COLOMBO, Jan 9 (Reuters) - ** Sri Lanka’s rupee closed higher on Wednesday as foreign banks sold dollars but political uncertainty dented investor sentiment, dragging the benchmark stock index down to a more than six-week low. ** The Colombo Stock Index fell 0.17 percent to end at 5,982.19, its lowest close since Nov. 27, as worried investors awaited political cues after the last quarter’s turmoil. The benchmark index lost 5 percent in 2018.
** Turnover was 216.4 million rupees ($1.19 million), nearly a quarter of last year’s daily average of 834 million rupees.
** Foreign investors were net sellers of 4.3 million rupees worth of shares on Wednesday. They have been net sellers of 13.9 billion rupees worth of stocks since a political crisis began on Oct. 26. The bond market saw outflows of 74.3 billion rupees between Oct. 25 and Jan. 2, the latest central bank data showed.
** Last year through Dec. 26, foreign investors pulled a net 22.8 billion rupees out of stocks, and 159.8 billion rupees from government securities, bourse and central bank showed data.
** The rupee ended at 182.25/40 on Wednesday, compared with 182.50/70 in the previous session, market sources said. On Thursday, the rupee had fallen to an all-time low of 183.00 against the dollar. ** The rupee fell 19 percent in 2018, making it one of the worst-performing currencies in Asia, according to Refinitiv data, due to heavy foreign outflows.
** The rupee has declined about 5.04 percent since the political crisis started. ** The central bank said last week it would stick to an exchange rate policy of cautious intervention in times of excessive volatility in the forex market.
** The policy is designed to maintain a competitive exchange rate and support the rebalancing of the current account, thereby supporting a gradual build-up of reserves, central bank chief Indrajit Coomaraswamy said last week, unveiling economic policies for 2019.
** President Maithripala Sirisena appointed a cabinet of ministers from his rival party on Dec. 21 after he was forced to reinstate Ranil Wickremesinghe as prime minister, 51 days after he was sacked. ** The crisis is expected to ease, though tense relations between the two men could cause fiscal problems, analysts say. Parliament has approved 1.77 trillion rupees ($9.39 billion) to meet the first four months of expenditure in 2019, averting a government shutdown from Jan. 1.
** Sri Lanka plans to increase government spending by 13.2 percent from last year to 4.47 trillion rupees ($24.51 billion) in 2019, the finance ministry said on Tuesday.
** Credit agencies Fitch and S&P downgraded Sri Lanka’s sovereign rating in early December, citing refinancing risks and an uncertain policy outlook.
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** For a report on major currencies, click ($1 = 182.3000 Sri Lankan rupees) (Reporting by Shihar Aneez and Ranga Sirilal; Editing by Rashmi Aich)