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World Affairs








  In Brief     Supplement

Lower US consumer spend hits garments

Garment exports to USA down
US$ 90 mn., in IH

Apparel industry earnings in the first half of the year amounted to US$ 1,524 million; a marginal US$ eight million increase over the corresponding period last year.

Industry sources attributed two reasons for the slowdown in apparel export earnings: Successful price competition from low cost producer countries like Vietnam and China, in particular to the US market and also due to the slowdown in the US economy, where growth this year is expected to come down from the targeted 2.4% to 1.4%.

The US and EU markets contribute more than 90% to garment sector export earnings, with these two economies taking approximately 50% each of exports made to those regions.

Earnings from exports to the US region in the period under review fell by US$ 90 million to US$ 710 million year on year (YoY), while those to the EU region however grew by 12% YoY to US$ 727 million in the same period.

Sources attributed the growth to the EU region to the GSP Plus facility which enables Sri Lanka to export garments to that region on a duty free basis, whereas the normal duty for such exports is 12%.

Sri Lanka however enjoys no duty concessions in exports made the US market, where the normal import duty is 14%.

The GSP + facility to the EU region which expires at the year end being renewed for another three years however is under a cloud due to Sri Lanka's dubious human rights (HR) record.

The GSP + facility is linked to the compliance of some 27 conventions, some of which are linked to the protection of HR. Over 7,000 items are covered under the GSP + concession, but the garment sector looms large due to the sheer values gained because of this facility.

Garments is Sri Lanka's number one export earner.

Another product that has made gains due to the GSP+ concession is fish exports to the EU region.

Sri Lanka has time till October 31 to make its application to the EU for the renewal of the GSP + facility for a further three years from 2009, with the EU notifying the list of new beneficiary countries by December 15.

Sources said that the procedure followed by the EU in putting on notice "errant" developing countries seeking this facility is to give the relevant stakeholders a period of four months to state their case before a formal decision is taken by the EU either to reject or accept the GSP + application.

In the interim period, that country which is under a cloud may however continue to make exports to the EU region on a duty free basis.

The EU is yet to put out their notification list.

The garment industry provides direct employment to between 280-300,000; and indirect employment to another 750,000. Statistics compiled by the industry show that a family unit, usually comprising four members, directly benefit when one of their members is employed in this trade.

The average monthly emoluments of a garment sector employee are estimated at US$ 160, more than four times the amount their counterpart in Bangladesh earns (US$ 35). There are some 400 garment factories in operation in the country, which however suffer a dearth in labour, with some 15-20,000 vacancies in the sector remaining unfilled.

The industry is currently running a campaign to entice female juki operators, the main source of demand, to join the industry.

Last year apparel exports brought in US$ 3.2 billion to the country, with the industry expecting this status quo to be maintained this year as well. Some of the larger companies such as Brandix and MAS Holdings employ some 25,000 and 35,000 respectively.

City hotel enjoys 90% occupancy

"Chutneys," Cinnamon Grand's Rs. 40 million Indian restaurant opened on Wednesday.

"Its scheduled opening is a miracle," Rohan Karr, General Manager of this Five Star 500 room city hotel told reporters.

"We got the crockery from India only on Tuesday and it was cleared in a record 24 hours, whereas it usually takes three days to clear," he said.

The invitations had already been out as the shipment was expected early this month, only to be delayed at the Indian end, said Karr. "However, God answered my prayers," he said.

While other hotels are going through a lean patch due to the country situation, not so Cinnamon Grand, which is currently enjoying a 90% occupation. This difference is as stark as chalk and cheese, when considering the fact that its chief competitor, the Five Star Colombo Hilton Hotel which carries an international brand name, allegedly having only a 30% occupancy rate on 300 rooms.

Cinnamon Grand's room charges are US$ 105 net of taxes, said Karr.

"However, on an overall basis, occupancy levels so far for the year has been on an average 50%, whereas, in the comparative period last year it was higher, at 60%," he said. Karr said that the majority of his resident guests were from the corporate sector, mainly from the West and Japan.

CB manoeuvres to bring rates down

Central Bank (CB) intervention to bring down interest rates was visible at last week's Treasury Bill (T Bill) auction which saw  CB  manipulation particularly in regard to T Bills of 91 and 364 day tenures.

T Bill auctions are a form of government borrowings.

"The CB's original announcement that they would be offering a total of Rs. one billion worth of maturing T Bills of 91 day tenure to the market was cut down by half with only Rs. 500 million ultimately offered to the market at this auction.

 This parcel  received Rs.  3,933 million worth of offers, eight times as much as that which was ultimately accepted from the market by the CB, with the majority of the rejected offers asking for rates way above the weighted average yield ( WAY) of 16.73% ultimately fetched at this auction, 38 basis points (bp) less than the WAY commanded at the previous week's auction.

 However, CB intervention in a similar fashion in the longer tenure T Bills of a 364 day maturity failed to bring down those rates, with the WAY of this tenure stagnating at 18.67%.

T Bills of a 364 day tenure had  Rs. 4,518 million worth of offers made, of which only a tenth of that value (Rs. 455 million) was allowed by the CB to be subscribed by the market. CB's original announcement said that Rs. 2,500 million worth of maturing T Bills of 364 day tenure were being offered to the market. Market sources said that rates would take a natural downward spiral if the market was assured that the government was winning the war. They however expected rates, at least of the 91 day tenure to come down further at this week's auction (though the amounts to be offered are yet to be announced.) due to expected CB intervention.

Meanwhile, T Bills of 182 day maturity saw only a third (Rs. 2,100 million) of the offers received (Rs. 6,526 million) being allowed to be subscribed by the market, which saw this WAY come down by 7 bp to 18.37%.

CB's original announcement said that Rs. 2,100 million of this tenure were being offered to the market.

Last week's auction was for the re-issue of a total of Rs. 5,500 million worth of maturing T Bills, of which only Rs. 3,055 million was accepted from the market and the balance (Rs. 2,445 million) rejected, a term interpreted by the market that the CB/government got captive funds to invest in the same, at rates lower than that which the market was demanding.

Sources said that the CB's tight monetary policy appears to be paying off, with inflation, till recently which was in the high 29-30% levels seemingly tapering off.


State bank borrowings push-up rates

Overnight (O/N) call money market rates (CMRs), the rates at which commercial banks lend to each other for a day shot up by 100 basis points at Friday's' trading due to borrowings from state banks in particular, market sources said.

As a result, O/N CMRs which were in the 13-13« % range on Thursday, shot up to 14-14 «% levels on Friday. State bank borrowings from the market are generally to meet government's expenditure requirments. They expected rates to be on the ascent when the market opens for trading tomorrow.

Inflation hits soft drinks sector

The soft drinks industry is one of several victims due to the country's high inflation, with a leading carbonated drinks manufacturer suffering a retardation in terms of volume growth, though its recently introduced fruit juice product has captured 25% of the market in seven months.

Dusty Alahakoon, Marketing Head, Coca Cola Beverages Sri Lanka Ltd., told The Sunday Leader that its soft drinks' consumption has come down in volume terms in the first six months of this year on a year on year basis, though in value terms it has grown due to inflation.

However, its entry into the ready to drink fruit juice industry in December had resulted in it capturing a 25% market share since. He attributed this success to targeting the Swabasha speaking people of this country reaping dividends. This sector is enjoying a 4-5% annual growth, which, however is small compared to neighbouring India which is enjoying a 10-15% annual growth in the "ready to drink"  segment, he said.

He attributed the growth in this sector (although marginal in the local context) compared to the soft drinks sector, due to milk and fruit drinks being considered as essentials in the consumers' mindset.

Alahakoon valued the carbonated drinks market at Rs. 10 billion annually and in volume terms at 165 million litres. He was however unable to give a value to the ready to drink segment, but in volume terms identified it at 20 million litres, much less than the soft drinks segment.

The other segment, the cordial drinks market, is much bigger than the ready to drink market, he added.

Open economy boosts tea exports

The advent of the open economy has resulted in value added tea exports increasing from nought to 35% in the space of 31 years, a tea exporter said.

Anselm B. Perera, an executive committee member of the Tea Exporters Association (TEA) told reporters on Wednesday that before the era of liberalization that took place in 1977, 100% of Sri Lanka's tea exports were in bulk form.

He attributed this to the industry being precluded from importing vital machinery needed for value addition due to import controls that existed at that time.

However, after the economy was liberalized in 1977, the industry was able to infuse US$ 600 million by making the necessary machinery imports and improve infrastructure and training, he said.

35-40% of Sri Lanka's tea exports go in value added form, with 10-15% of those being Sri Lankan brands, the industry told reporters.

"Our aim is to export 100% of our tea in value added form," said Perera. He however gave no time frame to achieve this target. Meanwhile, the Tea export sector envisages a 50% year on year (YoY) growth in earnings this year to US$ 1.8 billion.

Members of TEA told reporters that first half (1H) earnings this year was up by US$ 174 million YoY compared to the corresponding period last year.

They were however unable to give an exact breakdown of tea export earnings fetched in the 1H of last year and this year other than saying that in the 1H of this year 156.3 million kilos of tea were exported at an average price of US$ 4.40 per kg., whereas in the corresponding 1H last year the quantity exported was 143.9 million kg at an average price of US$ 3.17 a kg.

This works out to an earnings figure of US$ 688 million in the 1H of this year as opposed to US$ 456 million in the corresponding 1H last year, a YoY increase of US$ 232 million.

They attributed this success to marketing, where they said that Ceylon Tea prices were nearly three times as much as that of competition.

Romesh Moraes, another executive committee member of TEA said that just two years ago the average auction price at the Colombo Auctions was a mere US$ 1.70 compared to today's price of US$ 3.84.

Last year tea exports grossed the US$ 1.2 billion mark on a volume of 300 million kg.

"Our target for this year is US$ 1.8 billion," TEA Chairman Jayantha Keragala said.

The industry also wants the government to invest a greater part of the cess money on tea promotion. At present, of the Rs. 1.2 billion cess money collected annually, only Rs. 30 million is used for promotional work, said Moraes.

He said that the cess is collected on the basis of Rs. 4 for every kg. of tea exported.

Another bogey was high bank interest rates, currently at 20% plus, "where the industry is forced to work within those norms," he said.

Ceylon Tea is exported to some 145 countries, with the top buyer to date being Dubai, followed by the CIS.

Dubai property at Col. 7 prices

AMG International, a group of companies headed by Sri Lankan entrepreneur Anthony Malik Gunasekera has made history by being the first Sri Lankan owned company in Dubai to offer Sri Lankans a way of buying their own homes in Dubai

The Sunday Leader spoke to AMG International CEO Anthony Malik Gunasekera who said that this exciting new offer is one he sees many Sri Lankan expatriates living in Dubai taking advantage of as rent in the fast paced city has increased by 120% in the last few years forcing many who work in Dubai to live in cheaper areas such as Sharjah & Ajman-with traffic, a three hour drive away from Dubai city.

He said that many of the nicer apartments in great neighbourhoods like Jumeira sell at more or less the same prices as houses and apartments in Colombo 07 and that within a span of 10 to 15 years, which is the usual contract period of foreign workers, expatriates can own their home.

Explaining the mechanics, Gunasekera said that AMG International buys properties from the Dubai government and retail markets it. Each property comes with a bank backing.

But AMG International's operations go beyond Dubai and real estate. The company has an office in the UK, which promotes Dubai to Sri Lankans living in Europe, thanks to a team of professionals at AMG headed by Director General Manager Viraj Ekanayake.

The company's other operations include exporting foliage from Sri Lanka (AMG International Ceylon Ltd.) and also supplying Dubai's demanding hotel industry with hospitality and specialty services (AMG Hotels Supplies Division).

Talking about its other operations, Gunasekera said, "We bought a 50 acre estate in Matale to grow 'everything' and we're looking at exporting to other countries as well. This is a BOI venture and there's a huge demand in Dubai for foliage and Dubai is going green. At the moment the bulk of foliage comes from Africa so I thought why not make use of what Sri Lanka has to offer? As for the hotel supplies, with the airports expanding and with more visitors to the city, the hotel industry has also boomed and there's a great demand for linen and toiletries, most of which I source from Sri Lanka.

Talking about the venture, Gunasekera said, "Many people living in Dubai spend at least 60% of their salary on rent, but now, thanks to foreigners being allowed to buy properties, they can buy their own apartment and even sell it for a profit should they want to leave to another country. It's a great investment opportunity and one that will only benefit buyers as the property market is soaring, growing at 20% per annum, the highest in the world."

Strategically located, Dubai is a fast growing city and has a variety of investment opportunities. Tourism, one of the major attractions of the city has a 16% growth rate per annum, three times the world tourism growth rate.  Gunasekera explained that investors enjoy tax-free benefits and an investor friendly government under the visionary thinking of UAE Prime Minister and ruler of Dubai Sheik Mohamed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum. Homebuyers are also entitled to a lifetime resident visa. Dubai has also been rated one of the safest places in the world.  

AMG International started in 2004, entered the market at just the right time, said Gunasekera, "We're a new company, but then again everything in Dubai is new, the city changes its face with each passing day, it's growing and expanding and developing at a frenzied rate when just 30 years ago it was nothing but barren desert which is amazing. It's a land of opportunity to everyone."

Talking about his vision for the company and future plans, Gunasekera said that someday he hopes to make AMG International the No. 1 Sri Lankan Company in the world and is planning on opening offices in Europe and Australia. "I consider myself a patriotic Sri Lankan and I hope that others will follow suit in being more entrepreneurial because the rest of the world has much to offer and I believe that our people are some of the smartest in the world," he said."

Medical insurance for all

Ceylinco Medi Spots, introduced under the Ceylinco National Health Policy, the unique health insurance scheme launched recently by Ceylinco Insurance General, has succeeded in setting a new standard in healthcare insurance in the country, says a Ceylinco Insurance-General spokesman.

Pointing out the popularity of the project, he says that the unique concept of making primary healthcare facilities available at a nominal annual fee, has encouraged customers to make use of the facility without any hesitation. For just Rs 500 per year, Ceylinco Health Policy offers an individual unlimited number of medical consultations at no extra charge for the whole year from the Ceylinco Medi Spot in the area.

Ceylinco Medi Spots opened in areas of Galle, Panadura, Embilipitiya, Katunayake and Kandy have proven to be popular among the people. In response to its success, three more Ceylinco Medi Spots will be opened by Ceylinco Insurance in Badulla, Anuradhapura and Negombo by the end of this month (August).

The Ceylinco National Health Policy designed to meet the primary medical needs of the entire family also offers cover for children-a child under 18 is able to make use of unlimited number of medical consultations at a Ceylinco Medi Spot for an entire year for a mere Rs 250.

The customer is assured of qualified medical personnel, doctors and trained nurses who provide treatment, diagnose illnesses and are able to administer certain drugs and provide dressings for specific injuries at  Ceylinco Medi Spot. Upon payment of the annual fee, every Ceylinco National Health Policy customer is given a special card which needs to be produced at the Ceylinco Medi Spot to obtain free medical service for the whole year.

Deshamanya Dr. Lalith Kotelawala's  vision of making primary healthcare facilities available to a wider populace at very little cost is taking root through the Ceylinco National Health Policy, says Ceylinco Insurance General Chief Executive Director Ajith Gunewardena who adds that as the network of Ceylinco Medi Spots expands, the entire country will be able to make use of excellent primary medical care facilities offered.

" For us at Ceylinco Insurance General, providing unique and customer-focused concepts is what makes us successful. We understand the needs of the customer and believe in catering to those needs."

Given the success of Ceylinco National Health Policy, Gunewardena believes that Ceylinco Medi Spots are taking healthcare facilities available to the people to a new height of quality.

" Ceylinco Medi Spots, by offering primary healthcare so easily, are also complementing the services offered by state hospitals,"  adds Gunewardena. When the policy was launched early this year, Health Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva complimented the concept as an innovative step. 

Ceylinco Insurance General which revolutionized the insurance industry with their now iconic VIP On the Spot claim settlement, plans to do the same with the Ceylinco National Health Policy and its network of Ceylinco Medi Spots, having embarked on a course of re-defining the concept of health insurance in Sri Lanka.

AmEx teams up with Allianz

American Express (AmEx), the Credit Card acquired and issued in Sri Lanka solely by Nations Trust Bank PLC (NTB) announced the tie up with Allianz Insurance Lanka Ltd., in a bid to enhance the insurance cover offered to Green, Gold and Corporate Card members. In addition to the existing benefits such as personal accident cover, trip delay or cancellation and loss of baggage, the enhanced offers will provide increased facilities offering overseas travel, security, protection for the main card member and his/her family.

Card members may also now for the first time in Sri Lanka enjoy four new unique features available exclusively for AmEx card members:- Golfer's Hole-in-One: In celebration of achieving a hole in one during a tournament played outside Sri Lanka,  card members stand the chance to have their expenses reimbursed by AmEx, subject to a maximum limit of USD 250. The tournament should be played at a golf course recognized by the United States Golfer's Association (USGA).

Grand Prix Checkered Flag: When a card member buys tickets to the Formula One/Grand Prix races and should the event be cancelled due to adverse weather, AmEx will reimburse the Tickets up to USD 1,000. Tennis Winning Sets:  In the event of cancellations of the semi-finals or finals of tennis championships such as the Wimbledon, US Open, Australian Open or the French Open, AmEx will reimburse the  card member's ticket up to the value of USD 750.

World Cup Specials: AmEx will reimburse the ticket up to USD 500 for cancellations of any World Cup semi finals/finals match for rugby, soccer or cricket.

Commenting on these new services, NTB DGM Consumer Banking Ms. Renuka Fernando said, "We are pleased to offer our  card members enhanced insurance covers in addition to these exciting new privileges and we are certain these unmatched offers will be of great value especially to those interested in sports. As a premium card in the market, our goal is to continuously offer innovative new services and privileges making AmEx simply the best card in your wallet." she added.

Diversifies into migration

"Immigration Australia" is a new venture launched by WIDAC Holdings in affiliation with Ashmore Brown & Associates, Australia.

The agreement was signed recently in Sydney by WIDAC Holdings Chairman Primal Wijayanayake and Ashmore Brown & Associates President Ray Brown, registered migration agent for Australia Immigration, for WIDAC to represent Ashmore Brown  for a professional service on all migration issues for Australia.

WIDAC Holdings - records a 20 year history of corporate governance and has made a name as the leading company in commercial interior design representing international brands such as Luumar and Corian and others. The company's three directors are Primal Wijayanayake, (Chairman) Chandi Alles (Managing Director) and Ravi Jayatilleke.

As part of their diversification plans WIDAC has launched "Immigration Australia" offering professional Australian Immigration Consultancy, with their joint venture with Ashmore Brown. The office is located at Rosmead Place, Colombo.

Australia's migration agents are amongst the most professional in the world and Ashmore Brown is a market leader and a premier migration consultancy firm operating in Australia with core offices in Sydney & Brisbane, branches in South Africa and "reps": in other countries.

It is the policy of Ashmore Brown to accept clients only where it is satisfied that there are realistic prospects of a successful application. The company is a registered migration agent in Australa,

Com Bank's NPLs up 5.23%

Commercial Bank Group reported moderate growth for the first half of 2008 in tough market conditions that have impacted the sector in general.

The Bank's gross non-performing loans and advances ratio rose to 5.23% as at June 30, 2008 from 3.02% as at December 31, 2007, mainly as a result of classification of loans and advances as non-performing as required by a recent Central Bank of Sri Lanka direction and also due to the macro-economic environment prevailing in the country. 

Total Group deposits which stood at Rs. 183.1 billion as at December 31, 2007 rose to Rs. 191.5 billion as at June 30, 2008, recording a 4.59% growth.

Total Group gross advances which stood at Rs. 181.1 billion as at December 31, 2007 grew to Rs.185.2 billion as at June 30, 2008, recording a marginal 2.3% growth.

The prevailing inflationary situation and high interest rate regime, coupled with the current macro-economic outlook restricted the high growth trend of advances which was experienced by the Bank over the past few years, Commercial Bank's Chief Financial Officer Nandika Buddhipala said.

Another significant development was that net provisions for bad and doubtful debts rose by Rs.349.6 million to Rs. 795.7 million, recording a 78.37% increase, mainly due to sector specific provisions made in 2008 first half.

Further, a Rs. 282.7 million general provision on performing and overdue loans as against Rs.245.7 million provided for the corresponding period in 2007 also contributed to the increase in net provisions for bad and doubtful debts and advances in 2008 first half. "This additional provision was to conform with the new provisioning requirements stipulated by the Central Bank," said Buddhipala.

Total Group assets grew by 2.91% to reach Rs 276.2 billion as at June 30, 2008, from Rs.268.4 billion as at December 31, 2007. Taken separately, Commercial Bank reported a Rs. 3,783.2 million pre-tax profit for 2008 first half, reflecting a Rs. 400.1 million or 11.83% growth over the first half of last year.

Bank's post-tax profit amounted to Rs.2,259 million as against Rs.1,981.9 million reported for the corresponding period in 2007, reflecting a Rs. 277.1 million or 13.98% growth.

In results released to the Colombo Stock Exchange recently, the Group reported a Rs 3,656.9 million pre-tax profit for the six months ended June 30, 2008, a Rs. 234.8 million or 6.86% growth over the corresponding period in 2007.

Group post-tax profit for same period at Rs. 2,118.2 million was up 5.52%.

Group net interest income rose Rs.647.2 million or 11.94%, while "Other Income" at Rs. 1,846 million recorded a Rs.566 million or 44.22% increase. "The increase in other income was primarily due to a Rs. 405 million profit earned by the Bank on the sale of its stake in the shares of Commercial Leasing Company PLC in May 2008," said Buddhipala.

The Group's foreign exchange income rose by Rs. 253.2 million or 30.75% during 2008 first half, mainly due to higher gains realised from forward foreign exchange deals done in 2008.

The Group's tax on profit on ordinary activities published in the 2007 first half results has been re-stated as Rs. 1,414.8 million in the comparative column of the Income Statement of 2007.

This was due to reversal of a deferred tax asset recognised on statutory general provisions made as per the new provisioning requirement of the Central Bank which was reversed in preparing the 2007 Annual Report. If the re-statement of the tax on profit on ordinary activities was not reflected, profit after tax for 2007 first half  would have been Rs. 2,173.3 million, marginally higher than the post-tax profit achieved in the period under review.

Meanwhile, Group non-interest expenses recorded a Rs 577.7 million or 19.94% increase in the period reviewed.

Trade deficit up 92%

Exports amounted to US$ 654.6 million in June 2008; a 1.9% decline compared to June 2007.

However, cumulative exports earnings from January-June 2008 recorded a 9.8% increase to US$ 3,888 million. Despite the decline in earnings from some industrial exports, namely, food and beverages; garments and textiles; and machinery and equipment, earnings from agricultural exports increased by 34.6% YoY, given the significant increase in commodity prices in international markets and the premium prices fetched by 'Ceylon Tea' in key markets.

Thus, the growth in earnings from tea, coconut and minor agricultural products negated the impact of the decline in industrial export earnings to some extent. Agricultural exports are expected to continue to perform better, in terms of volumes as well as prices, and industrial exports are expected to rebound from the one-off decline in June.

            Imports in June 2008 amounted to US$ 1,159 million; a 39.4% increase. However, non-oil imports amounting to US$ 819 million recorded a slower growth of 16.9%. While intermediate goods accounted for about 73% of the growth in expenditure on imports in June 2008, imports of petroleum products accounted for 87% of the increase in this sector.

Import expenditure is expected to be lower during the rest of the year as petroleum prices continue to dwindle. Fertilizer and diamonds were among the other intermediate imports that increased in June, 2008. Consumer goods imports expenditure grew by 29.6% largely due to higher expenditure on food imports. Investment goods imports grew by 17.7%, with machinery and equipment and building materials imports expanding. Higher growth in investment goods reflect the implementation of large scale infrastructure development projects funded by capital flows to the Government and the private sector by way of foreign direct investment.

Cumulative import expenditure in the first six months of 2008 amounted to US$ 6,972 million; a 35.6% increase over the corresponding period last year.  Non-oil imports during that period amounted to US$ 5,180 million, which is a 23.8% increase over the corresponding period last year.

            These developments in external trade resulted in a deficit in the trade balance amounting to US$ 504 million for June 2008.  In the first six months of 2008 the deficit in the trade balance amounted to US$ 3,084 million compared to the US$ 1,603 million deficit in the corresponding period last year, a 92.4% YoY increase.

However, private remittances during the period January-June 2008 which amounted to US$ 1,460 million, and the higher capital and financial flows more than offset the deficit in the current account, as a result of which the overall balance of payments recorded a US$ 390 million surplus by end-June 2008. Consequently gross official reserves increased to US$ 3,433 million by end June, 2008, up from U.S$ 3,062.5 million in December 2007, sufficient to finance around 3.1 months of imports.

SL invites textile investments

By Muzaffar Qureshi


Pakistani investors have been offered to set up textile units in Sri Lanka where there is no load-shedding and an easy access is available to markets in the USA and EU.

The offer was made by High Commissioner of Sri Lanka Dr W B Dorakumbore at a meeting with Sindh Industries Minister Rauf Siddiqui at the latter's office on Tuesday. Responding to the offer, the minister stressed the need for a joint strategy for industrialisation based on export-oriented joint ventures, especially in the textile sector to be set up in both the countries. The high commissioner called for efforts for increasing bilateral trade between the two countries from the existing level of $300 million to $1 billion under the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between them. He said that the existing trade balance was in Pakistan's favour which could be corrected by more imports to Pakistan.

He said that Pakistan could import tea, coconut oil and betel leaf from Sri Lanka while Pakistan exports to his country include yarn, grey cloth, basmati rice and fruits, especially mango.

The Sri Lankan envoy urged the Pakistan government to reduce import duty on betel leaf which has been raised in the new budget from Rs150 to Rs200 per kg.

Dorakumbore urged Pakistan to send a larger trade delegation to the SAARC fair scheduled to be held in Colombo from Aug 28 to 31.

He said that the Pakistani delegation should comprise at least 50 businessmen as India is sending about 100 businessmen to the fair.

Earlier on a directive from the Sindh minister, the Trade Development Authority of Pakistan (TDAP) increased the size of trade delegation for SAARC fair from 10 to 14.

He said that the Sindh province had great potential for promoting tourism as it has ancient religious places for Hindus and Buddhists. These sites are mostly situated in Tharparkar, Jacobabad and Sukkur. It could be a good source of revenue generation for the Sindh government.

At present about 300,000 to 400,000 tourists go to India for a visit to ancient religious sites. If the Sindh province publicises its ancient Hindu and Buddhist sites, it can attract about 100,000 pilgrims from Sri Lanka.  (Dawn)

Dialog's PAT down 78%

Dialog Telekom PLC Group  in the 2Q ended June 30, 2008 saw PAT decline by 78% YoY to Rs. 537.9 million. The company in the 1H ended June 30, 2008 saw PAT decline by 66.3% YoY to Rs. 1,643 million.

Dialog Telekom Group performance derived from a consolidation of the performance of Dialog Telekom and its subsidiaries DBN and DTV displayed YoY Revenue growth of 13% and a PAT of Rs.1.64  bn. for the 1H of the year ended 30 June 2008.

The Group in the 1H of the year saw revenue grow by 13% YoY to Rs. 18.3 billion, while PAT in the period under review fell by 66% YoY to Rs. 1.6 billion.

The company per se saw revenue in the 1H of the year grow by 6% YoY to Rs. 16.6 billion, while PAT diminished by 59% YoY to Rs. 2.2 billion. The Company added 1.15 mn. (net) new subscribers YoY resulting in the Company's cellular subscriber base increasing by 31% to  4.81 mn.  as at June 30, 2008.  The prepaid segment increased by 34% to 4.22 mn. In parallel, the post- paid subscriber base witnessed a  14% growth  to 0.59 mn. The company recorded a mobile subscriber base of 4.8 million customers as at the end of Q2 2008, representing a 31% growth YoY. Revenue growth over the same period was however relatively modest at 6%. Revenue growth was mitigated in the main due to tariff reductions and other affordability enhancement  strategies adopted by the company during Q4 2007  in the backdrop of suppressed price-usage elasticity levels arising from inflation related pressures on consumer spending power. Those resulted in a 59% PAT reduction on a YoY basis.

Kegalle Plantations PAT up 51%

Kegalle Plantations PLC in the first quarter (1Q) ended June 30, 2008 saw profit after tax (PAT) increase by 51.2% year on year (YoY) to Rs. 153.7 million.

Nawaloka makes turnaround

Nawaloka Hospitals in the 1Q ended June 30, 2008 made a Rs. 4.8 million PAT compared to a Rs. 25.4 million in the corresponding Q last year.

CIC's PAT up 523%

CIC in the 1Q ended June 30, 2008 saw PAT increase by 522.6% YoY to Rs. 358.6 million.

Property Development's PAT down 16%

Associated Property Development in the 1Q ended June 30,, 2008 saw PAT decline by 16.4% YoY to Rs. 2.2 million.

Richard Pieris PAT up 413%

Richard Pieris & Co., PLC in the 1Q ended June 30, 2008 saw PAT increase by 412.8% YoY to Rs. 308.6 million.

Hayleys MGT PAT down 21%

Hayleys MGT in the 1Q ended June 30, 2008 saw PAT decline by 21.4% YoY to Rs. 76.4 million.

Hayleys Exports' makes Rs. 12 mn., loss

Hayleys Exports' in the 1Q ended June 30, 2008 made a Rs. 11.8 million loss compared to a Rs. 5.7 million PAT in the corresponding Q the previous year.

Talawakelle makes turnaround

Talawakelle Plantations in the 2Q ended June 30, 2008 made a Rs. 40.3 million PAT compared to a Rs. 19.2 million loss in the corresponding Q the previous year. The company in the first half (1H) ended June 30, 2008 saw PAT grow by 1,045.6% YoY to Rs. 128.1 million.

Tea Services PAT up 30%

Ceylon Tea Services in the 1Q ended June 30, 2008 saw PAT grow by 29.9% YoY to Rs. 197.3 million.

Overseas Realty's PAT up 99%

Overseas Realty in the 2Q ended June 30, 2008 saw PAT grow by 99.1% YoY to Rs. 135.6 million. The company in the 1H ended June 30, 2008 saw PAT grow by 99% YoY to Rs. 249.3 million.

LB's PAT up 657%

LB Finance in the 1Q ended June 30, 2008 saw PAT grow by 656.8% YoY to Rs. 70.7 million.

Pan Asia's PAT up 4%

Pan Asia Bank in the 2Q ended June 30, 2008 saw PAT grow by 3.8% YoY to Rs. 46.3 million. The Bank in the 1H ended June 30, 2008 saw PAT grow by 25.2% YoY to Rs. 112.7 million.

Royal Ceramics PAT up 44%

Royal Ceramics Lanka in the 1Q ended June 30, 2008 saw PAT grow by 43.8% YoY to Rs. 77 million.

HNB Assurance PAT up 4%

HNB Assurance PLC in the 1H of the year ended June 30, 2008 saw PAT grow by 4%, while turnover grew by 33% to Rs. 861. 3 million. Gross written premium (GWP) grew by 19% to Rs. 417.5 million while GWP from Life Insurance grew by 51% to Rs. 443.8 million.

These were despite the continuing decline in premium rates due to heightened competition and escalating cost claims.

The company has embarked on a new initiative to offer life insurance products to the customers of its parent bank HNB by placing a bancassurance officer at selected branches of the bank. (Sources: John Keells Stock Brokers & others)

Only 2% NPL ratio

On the way to reaching a successful milestone in November when the organisation marks 25 years, Bartleet Finance today boasts of an astounding Rs.2 billion in market valuation considering that the initial capital was just Rs one million-the success achieved through a steady growth in business and not through the infusion of additional capital.

At present the company has to its credit a fixed deposit base of Rs.2.4 billion with the projected target of Rs.3 billion set to be achieved by the year end.

In reply to a question on how Bartleet Finance has managed to remain steady in the face of stiff competition and a volatile market, Managing Director Susantha Fernando said that such growth and success are the result of many key steps taken to maintain its position in the financial sector.

"Our success can be attributed to many factors-the personalised service we offer our customers, the advanced technology that plays a prominent role in the day to day operations, prudent management, and the fact that the name Bartleet has an indisputable reputation." He added however that the success of Bartleet Finance has been independent of the parent company and also noted that their default rate (non performing loans) is only around 2%, whereas even in banks the default rate is well above that.

 Assistant General Manager, Fixed Deposits Sanjeewa Seneviratne, commenting on the 'Service at your doorstep' product said that Bartleet Finance is the only registered finance company (RFC) in Sri Lanka that offers such a service to their clients with regard to fixed deposits and leasing. "A team of executives has been assigned to cover our clients' financial requirements at their home or office, including signing of applications, interest payments, renewals and deposits withdrawals. We reach out to our clients, and that pays," he saidFernando said that their lending base had increased by 22% year-to-year and at present stands at Rs.3 billion. "We have achieved an annual profit of around Rs.100 million during the past three years and we hope to work towards achieving Rs.500 million in the nest three years. We also intend to double our fixed deposit base to Rs.5 billion within the same period, and I can confidently say that we are well poised to achieving these targets that we have set," he added.

As part of its plans to celebrate its 25th anniversary, Bartleet Finance has set some ambitious targets and considering its strong performance over the years the company is on track to achieving these goals. "One of our goals is to become the most efficient finance company in Sri Lanka. We also aim to offer our shareholders a good return and enhance customer confidence in their fixed deposits, the base of which exceeds Rs.1.3 billion and the number of deposit holders exceeding 3000," Fernando said.

On the subject of competition in a fierce market and in the face of current economic conditions, Fernando said that they are not worried about competition as Bartleets is recognised as a solid entity with the parent company in existence for over 104 years.

 "Bartleet Finance has a very stringent collection policy, which policy is to be further strengthened by the installation of a software system that will facilitate to keep track of their collection officers on the field, island wide.

While the Central Bank has granted the company permission to open 12 branches, at this point in time, Bartleet Finance has opened only six, adopting a policy of being cautious in this regard. These branches are located in Kalutara, Matara, Embilipitiya, Negombo, Polonnaruwa and Bandarawela.

The company in addition to these branches operates five service centres. which are located in Hambantota, Balangoda, Horana, Galle and Panadura, and overseen by the closest branch.

Commenting on the service centre in Hambantota opened two months ago where the focus was on leasing, Fernando said that in this short period, their forecast has doubled, proving once again that the stringent policies adopted by the company continues to reap benefits.

"In fact Embilipitiya is considered one of the bad collection areas in the financial sector, but our Embilipitiya branch has the best collection record out of all our branches. But I must add that all our branches perform well and their collections are above average," Fernando said.

Having conducted promotional campaigns, one that has to be mentioned is the 'Service at your doorstep' campaign which has proved to be successful since its launch some months ago. And to mark its 25th anniversary, Bartleet Finance has launched yet another promotional campaign targeting fixed deposits, lending products and leasing.

. Seneviratne added that they offer an interest rate of 21% on one year, monthly deposits.

Stressing on the security that comes with investing in reputed and RFCs, Seneviratne said that they follow the Central Bank's requirement of publicising their credit ratings. "Bartleet Finance has achieved a commendable BBB- rating by an independent rating agency in Malaysia.

Being part of the Bartleet conglomerate which has been built on three pillars-strength, stability and expertise, little wonder then that Bartleet Finance has achieved the success that it has over the past 25 years.

The directors of the company are M. Eraj Wijesinghe (Chairman), Sunil Wijesinghe (Deputy Chairman), Susantha Fernando (Managing Director), Deshabandu J.F.A. Soza, Dr. P.N. Thenabadu, D.L.H. Ganlath, Buwaneka Subasinghe and Susantha de Alwis.

Top biscuit manufacturer

Maliban has been rated Sri Lanka's top biscuit manufacturer by LMD.

According to, Maliban Biscuits Chairman A.G.R. Samaraweera, the Company's key strength right throughout it's long history has been it's emphasis on quality.

"From the inception Maliban has focused on quality which has in turn built trust and loyalty amongst generations of consumers. This has been possible because the House of Maliban has always been a brand close to the consumers heart and the LMD rating is a further reinforcement of our commitment to giving the consumer a quality, great tasting range of biscuits which are on par with any international product."

The House of Maliban has been rated No 28 amongst the Most Respected Companies in Sri Lanka by LMD, in addition to being rated the top biscuit manufacturer, surpassing many prominent multinationals.

Advisor to Maliban Biscuits Nirosh De Silva said,  "The ratings have been given solely on the quality of the manufacturing process and the ingredients used, reinstating the fact that Maliban biscuits are made with the world's finest ingredients."

 Recently Maliban re launched their all time favourite cream cracker with a new taste as well as new packaging, positioning it as a 'Lifestyle Cracker' catering to all ages. The new cracker which is both crunchier and tastier, is enriched with vitamins and minerals and has no transfat, no animal fat and no preservatives.

Maliban Biscuits Marketing Head Kumerini Candappa said that great brands are founded on a simple promise and the LMD rating underlines their commitment to the customer of providing a quality product which is in keeping with consumer trends and international standards, whilst being affordable.

Maliban biscuits are currently being exported to over 20 countries in five continents.

 "Maliban is a brand that has a wide global presence as we started exports as early as 1963," said De Silva.

He added that most of Maliban's machinery and technology was of European origin, despite the fact that this involved a higher investment.

"Today we are one of the few major food businesses that have the ISO 22,000 certification that relates to food safety. We were also the first biscuit manufacturer to be awarded Super Brand status and today we have been rated the top biscuit manufacturer. House of Maliban has indeed proved that it can withstand the test of time and we are confident of bettering our performance, expanding our product range and continuing to cater to all our customers from the ages of 8 - 80," said  Samaraweera.

ATI awards

The flag-bearer of the world's most rewarding concept of insurance in Sri Lanka, Amana Takaful Insurance (ATI), recently held its annual awards ceremony, recognizing 'Takaful Ambassadors' who contributed to its continued leadership in Takaful insurance.

Themed 'Rewarding those who challenged their limits,' the ceremony saw many excellent performers walking away with several awards, from sales excellence to operation and service excellence.

Director/CEO of Amana Takaful Insurance and the livewire behind the company's continued success.Ehsan Zaheed recalled the short yet colourful past of the Company as it embarked on its history-making journey as Sri Lanka's pioneer of the internationally-acclaimed Takaful concept of insurance. He pointed out the many obstacles that the company has faced and successfully overcome over the years, and that have added to its resilience.

"The environment around us has changed and continues to change almost on a daily basis and poses many challenges," he said. "Our staff will be the key driving force in ATI's success and their continued personal, as well as career development will be a priority", he added.

Amana Takaful Life CEO/General Manger Reyaz Jeffrey expressed his pleasure at the company's emergence as the market-leader in Takaful insurance in Sri Lanka. "Although we can be proud today for the inroads we have made in a fiercely competitive industry, we do not take it as a milestone to stop and celebrate. It's a milestone that will help us take the next step forward, and that is to establish a superior status in Sri Lanka's insurance industry," said Jeffrey who heads the Company's Life Insurance operation.

Amana Takaful Insurance HR Consultant Munshif Hussain, discussed the uniqueness of the 'Takaful Mission' and its role in the company's present and future success.

7th Frontier (Pvt) Ltd., Managing Director .Dinesh Watawana stressed the potential presented by the uniqueness of the Takaful concept.

Key award winners for General Insurance were.M.G..M. Ansari for Overall Best Production-Account Managers Category with Thasleen Ammon and Omar Mustafa coming in as the runners-up.

In the Senior category Shabeer Sherifdeen (Pettah) won Overall Best Production and Luqman Nizam (Pettah) the same in the junior category. Award for the Best Life Insurance collections was bagged by H..M..M..Irshad (Pettah) with.Shakir Mohomed (Metro) and.M. J. M. Jehan (Matale) emerging as runners-up.

The awards for Highest New Business Life Insurance were bagged by.I..B.Chaminda (Kalutara branch), whilst.M. Z.M..Rushdi (Metro) bagged the award for Highest MCFP.

Best Outstation Performance: Mazad Mohamed (Kandy branch) and the award for Best portfolio mix-Riyaz Madani (Pettah).

Best Branch Manager for 2007-M.L.Basheer (Puttalam) and Best Branch for 2007 (Puttalam).

Amana Takaful Insurance is today the premierTakaful insurance provider in Sri Lanka, offering both life and general insurance. Providing a variety of unique policies, the Company has grown from strength to strength in a short space of time with phenomenal growth and a rapidly expanding client base that is attracted by the Takaful system. ATI so far has a network of 18 branches in Sri Lanka and one in Maldives.

Free ICT training

Now you can get a basic qualification in "Fundamentals of IT" when you buy any LG Desktop Computer from Abans.

The offer is valid till September 30 and entitles all those who buy an LG Desktop Computer from Any Abans Showroom, Nexxt@Abans Showrooms, JVC/Haier Showrooms, A to Z Showrooms and all Abans authorized dealers to enter a draw where 50 lucky winners would be eligible to a 15 hour comprehensive course at the end of which certificates will be awarded by LG to all participants.

The programme will be conducted in collaboration with Microsoft Sri Lanka and Abans IT Service Department and is an effort to mutually contribute towards ICT development in Sri Lanka.

To be entitled to take part in the draw, customers who have bought LG Desktop Computers in August and September 2008 from any of the above mentioned showrooms will have to produce a copy of the invoice to the relevant showroom.

By luck of the draw, 50 customers will be entitled to participate in the IT course. Winners will be notified of the date on which the course begins. A customer winning the draw could nominate another person if he/she does not wish to participate in the IT Course.

The course is an excellent opportunity for computer owners to derive additional information about computer software and hardware and also maintenance and upgrading tips for computers. Tutors for the course will be qualified personnel from Microsoft Sri Lanka and Abans IT Service Department.

Abans uses only genuine and licensed software. LG desktop computers are available with a comprehensive on site service where qualified IT technicians visit customers for personalized service. Every computer sold at any of the showrooms mentioned above carry Abans' trusted hallmark of guaranteed quality, performance and after-sales-service.

Hyatt Colombo to be ready in 2010

Ceylinco Homes International, developers of Celestial Residencies-Sri Lanka's most prestigious water front residencies and Hyatt Regency Colombo, announced the visit of Hyatt International Technical Services Inc., Vice President Malcolm Turner to Colombo to review the progress of Hyatt Regency Colombo.

On reviewing work at site and the completion of the superstructure of the hotel, Hyatt International Technical Services Inc is now programming the hotel's interior fitout.

Situated at a prime location, Ceylinco Celestial Residencies will be perched atop the Hyatt Regency Colombo. This latest addition to the Hyatt international chain of hotels and the finest of them all will feature futuristic design by world renowned experts and is expected to be opened to the world in 2010.

Turner said: "We have a great amount of confidence in Sri Lanka as an island and Colombo as a city, because of its people, the culture and the history is so perfect for this hotel to be one of the rising stars in this part of the world and we believe by the time the Hyatt Regency Colombo opens to the public, the city and the country will be ripe and ready for one of the best hotels in South Asia".

The Hyatt Regency Colombo with 180 "keys," made up of King rooms, Twin rooms, Junior suites, Executive suites and Presidential suites, will also include an exclusive Regency Club floor and is sure to benefit from the extensive expertise of the Hyatt chain.

Investors should take note of the fact that international specialists and consultants involved in the project have developed some high profile award winning properties in Asia Pacific and beyond and are now sharing their expertise and adding value to the project.

Turner commented that Hyatt has a strong reputation in the world to creating dynamic bars and restaurants and are trying to create something different and far more dynamic than has yet to be seen in Colombo. To this end the grand ballroom which opens out to the sea and sky will host over a 1,000 guests, the largest in the country which will be designed by the interior & restaurant specialists Bilkey Llineas; the "water" themed multi cuisine restaurant will be designed by Super Potato. Renowned landscape architect Belt Collins will sculpt the infinity pool and terrace overlooking the Indian Ocean.  Globally acclaimed kitchen consultants TriArch will provide state-of-the-art amenities for all restaurants.  Hyatt International Technical Services will ensure the services sync with the design to clockwork perfection while being on par with the highest standards.

Ceylinco Consolidated Chairman Deshamanya Dr. Lalith Kotelawala partnering Hyatt International in this venture and the visionary behind this impressive development says, "in building this mammoth structure our intention is to encourage and develop local talent and thereby give an opportunity to many Sri Lankans to be associated with this project as they have the knowledge, expertise and all it takes to match world class construction.  This will also stimulate the economy as well as generate direct and indirect employment opportunities."

"Celestial Residencies/Hyatt Regency Colombo is rising on a premium water front location and investors will have the fortune of investing in the tallest structure in Colombo," said Ceylinco Homes Group Deputy Chairperson Mrs. Padmini Karunanayake.     

"Construction has been going on steadily," said Deputy Chief Executive Director Cryshantha Jayawardhana and announced that construction has now reached level 14. "This is a significant landmark for the project because from this point on construction on the superstructure of the apartments will start," he added.

Ceylinco Homes, the developing company with an impeccable record of delivering superior quality properties with strong brand recognition and benchmarking quality and innovative in luxury property development in Sri Lanka is the only property developer to be awarded the prestigious "Superbrand" status.

DHL offers new products

DHL, the world's leading express and logistics company is looking at expanding its business within the SAARC region with an integrated product portfolio that will bolster transportation and trade between SAARC nations.

DHL is the first logistics player to foray into the SAARC segment and plans to service the estimated _120m Express market share in the region.

This set of innovative logistics solutions will help in quicker transit times, better customer service through online track and trace, one invoice, door-to-door delivery and special SAARC zone pricing. This unique package lets you choose your destination, mode of delivery and delivery date with products like Express Worldwide DOC-fastest international door-to-to door delivery of documents subject to customs clearance, Express Worldwide NDOC-fastest international door-to-to  door delivery of parcels subject to customs clearance and an economical product that offers better cost management.

This is beneficial to customers who are looking at expanding into newer markets.

These services use DHL's enhanced infrastructural support to gain direct connections to key SAARC directions-Pakistan, Sri Lanka & Bangladesh. DHL also deploys its own fleet of aircraft and vehicles for the fastest on time deliveries.

DHL Express South Asia Senior VP & Area Director Malcolm Monteiro said, "As a trade facilitator and a leader in the logistics business, we believe in the business potential within the SAARC region. With increasing logistics spends, it is only prudent that trade lanes be further developed."

It has been observed that trade can significantly increase once trade barriers are lifted. According to an AT Kearney study in 2007, with implementation of NAFTA, ASEAN & EU in 2003, trade grew significantly by 44%, 49% & 63% respectively since implementation.

DHL Express Sri Lanka Country Manager Martin Dudek, said, "Developing trade lanes and improving inter-connectivity, not only air connectivity, but by land and sea amongst SAARC countries is of great importance. The utility of greater connectivity would be economically significant and would benefit Sri Lanka. And as the world's leading air

express company we are planning to introduce a series of integrated products and services to suit these needs of the region."

During the last few years, DHL Express has made significant investments of over EUR 2.5 million towards the development and upgrading of its     network infrastructure in Sri Lanka, including a purpose-built 40,000-square-feet Country Office and Service Centre with state-of-the-art shipment-handling and security systems, including digital surveillance systems, access control, a Quality Control Centre and a larger shipment-processing area aimed at providing a seamless express and logistics service solution to Sri Lankan exporters.

Emirates' new eco programme

Emirates has unveiled a series of new initiatives to further improve the environmental performance of its operations worldwide.

The programme, branded Emvironment includes the adoption of a new environmental policy for the Emirates Group; a global staff awareness campaign; and internal goals to reduce energy consumption and waste, as well as increase recycling and training.

Emirates has also launched a new section on its website that features information on the Group's management of environmental issues.

Emirates Airline and Group Chairman/Chief Executive Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al-Maktoum, said: "Emirates is committed to acting responsibly and sustainably in the interests of our customers and business, the environment and the 100-plus destinations we serve worldwide. Our environmental commitment began well before it was considered fashionable when we sponsored the creation of the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve in 1997." 

He added: "Emirates is investing billions of dollars in new aircraft that demonstrate our environmental leadership through the most fuel- and emission-efficient fleet possible. Our A380s are the world's most eco-efficient commercial aircraft. Emvironment's aim is to make our organisation as sustainable as possible and we intend to keep our stakeholders informed on progress and future initiatives."

Emvironment will focus on reducing already low levels of per passenger fuel-burn and emissions and driving eco-efficiency throughout the organisation by reducing, recycling and reusing resources.

Emirates invests heavily in new research and technologies to address the world's environmental challenges. For example, the airline helped to pioneer Flextrack with Airservices Australia to use onboard navigational technology that saves time, fuel and emissions.

Kitchens at Emirates Flight Catering are among the most eco-efficient in the world and recycle over 100 tonnes of paper, plastic and aluminium a month.

Emirates' Senior Vice President Public and Environmental Affairs Andrew Parker, said: "From an environmental perspective Emirates has much to be proud of, particularly our advanced fleet and use of technology to minimise our footprint.

While much of this work has been underway for many years, the new Emvironment programme will provide a strategic underpinning to further improve our environmental performance.

We intend to do more to demonstrate industry leadership, including the adoption of higher standards in fuel burn; onboard weight reduction; procurement; resource consumption; and recycling. On ground, this particularly means more efficient use of energy and water."

Commercial aviation, which accounts for 2% of the world's carbon dioxide emissions has made significant progress in reducing its environmental impact.

Next year Emirates will open one of the world's most environmentally ambitious conservation resorts, the 4000-acre Wolgan Valley Resort & Spa in Blue Mountains, Australia.

The project involves restoring vast tracks of distressed farming land back to its native state and reintroducing endangered fauna and flora. The US$69 million resort will only occupy about 1% of the total land mass.

Gateway Graduate School

Gateway, Sri Lanka's leading educational organization with over a decade in this field, launched their Graduate School of Education in the presence of a distinguished gathering.

The School was opened by Chief Guest Dr Peter Hayes, High Commissioner for UK, while the Guest of Honour was Ms. Gill Westaway, Director British Council.

Also present was Manager Academic support of NCC Education Andrew Rennie.

Gateway Graduate School, in partnership with NCC Education UK, will initially offer a choice of two career pathways to complete degrees from Wales University here in Sri Lanka.

Situated in proximity to Gateway College, Rajagiriya, just 100 yards from Parliament Road, the Campus consists of state-of-the-art facilities for modern teaching, sports and recreation.

Speaking at the opening, Gateway Group Chairman R.I.T. Alles said that over the years Gateway has built a reputation for being not just one of the largest educational organizations in Sri Lanka, but one of the most trusted as well.

"We have the distinction of producing educational programmes that have been certified or endorsed by leading training providers in the UK, while we also carry out specialized programmes in association with strategic partners in the UK. We have invested heavily in education over the years-in excess of R 1 billion with teacher training taking pride of place.

Today our staff strength exceeds 800 and we are proud to welcome on board as the Governor of the Gateway Graduate School, Vidya Jyothi Emeritus Professor Dayantha Wijayasekera; who, as a former Vice Chancellor of Moratuwa University and the Open University of Sri Lanka, brings a wealth of experience.

Director Gateway Group, Dr Harsha Alles, in his presentation on the Graduate School said that students would be able to receive their degree at the University convocation in the UK. "Undergraduates will also have the option of transferring to universities in UK, USA or Australia at the end of every academic year. The three year programme of study is structured for students to receive industry recognized qualifications at the end of every year. We also hope to offer degrees in varying specialties from a number of universities in time to come."

215 gallons of blood donated

Demonstrating good citizenship, employees of Sri Lanka's top apparel exporter Brandix donated 1,721 pints of blood to the National Blood Transfusion Service (NBTS) through a Group-wide initiative encompassing 19 locations recently.

Brandix Chief Peoples Officer Nigel Forbes said: "The volume of blood donated this year was more than triple the collection last year, and in layman's terms, was more than 215 gallons. There could be no better expression of compassion for the needs of others."

A certificate of appreciation was presented by NBTS to Brandix in acknowledgement of this initiative recently. The certificate was received on behalf of the donors by Group Human Resources Manager Sujith Jayasekera and two Sintesi associates, the Brandix Group company which had the most successful collection campaign.

Nahil on tourism

On Benchmark today will be the new Chairman of Ceylon Continental Hotel Nahil Wijesuriya on the state of Colombo's hotels and how to make city tourism work.

The same edition of the business programme will have the "rising price of food and the need to cushion consumers from the cost of living" in 'Talking Point.'

Plus, the 'Voice Of Business' speaks out on what's bugging the bourse these days and guesses how long the bears will dominate trading on the Colombo Stock Exchange.

Redefining mobile computing

Redefine mobile computing with the new ASUS R2E Notebook-R2E Ultra Mobile PC that satisfies every "on-the-go computing need and more!"

Epsi Computers, authorized distributors for ASUS in Sri Lanka announced that Asus  brings innovative notebook designing to a new level with the latest R2E notebook.

The R2E Ultra Mobile PC satisfies every on-the-go computing need and more; offering all the advantages with a highly versatile platform based on the functionality of a conventional laptop and the user-friendliness of touch panel input on an intelligent digital writing pad. With its 7-inch LCD screen, the R2E packs all these features in the size of a paperback novel! With the ASUS SunRead glare-proof panel, users can use the R2E to lead the way even when navigating the great outdoors in the sun!

Commentinhg on the launch of this new product, Group Product Manager Sankha Jayaratne said that this innovative notebook achieves a fine balance between being feature rich and compact at the same time. "We believe that an innovation such as the ASUS R2E will provide notebook users in Sri Lanka with a unique solution to their ever increasing on-the-go computing needs."

Global Positioning System (GPS) for Anywhere Connection: Navigate and explore with built-in GPS. The retractable mechanism stores the antenna away when not in use. Together with Internet access, positioning is possible even off road. Multiple programmes can run simultaneously for accurate turn-by-turn directions for the driver while passengers get to enjoy live TV or movie and music playback.

Digital Entertainment On-the-Go: The R2E packs in a great number of multimedia features for personal entertainment anywhere. There's easy media access anytime with live TV enjoyment with an external antenna and a remote controller. For a comfortable viewing experience, the ASUS SunRead glare-proof panel displays images and words sharply for a clear view in bright light.

Security Management for Protected Computing and Privacy Protection: In order to provide business travellers with peace of mind, the R2E offers total data protection that meets the evolving security needs with both software and hardware solutions. This notebook offers a smart balance of mobility and performance with a comprehensive security feature that protects the notebook and its stored information. Data security is uncompromised with a built-in AuthenTec fingerprint scanner with TruePrint technology that reads from the live layer of skin, preventing common skin surface conditions from impairing scanner accuracy. Embedded TPM is a hardware solution that helps to avoid attacks by hackers looking to capture passwords and encryption keys to sensitive data.

Freedom to navigate with confidence by just the touch of a finger: Asus R2E with satellite GPS provides a comprehensive travel guide owing to which users no longer need to deal with paper maps or ask for directions. The incorporated GPS antenna with a foldable mechanism allows convenient storage when not in use. Ultimately, the R2E empowers users to go further, do more.

Do more with a Smaller and Lighter Design: The feature-rich R2E is packed with computing, multimedia and connectivity functions. Built-in Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR (Enhanced Data Rate), Wireless LAN 802.11 a/b/g and a high-resolution webcam, offer extensive high-speed connections and wire-free video communication.

Intuitive User Experience: The R2E runs on Genuine Windows Vista Edition with Microsoft Origami Experience Pack software and ergonomic hardware interface designs. With complete function keys laid out on both sides of the front panel, users enjoy comfortable operation to a full set of control keys, including mouse, scroll buttons, hot keys as well as an on-screen keypad, all at the finger tips.

Handwritten Input with ASUS InfoPen: Increase productivity and efficiency with handwritten input capability. Together with Asus InfoPen software, users can record and edit images or documents as easy as on a piece of paper with colour and highlighter options. The DigiPen stylus also has an eraser end and mouse control buttons so that users can now navigate a wide range of applications with single-handed ease.

Easier and Safer Digital Data Transmission: Secure digital media slot is also integrated into the new R2E notebook PC. It gives users the immediate benefit of easy file sharing with different devices and users, while opening the door for future technologies like secure digital I/O. Secure digital helps Asus products work better together.

R2E Specifications:-CPU: Intel Stealey A110 (800MHz); LCD: 7" WVGA (Touch Panel) (Sun Readable); VGA: Intel 945GU; Web Cam: 1.3 M Camera; Operating System: Genuine Windows Vista Premium; Memory: 1 GB DDR II (1GBx1); HDD: 100G PATA; Card Reader & Other features: FP Reader + GPS (WO/Map) and Free Accessories: USB Keyboard + Car Charger + Link Cable + Car Bag

Asus is a leading company in the new digital era. With a global staff of more than 8,000 and a world-class R&D design team, the company's turnover for 2007 was US dollars 6.9 billion. Asus ranks among the top 10 IT companies in BusinessWeek's "InfoTech 100," and has been on the listing for 11 consecutive years. Asus was also selected by Wall Street Journal Asia as No.1 in quality and service in Taiwan.

Warehousing solutions

The Logistics Academy (Pvt.) Ltd., that operates from Maharagama are supply chain specialists, logisticians and educationists.

They are professionals of "best practice solutions" in warehousing.

The academy identifies and finds solutions to warehouse key poor performance indicators (KPPI), an unproductive and damaging warehouse cancer that needs to be controlled.

Being complacent about warehouse operations performance may place on risk customer service.

A statement advises a warehouse operator that before planning an evaluation of control procedure for eventual best practice, an operator must identify its KPPIs-a sure path to total losses.

This is where the Logistics Academy's "Warehouse Interest Section" provides the operator with solutions, it said.

Some of its consultancy works has roped in customers such as Richard Pieris Distributors Ltd.; Asama Engineering Talawatugoda; Brown & Co; Goodwill Lanka; Kelani Tyres; Forbes & Walker and Sri Lanka Freight Forwarders' Association.

In Brief

Dubai properties

Entrepreneur Malik Gunasekera offers Sri Lankans properties in Dubai.

He said that many of the "nicer" apartments sell at prices similar to those at Colombo 7. (See story on page 22).

Bourse hit by twin blows

The market, which has been performing in patches, not least hindered by no good news either in the political or economic fronts, averaged a lowly Rs. 207.6 million daily turnover last week, while recording a measly foreign purchase figure of Rs. 152. 1 million for the whole week, with a bigger foreign sales figure of Rs.244.7 million, resulting in a net foreign outflow of Rs. 92.6 million last week.

The week under review saw Rs. 11.3 billion worth of shareholder wealth being wiped out, while the benchmark ASPI lost 34.75 points to close the week at 2,431.81 points;  and the more sensitive MPI 91.37 points to close at 2,840.35 points.

Chinese tourists up 7%

Tourist arrivals from China to Sri Lanka grew by 7.3% in the first half of 2008, a trend that is expected to grow due to the combined efforts of the Government, SriLankan Airlines, the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotions Bureau, and the country's hoteliers and tour operators.

May fly to USA

Federal Aviation Authority, USA raised Bulgaria's Category 2 safety rating, given in 2003, to Category 1, meaning the country's civil aviation authority complies with international safety standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization. Bulgarian air carriers now may apply to operate their own aircraft to the USA. (Washington Aviation Summary)

Rights issue

Laxapana Batteries PLC has declared a "two for one" rights issue subject to approval at an issue price of Rs. 5 a share to pay advances obtained from Darley Butler & Co., Ltd (DBCL), to fund working capital requirements and to settle the loan outstanding to DBCL.

Lanka Tiles PLC has declared a Rs. 2.62 final dividend per share for the financial year 2007/08. AGM: August 28, 2008; excluding dividend (XD): August 29 and payment: September 4.

Harischandra Mills PLC has declared a Rs. 12 final dividend. Shareholders' meeting: September 27, 2008, XD: Sept. 29 and payment date: Oct. 3, 2008.

Brown & Company PLC has announced the capitalization of its reserves in the proportion of two for one at a price of Rs. 42 a share. EGM and allotment: Sept., 9, 2008 and XC from September 17. The company has also announced the sub-division of shares with EGM on Sept., 9 and the sub-division based on shares held as at that date.

Period of dealing suspension: Sept., 10-16, 2008 and start of trading consequent to this sub-division: Sept., 17, 2008. 

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