Foreigners buy stocks but sell bonds after Easter

Since the Easter Sunday attacks, the Colombo Stock Exchange (CSE) has witnessed a net foreign inflow of Rs. 1.5 billion while government securities held by foreigners have gone down by Rs. 13.8 billion.

By the end of the first week following the attacks, foreign purchases were recorded at Rs. 2.4 billion while foreign sales were Rs. 907.8 million. By the second week, foreign purchases decreased to Rs. 175.4 million while foreign sales also dropped to Rs. 119.4 million. In the third week, ended Friday (10), foreign purchases were recorded at Rs. 296.6 million and foreign sales were at Rs. 318 million.

According to the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL), treasury bills and bonds held by foreigners saw a net foreign inflow of Rs. 268 million during the first week following the attacks. Reversing the trend, at the end of the second week, government securities witnessed a net foreign outflow of Rs. 3.2 billion.

However, by the end of Friday, foreign outflows further aggravated as a net foreign outflow of Rs. 10.7 billion was recorded.

During the third week, the broader market further declined as ASPI plummeted for seven straight sessions and reached 5,327.7. Moreover, active foreign interest was evident in John Keells Holdings and local interest was visible on Cargo Boat and East West Properties.

Meanwhile, the average weekly turnover stood at Rs. 275.7 million ($ 1,569.4k) whilst average weekly volume stood at 12,205.6k shares.

Furthermore, foreigners were net sellers for the week, recording a net outflow of Rs. 21.5 million ($ 122.2k). Moreover, ASPI decreased by 111.1 points WoW to end the week at 5,327.7 (-2.0% WoW) while the S&P SL20 Index also declined by 98.9 points WoW to close at 2,519.1 (-3.8% WoW).

Meanwhile, East West Properties, Kahawatta Plantations, and SMB Leasing (Non-voting) reached their 52-week high price levels this week while Access Engineering, Lankem Developments, Union Bank, Sampath Bank, Hatton National Bank, and Hayleys slumped to their respective 52-week low price levels. In addition, Dialog Axiata and Melstacorp were amongst the actively-traded counters during the week.

The market is expected to witness slightly improved activity over the coming week as conditions normalise. The market is hovering around a four-quarter trailing PE of 10.4x, which is one of the lowest multiples since 2009.
Meanwhile, during this three-week period, the Sri Lankan rupee depreciated by 0.6% against the US dollar, according to the CBSL.

However, foreign behaviour during this period was comparatively better than the performance three weeks into the political crisis, which lasted 51 days during the last quarter of 2018.

Three weeks into the crisis, CSE saw a net foreign outflow of Rs. 7.7 billion with foreigners exiting the market amidst the political turbulence. While the market saw foreign purchases of Rs. 4.9 billion during this period, foreigners sold stocks worth Rs. 12.5 billion.

CBSL data showed that the bond market saw an outflow of around Rs. 23 billion during this period crisis, with government securities held by foreigners coming down from Rs. 232,105.19 million on 24 October to Rs. 209,180.50 million on 14 November 2018.

Sri Lanka was suffering outflows even before the crisis began with investors moving to safe haven markets with the strengthening of the US economy. However, the rate of outflows had substantially intensified since late October amidst the uncertainty.

During this period, the rupee depreciated by 1.8% against the US dollar.