COLOMBO, July 9 (Reuters) - Sri Lankan shares closed slightly firmer on Tuesday, hovering near an 11-week closing high hit last week, as investors bought banking stocks ahead of a key policy rates announcement later this week. ** Sri Lanka’s central bank is expected to leave its key interest rates unchanged on Thursday, a Reuters poll showed, after cutting them in May to support the economy as tourism and investment plummeted in the wake of Easter Sunday bombings.
** The benchmark stock index hit its highest close since April 18 on Friday, buoyed by the government’s decision to launch a $2.2 billion Japan-funded Light Railway Transit (LRT) project and some other stalled infrastructure projects, brokers said.
** The index ended up 0.18% at 5,514.40 on Tuesday. It rose 2.67% last week, notching its second consecutive weekly gain. However, it is down 8.9% so far this year. ** Shares in Melstacorp Ltd rose 6.4%, while DFCC Bank Plc ended 9.52% firmer. ** Stock market turnover was 550.1 million rupees ($3.13 million), in line with this year’s daily average of about 542.2 million rupees. Last year’s daily average came in at 834 million rupees. ** Foreign investors sold a net 63.8 million rupees worth of shares on Tuesday, extending the year-to-date net foreign outflow to 6.97 billion rupees, the index data showed.
** The government’s launch of central highway and light railway projects helped lift hopes that the country’s transformation would result in a faster economic growth rate, stockbrokers said.
** Sri Lanka is unlikely to hit its full-year economic growth target of 3-4% following Easter Sunday bombings and a Reuters poll has forecast growth to slump to its lowest in nearly two decades this year.
** Meanwhile, the currency closed firmer at 175.70/80 per dollar, compared with Monday’s close of 176.05/15, as dollar sales by banks surpassed importer greenback demand. The rupee rose 0.17% 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 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 sold a net 3.93 billion rupees worth of government securities in the week ended July 3, extending the year-to-date net foreign outflow to 22.4 billion rupees, the central bank data showed.
** The central bank cut its key interest rates on May 31 to support a faltering economy as overall business and consumer confidence slumped following deadly bomb attacks in April.
** For a report on global markets, click ** For a report on major currencies, click ($1 = 175.6000 Sri Lankan rupees) (Reporting by Ranga Sirilal and Shihar Aneez; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu)