COLOMBO, July 18 (Reuters) - Sri Lankan shares rose for the seventh consecutive session on Thursday to hit a more than four-month closing high, led by gains in diversified and banking stocks, while the rupee edged down on importer dollar demand. ** The benchmark stock index gained 0.89% to 5,695.69, its highest close since March 8. ** The index rose 1% last week, its third consecutive weekly gain. But the index is down about 5.89% so far this year. ** On Thursday, the stock market’s turnover was 625.9 million rupees ($3.56 million), crossing this year’s daily average of about 610.7 million rupees so far. Last year’s daily average came in at 834 million rupees. ** Foreign investors sold a net 17.3 million rupees worth of shares on Thursday, but they have been net buyers of 1.29 billion rupees worth of equities so far this year, index data showed.
** Shares in conglomerate John Keells Holdings Plc ended 2% firmer, Dialog Axiata Plc jumped 3.7% and the country’s biggest listed lender Commercial Bank of Ceylon closed up 1.4%. ** Meanwhile, the currency ended tad weaker at 175.70/80 per dollar, compared with Wednesday’s close of 175.65/75, as importer demand for the greenback outpaced the dollar selling by banks. The rupee rose 0.37% last week, and is up 3.93% so far this year. ** The rupee dropped 16% in 2018 and was one of the worst-performing currencies in Asia.
** The central bank left key interest rates unchanged last week as expected, after cutting them in May to support the economy as tourism and investment plummeted in the wake of deadly suicide bombings in April. ** The island nation raised $2 billion via 5-year and 10-year sovereign bond sales last month, tapping global capital markets for the second time in three months. ** Foreign investors bought a net 2.68 billion rupees worth of government securities in the week ended July 10, but the market has seen a year-to-date net foreign outflow to 19.73 billion rupees, the central bank data showed. ** For a report on global markets, click ** For a report on major currencies, click ($1 = 175.6500 Sri Lankan rupees) (Reporting by Ranga Sirilal and Shihar Aneez; Editing by Rashmi Aich)