with the new buzz in the industry? Jetwing Sri Lanka Chairman Hiran Cooray says managing time for all these projects which are suddenly coming on stream is the challenge they are facing.

“How do you manage all these,” he said this week after returning from an overseas trip looking at their portfolio in Vietnam and Bangladesh. The same would apply to big-time hoteliers like Aitken Spence and John Keells Holdings which have properties in the Maldives, India and the Middle East and new ones coming up in Sri Lanka.

This is certainly goods news for an industry that has suffered badly during the war. On the other hand stockmarket investors also need to take a cue from tourism and rise a few pegs – hotel stocks in fact are gaining at the Colombo bourse -- in a show of support that Sri Lanka is ready for business once again!

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