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 Business

  In Brief     Supplement

Travel advisories, bug


Michael Elias, Chitral Jayatillake, Vasantha Leelananda, and Jayantissa Kehelpannala

Winter of content ahead for tourism

Foreign tour operators who exited or scaled down their business with the country due to the escalation of the war are once more looking at the island with the seeming dawning of peace after 26 years of conflict, despite the global recession.

Michael Elias, CEO Walker Tours Ltd., told The Sunday Leader that chief among those were two German operators, Studiosus Reizen, an operator which specializes on cultural tours and Ikarus Tours which specializes in organizing wildlife excursions.

Walkers Tours is the inbound travel arm of blue-chip conglomerate John Keells Holdings PLC (JKH), a major player in the tourism sector in the island as well as in the region.

Germany at one time was Sri Lanka’s number one inbound tourist market.

But this market suffered after the escalation of the conflict with the breakdown of the 2002 ceasefire agreement.

Elias said that Studiosus Reizen caters to professionals, such as doctors, lawyers and teachers interested in history and archaeology. "In their marketing campaign they prepare brochures of various tour destinations annually, of which Sri Lanka is however not featured," he said.

Hopefully Sri Lanka will once more be featured in their tour promotional brochures next year, said Elias.

Ikarus caters to the niche clientele interested in wildlife, he said.

Sri Lanka has been "closed" for so long because of the war, so, despite the recession, the European tourist feels that with the war coming to a close, there is much that has been unexplored, that is there to be discovered in the island, he said.

Thomas Cook which used to bring around 26, 000 visitors per annum, in the ratio of 80% German and 20% British upto the time of tsunami, has seen these numbers drop down to 5,000 at present; he said.

Vasantha Leelananda, Executive Vice President, Sector Head-Leisure (Inbound) JKH told The Sunday Leader that Thomas Cook never gave up on the Sri Lankan market. He however said that it was premature to talk of them expanding on their numbers.

Talks are with those operators who gave up on the Sri Lankan market because of the conflict, he said.

Elias however said that the Italian market, which was number three at one time, still remained closed. The British, despite the problems, however still kept coming, he said.

UK, after India is Sri Lanka’s second largest tourism generating market. Germany is in third place by a long margin.

Leelananda said that those operators who were once more looking at Sri Lanka were primarily those catering to the EU market.

"That’s the market we lost," he said.

"Discussions with those operators are at a delicate stage," he said. Those talks cover the coming winter season which begins in November of this year and goes on till April of the next.

Talks for the coming winter usually take place between January-April of that year, Leelananda added.

Elias however warned that travel advisories remained a bug.

If those are not removed none of those new operators will come to Sri Lanka, he said. Basically the Continent has virtually declared the whole of the island as a "no go" zone for its citizens, said Elias. Even the UK has virtually declared Anuradhapura a dangerous zone, he said. It goes without saying that Yala has been declared a no go zone by both the UK and the Continent, he added.

And Germany has even covered the Southern coastal belt as well as the hill country as dangerous for travel.

But reports in the foreign press vis-à-vis the war is favourable to Sri Lanka thus far, so hopefully the European governments will remove those travel advisories soon, he said.

Travel advisories impinge the traveller in two ways, he said. Firstly if his government has issued a travel advisory on a particular country he will think twice before visiting the same, said Elias. And secondly, a travel advisory means that insurance premiums will shoot-up.

However, with virtually every part of the world being a trouble spot, the traveller now appears to be getting used to advisories, he said.

Trncomalee

Meanwhile the JKH leisure sector is looking at exploiting the new openings offered, i.e. areas such as Trincomalee and Wilpattu, once peace is restored.

More than half of the island has been "closed" for tourism because of the war, Leelananda told reporters on Wednesday.

He said that once those security sensitive areas have been cleared by the government and the Defence Ministry, they hope to move into those areas with "vigour."

"Security of our guests is of paramount importance," he said.

The company already has hotel properties in Trincomalee, in addition to being represented in the city, the southern coastal belt, Yala (even extended to cover Kataragama), the Cultural Triangle and in the Central Province.

JKH also announced the launch of local tour packages covering the aforesaid areas at half the cost if one were to embark on such tours on one’s own.

The packages also include whale and dolphin watching off Mirissa (20 nautical miles off this town), with this season being currently on, and which goes on until April.

Elias told this reporter that they were the pioneers in promoting whale watching off the shores of Trincomalee in 1981-82, the pre-war period.

At that time Mirissa whale watching was undiscovered, he said.

The whale watching (including blue whale sightings) season which begins in November and goes on till April is common to both Mirissa and Trincomalee, JKH Executive Vice President and Sector Head Resort Hotels Jayantissa Kehelpannala said.

But tourism in the country and whale watching in Trincomalee in particular took a hit after the escalation of the conflict in 1983.

The Group is equipped with guides knowledgeable about the country’s history and nature, to take domestic tourists around.

Chitral Jayatillake, Manager Walker Tours, a man knowledgeable about nature, gave a presentation to reporters about a pair of leopard cubs which he had tracked in Yala and upto their adulthood, as well as about his experiences in whale watching in Mirissa.

Walkers Tours celebrates 40 years in the island this year.

Kehelpannala assured that even if there is an influx of foreign tourists once more to the island, the domestic tourism sector promotion which will officially take off on Tuesday, will not be neglected.

Those domestic tour packages will also be marketed overseas to the Sri Lankan diaspora, giving them an opening to buy such packages for their families living here, in particular the elderly, with such packages being made available to students, children and their families alike.


State, main player in money markets

Government is giving wrong signals as to which direction interest rates are heading, market sources who did not want to be named told The Sunday Leader.

While the Central Bank (CB) last week cut the prime lending rate to banks by 25 basis points (bp) and the penal rate by 50 bp, indicating that they want rates to come down, the market is not buying that story because the State through its agents, namely Bank of Ceylon (BoC) and People’s Bank (PB) are the largest borrowers in the market, they said.

They are active in both the foreign exchange (forex) and rupee markets, being involved in heavy borrowings from both, they said.

If they are not active, then definitely rates will come down, the sources said.

Another contradiction is the build up of CB’s Treasury (T) Bill stock. CB’s T Bill stock in the 20 week period, from September 18, 2008 to February 5, 2009, has increased from Rs. 1,911 million to Rs. 160, 721 million; a Rs. 158,810 million or a 8,310% increase during this period.

CB’s holding of T. Bill stock is equivalent to the amount of credit it has given to the government by way of releasing new money to the same. The danger in such activity is that it stokes demand side inflationary pressure in the market.

The sources further said that the CB’s stance on inflation itself was contradictory.

They said that though the CB’s Monetary Board on Wednesday, referring to the point to point decline in inflation said that inflation was falling, but in the middle of last year when point to point inflation was high, peaking at some 28%, the Bank had then referred to the average moving annual inflationary rate which was 17% at that time, to say that inflation was falling.

But at present (end January 2009) moving average inflation is 21.6%, much higher than the point to point change in inflation which is 10.7%.

Those contradictory stances adopted by the CB/Monetary Board in measuring inflation, at one time the moving annual average and at another time the point to point change, is confusing the market, the sources said.

But the biggest negative factor, between the market and a rate fall, is the government’s over-arching involvement in borrowing both from the rupee and the forex markets, they said.


Agri industry vs. production

"I think if you look at the Government’s goals with regard to the agricultural sector, you’ll find that self-sufficiency was the focus.

And with the north-east coming in, rice production should be satisfactory. But the question is, how do you keep people employed in the rural economy? In my opinion, the numbers in rice production will continue to diminish and alternative employment is a must for this group-and there is alternative employment in the agri industry. Productivity is the key for the industry and to maximise productivity of the land that is currently available. At this juncture, we need to look at the degree of automation and mechanisation that must be brought in to the agricultural sector," CIC Chairman, B. R. L. Fernando said on the leading business TV programme Benchmark last Sunday.

While discussing the current state of the agri sector, Fernando also maintains that price controls are detrimental to the economy as a whole, while asserting that environmental awareness and an agri focus would provide "much larger rewards" to the Sri Lankan economy.

Touching on the progress made in developing new strains of rice that provide better yields, Fernando said that while green practices are slowly gaining ground, chemical fertilisers would still play a part.

"I think the chemical-fertiliser industry will have to take a second look. And I think we will have to start managing this better. If you look at the paddy sector, we use between 200 to 250 kilos of inorganic fertiliser in an acre of paddy. Now can we afford that, especially when the usage ratio is roughly 25%? The rest is wasted," he told BENCHMARK’s Savithri Rodrigo.

Commenting on the stimulus packaged proposed by the Government, Fernando asserts: "I would be cautious about a stimulus package. But I would certainly look at the methodologies of trying to incentivise people. I think agriculture is peculiar, in that not everyone can go into agriculture-it is a calling. People who really want to live with the environment would get into agriculture and they would drive productivity forward."

Benchmark is presented by LMD and airs on TNL-on Sundays at noon, with a repeat at 9.05 p.m. The programme is also carried over DialogTV as well as on LBN and on Bloomberg Channel on Mondays at 10 p.m. The weekly biz show is produced by the wrap factory.


Bookings

 East European tourism markets are being explored through a joint effort by SriLankan Airlines, Sri Lanka Tourism Promotions Bureau (SLTPB) and a dozen members of the Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators. 

A series of campaigns were carried out recently in Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic targeting members of each country’s outbound travel trade and travel media.

SLTPB and trade partners have already seen some new bookings generated form these markets for the winter period up to end of next month.


IIHE continues to be No.1

Imperial Institute of Higher Education (IIHE) was incorporated in 1996 in Sri Lanka and is amongst the oldest institutions offering foreign degrees to local students.

During the last 12 years IIHE has successfully maintained the unique position of being the only validated centre of the University of Wales (UOW) offering degree programmes in Management and Computing and MBA. Following are excerpts of an interview with Chief Executive Officer Dr Thilak Weerakoon who highlights the success of the Institution.

By Ashwin Hemmathagama

Question(Q): What is the difference between the programmes offered by IIHE and other educational institutions?

Answer(A): We are the only tertiary education institution here in Sri Lanka representing UOW to offer Business Administration (MBA) and management degrees. To offer validated internal degrees of the UOW, stringent quality standards imposed by the University have to be maintained.

Recently we underwent the "quinquennial" review and UOW revalidated IIHE till 2012 for MBA and the management degree. This is an endorsement of IIHE’s service quality.

Q: How important is this concept of validated internal degrees?

A: Well, there are many Institutions in Sri Lanka offering degrees and MBAs of foreign universities. From a student’s perspective and a potential employer’s perspective, the most important aspect is the knowledge and skills assimilated through teaching and learning methods. As I mentioned, IIHE degrees are UOW validated internal degrees.

This requires the students to attend 42 hrs. of lectures for each subject.

In addition they have to put in another about 50 hrs. doing self study and group assignments. They have to sit mid term tests and end of semester exams. These processes ensure that UoW validated degree holders have earned their certificates.

Importantly all faculty teaching on our programmes have to be approved by UOW. Further, all our degrees require the students to submit an individual dissertation based on actual research carried out.

Many other degrees on offer in Sri Lanka are external degrees, franchised degrees, correspondence courses or online based degrees. In such programmes the teaching-learning environment is questionable. Assessment is sometimes assignment based. You may end up with a certificate, but the question is how significant has the learning experience been.

Q: But are not there a lot of foreign education progr- ammes offered in Sri Lanka?

A: We did a market Analysis recently. There are many institutions offering degrees. Competition however is when you compare products of similar qualities. I think IIHE offers high quality products at a reasonable price. We are offering Internal degrees of a world renowned university for almost 10-20% of the price you would have to pay in the UK. With regard to our pricing, unlike other Institutions we keep our prices constant. Once a student enters the study programme, we do not change the tuition fees. These tuition fees are in rupees, so they are not affected by foreign currency fluctuations.

Q: What is the impact made on student enrolment by maintaining a high standard?

A: MBA programme has been growing and over the last two years the intake with an average of 40 students has been stable. "BSc" has been rather erratic, the numbers have been varying. Our intakes are in April and in September. During the last two years there have been some delays in Government publishing the results due to various issues. This has been a contributing factor to erratic intakes.

Q: Why can’t IIHE offer a foundation programme which will lead to a degree in a few years?

A: Yes, we have seriously considered an alternative. We are planning to launch a UOW validated foundation programme. This programme will develop students who have performed well at O’ Levels (8 passes with six credits including English and Maths) "to a similar or higher standard than A’ Levels." Successful completion of this progamme will lead to entry into the degree programme.


Importance of insurance

‘Life Insurance Week,’ one of the most effective marketing initiatives of Ceylinco life is to be replicated for a second time this year in a continuation of the life insurance leader’s efforts to expand the size of the market.

To be observed from February 11-17, the second Life Insurance Week of the country is preceded by a focused, generic media campaign now underway, and will comprise a series of interactive events in all parts of the country.

Explaining the reasons for the company’s decision to conduct a second Life Insurance Week, Ceylinco Life Chief Executive Director R. Renganathan said: "The public response to last year’s Life Insurance Week was most encouraging. This concept helped educate the public on the importance of and need for life insurance effectively."

He pointed out that life insurance penetration in Sri Lanka was around 10% and energetic participation of the leading players to drive penetration and expand the life insurance market is particularly important in the prevailing environment.

"We have to make the average Sri Lankan aware of the fact that life insurance is not for those who die but for those who live. This is the key message throughout Life Insurance Week," Ceylinco Life Deputy Chief Executive Director Thushara Ranasinghe said.

The build-up to Life Insurance Week began on January 29 with a media campaign featuring real life stories that illustrate the realities that make life insurance a necessary safety net against the uncertainties of life.

Prior to the start of Life Insurance Week Ceylinco Life’s sales personnel will visit schools in their respective areas and brief teachers and parents at a specially set up get-together to educate them on the importance of life insurance. Simultaneously, all Ceylinco Life branches will conduct programmes to educate the public on the importance of a life insurance.

During Life Insurance Week the company will conduct public awareness programmes in 28 towns. These interactive sessions will be supported by brochures, stickers, outdoor banners, posters and pennants. Mobile teams of sales professionals from the company who will be wearing a badge with the words ‘Ask me about Life Insurance’ will also be seen in those areas. Their task will be to conduct Need Analyses for those interested in obtaining life insurance.

Every person who obtains life cover during this period will receive a booklet that helps the layman understand life insurance and the need for it. A special Help Desk will also be set up at Ceylinco Life Head office for any queries related to life insurance.

The first ever Life Insurance Week conducted in February 2008 generated impressive results for Ceylinco Life. The company achieved direct interaction with more than 200,000 households in the seven day period.

Sri Lanka’s life insurance leader for the past five years, Ceylinco Life reported a premium income of Rs.8.2 billion for 2008 indicating a 20% growth over the previous year.


CIM Board

CIM Sri Lanka Region (CIM SLR) appointed its Regional Broad and Management committee for 2008/2009 at its 13th Annual General Meeting held recently.

The incumbent Chairman and the Regional Board will continue to serve for the third successive year of their term. The Regional Board comprises HSBC Electronic Data Processing Lanka (Pvt) Ltd. Assistant Vice President-Service Quality Shiraz Latiff (Chairman), Lanka Bell (Pvt.) Ltd. Senior General Manager-Sales and Marketing Ms. Roshani Cooray (Senior Vice Chairperson), Quantum Strategic Services (Pvt.) Ltd. Vice President Ms. Chitrangani Herat Gunaratne (Vice Chairperson), Millennium Development (Pvt) Ltd. Director/CEO R. Wijenathan (Honorary Secretary) and Asian Alliance Insurance PLC Asst. General Manager–Marketing Ms. Nadi Dharmasiri (Regional Treasurer).

Other members of the Regional Board are: Kelaniya University Senior Lecturer Ajith Medis (Education Head), Eagle Insurance PLC Assistant General Manager-Marketing and Planning Amal Perera (Public Affairs and Communications Head), Unilever Sri Lanka Ltd. Customer Development Director Asanga Ranasinghe (Corporate Integration and Market Interest Groups Head), Union Assurance PLC Senior Manager-Commercial Business Development Shantha Katipearachchi (Membership Head) and Global Knowledge Consultants CEO/President Dayan D. L. Fernando (Knowledge Development Services Head).

Appointments to the Regional Management Committee: Ceylinco Homes International Ltd. Deputy General Manager Ms. Denise Abeyratne, DHL Global Forwarding Lanka (Pvt) Ltd Trade Lane Manager Asia Pacific Ms. Shivonne Bambarandage, Unilever Sri Lanka Trade Category Manager–Personal Care Anuradha Edirisinghe, On’ally Holdings PLC Non-executive Director Brian Selvanayagam, Wiveka Hospital Ltd. Managing Director Ranesh Tirimanne and Dialog Mobile Brands Coordinator Ms. Varuni Van der Poorten.


"Valentine’s Month"

Inspired by the charm of Valentine’s Day, Confifi Hotels has taken a novel step to dedicate the entirety of this month to the magic of Valentine’s Day across its three Bentota coastline properties- Eden Resort & Spa, Riverina Hotel and Club Palm Garden.

"As a special offer to celebrate Valentine’s Month, guests who book two nights during this month at any one of our three hotels, are automatically entitled to a 50% discount on the second night", Confifi Group Hotels Director/General Manager-Marketing & Sales Tony Maheswaran said.

Nurturing the spirit of caring and loving, Eden Resort and Spa, Riverina and Club Palm Garden will treat their clientele with a special Valentine’s Menu, a range of theme desserts, cocktails, chocolates, and "special romantic" dining options alfresco and under the stars.

Eden Resort and Spa for example also has a special ‘Table d’Hote’ dinner with Valentine specials under the stars, serenaded by romantic

music while Riverina Hotel brings on its special "Valentine Counter" selling Chocolate Sugar Hearts and Chocolate Handy Bags.

In keeping with the same spirit, Club Palm Garden prides in its Valentine menu right throughout the month, special discounts and an exclusive Dinner for Two at the Resort Tree House at special rates.

"We’ve made sure that the spirit of love and romance, with their attendant little intricacies will pervade all three hotels during the entire month with the focus on an extended and memorable Valentine’s experience", Maheswaran added.


School of Construction

Colombo School of Construction Technology (Pvt.) Ltd. (CSCT) was formally opened for business recently.

The school was inaugurated by Construction and Engineering Services Ministry Secretary Dr. Nissanka Wijeratne, Chamber of Construction Industry (CCI) CEO and Secretary General Dakshitha Thalgodapitiya, National Construction Association of Sri Lanka Chairman Dr. Rohan Karunaratne and Moratuwa University Building Economics Professor Chitra Weddikkara among others.

The invitees included Tudawe Brothers and Chairman Rohan Tudawe and Maga Engineering Managing Director Capt. Kularatne.

CSCT intends to provide BTEC Higher National Diplomas accredited by Edexcel Ltd. UK in the areas of Quantity Surveying and Construction Economics and Construction Management.

The school is equipped to educate the young professional who wants to start or enhance their career in the building services industry. Both diplomas have been developed under the guidance and direction of Weddikkara and Dr Raufdeen Rameezdeen, two well known names in the fields of quantity surveying, construction economics and construction management teaching in the country.

The Higher National Diploma offered by CSCT is a two year course with 18 months of taught subjects and a six month industry placement. Each diploma comprises 18 subjects. In addition the school will provide a course on communication and mathematics for those who do not have a maths background. The diploma is open for admission for students from all walks of life-students who have just completed their A’ Levels or those already in the industry who want to obtain a formal qualification.

The advantage of this diploma is that a student upon completion of the course is ready to go into the workforce, or if he/she wants to pursue further study they can obtain entry in to the 2nd year of a university degree in a similar programme in the UK. If students are unsure of their career path, CSCT advisers will provide counselling services and provide advice on the "best" path to take with future goals in mind.

Students obtaining an HND from CSCT will be "unique" from other students as they will obtain a diploma that has been designed with the end result in mind. That is the course has been specially structured to meet the competing demands of the building services industry. The diplomas are taught by senior teachers in the field of construction and by some of the foremost practitioners in the country. Students will be taught in small classrooms with individualized attention and classrooms will be kept to a manageable size to ensure quality with a good mix of lectures and hands on practical work. CSCT is equipped with modern classrooms with state of the art equipment. It has a large computer lab and library which boasts of the latest journals and books necessary for students in the building services industry.

CSCT will also run short courses in areas such as computer aided estimating, computer design and industry specific courses designed for practitioners. These courses will be advertised on their website and the print media as and when they are available. If CSCT doesn’t have the short course you want, organizations and groups have the opportunity to provide their specifications to CSCT and they will design a course tailor made to your requirements.


Rs. 3.2 bn. collection

The Unit Trust industry while celebrating its 17th year in 2008, recorded a collection of Rs 3,242.6 million in 17 funds in the year to December 2008 which are managed by the members of the Unit Trust Association of Sri Lanka (UTASL), a release said.

This inflow mitigated the impact of the downtrend in the stock market consequent to the global crisis in financial markets in general and stock markets in particular. As a result the equity funds in the industry contracted in value during the last quarter of the year. The inflows in to the funds are mainly attributable to the launch of new close ended gilt funds during this period. The member companies offer Equity, Balanced, Income, Gilt, Money Market and index type of funds to the public.

In 2008 the Colombo Stock Market fell by 40.8% as measured by All Share Price Index.

Unit Trust funds which invest in listed shares on average suffered 26.3 % in this period. This illustrates the importance of diversification of investments to protect savings from adverse fall of markets. Interest rates had been higher in this period and helped fixed income investors to generate better returns in a higher inflationary environment.

"Unit Trust funds which invest in pure fixed income instruments such as government securities, corporate debt, and trust certificates paid good return to investors," S. Jeyavarman, UTASL president said. UTASL executive committee is represented by senior officers from CT Fund Management (Pvt) Ltd, Ceylon Asset Management Company Ltd, Eagle NDB Fund Management Company Ltd., National Asset Management Ltd. and Unit Trust Management Company (Pvt) Ltd.


Australia honours Lankan

Dr. Rodney Arambewela, former Honorary Consul for Sri Lanka in Victoria, and Sri Lanka Tea Commissioner was awarded the Order of Australia Medal (OAM) by the Australian Government on Australia Day recently.

This is an award which is the country’s formal recognition of those who have given outstanding and meritorious service. The award recognises Arambewela’s service to the Sri Lankan community through the development of cultural and educational programmes and the promotion of Australia-Sri Lanka business relations.

Victoria Governor Professor David de Kretser (AC) and the State Premier John Brumby (MP) were among friends and well wishers who have already sent him personal congratulatory messages.

Arambewela arrived in Melbourne in 1982 as Sri Lanka Tea Commissioner for Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Islands (based in Melbourne) and since then has been active in community welfare activities. He was appointed Honorary Consul for Sri Lanka in Victoria in 1987.

He pioneered a number of community initiatives to promote social welfare of all Sri Lankan community groups-Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim and Burgher-and excelled in promoting unity and harmony within the Sri Lankan community groups and lifting community standing through interactions with the wider Australian society.

He founded The Committee for Sri Lanka, which, under his leadership was responsible for Sri Lanka Independence Day Celebrations in Melbourne since 1993.

He initiated the Dilmah Ceylon tea project-marketing of a Sri Lankan branded tea in competition with multinationals such as Lipton and Bushells. Dilmah is now one of the leading brands of tea marketed in Australia.

He is an old boy of St. Benedict’s College and alumni of Peradeniya University. He played soccer for his school and captained the University soccer team.

He currently serves as an academic at Deakin University, Australia.


Seylan promo

Seylan bankers, irrespective of grades and along with Chairman Eastman Narangoda, Executive Director R, Nadarajah and General Manager/Chief Executive Ajita Pasqual, participated in "Seylan Jayamaga," the Bank’s islandwide "House to House" campaign recently.

They spread the message that the bank is stronger than ever, headed by a professional and eminent Chairman and Board of Directors with the Chief Executive/General Manager and his management team and all other staff members who would continue to serve the public in the best traditions of the "Bank with a Heart."

Information and details regarding Seylan’s innovative products were disseminated by attractive brochures and leaflets. The differentiation these products offered investors was explained by the staff to prospective customers.

There was a tremendous response from the public for their campaign and the day’s programme turned out to be an unqualified success.

The staff also distributed a sticker with the "Jayamaga" emblem, carrying a serial number.

A draw was held at the Nugegoda Branch and popular radio stations aired the results in the afternoon.

Ten lucky winners were entitled to a savings account with a balance of Rs. 10,000; and if they happened to be Seylan Bank customers, the amount credited to the complimentary account was Rs.15,000.


Private banking

Nations Trust Bank’s (NTB’s) Private Banking service was formally re launched recently, offering the Bank’s top end customers personalized and private banking solutions and exclusive facilities.

The new Private Banking centre located at Independence Avenue, Colombo offers privileged and exclusive relationship based management in an atmosphere of privacy and luxury.

"We are delighted to offer the premium segment of our customers our Private Banking service, which offers account management and priority banking facilities. This proposition further offers personalized consultancy facilities, one-on- one banking relationship and the added advantage of preferential interest rates and special offers to this valued group of customers," said NTB Director/Chief Executive Officer Zulfiqar Zavahir.

Whilst NTB’s Private Banking customers have the flexibility of opening accounts in both local and foreign currency, the Bank will offer the opportunity to use the Bank’s FX trader account to gain benefits from foreign currency deposits. Moreover customers may also enjoy the privilege and recognition of SriLankan Airlines Platinum American Express Card that is offered to all Private banking customers. Private Banking relationship will also entitle the customer to free ‘Bank at your Doorstep’ service in addition to a lifetime of free cheque books as well as a waiver of any additional fee for cash withdrawals at any ATM in Sri Lanka. Customers will also be entitled to priority service at any of the 37 NTB branches.


EU & SL

EC Ambassador Bernard Savage will speak on the topic, "The European Union & Sri Lanka: Present & Future of EU relations" at a Colombo hotel on April 25.

Sri Lanka’s largest trading partner is the EU. The EU development plan for the period 2007-2013 earmarks USD 112 million for assistance to Sri Lanka with a focus on supporting the peace process and poverty reduction in the North and East. The meeting is organised by the European Chamber of Commerce of Sri Lanka.


Reciprocal membership

CIMA (Chartered Institute of Management Accountants) signed mutual recognition agreements with two of the world’s leading accountancy bodies, CMA (Certified Management Accountants) Canada and CPA (Certified Practising Accountants) Australia recently. 

CPA Australia is the world’s seventh largest accounting body representing more than 117,000 finance, accounting and business professionals located predominantly in Australia, Asia and Europe.

"Our partnerships with influential accounting bodies, CMA Canada and CPA Australia are beneficial for our members and have afforded them opportunities to increase their competitiveness in the international arena as well as enhance their strategic management skills," said CIMA President Glynn Lowth.

"The nature of the international economy dictates that management accountants must be globally-minded."

The reciprocal membership agreement with CPA Australia is a new alliance for an initial four-year term. The CMA Canada agreement which comes into effect immediately, is a renewal for an additional five years of the original agreement and it details how members of CMA Canada and CIMA can gain reciprocal membership.

CPA Australia President Alex Malley said CPA Australia’s mutual recognition agreement with CIMA further strengthened each organisation’s standing on the global accounting stage and gave all members unprecedented access to international job markets.

 "We believe that partnerships with influential accounting bodies such as CIMA, allow us to strengthen our position through knowledge-sharing and collaboration, which benefits our members and the profession."

CMA Canada National Director Board Chair Michael Tinkler (FCMA) said the mutual recognition agreement between CIMA and CMA Canada will increase recognition of members of both organisations in the global marketplace.

The agreements will give CMA Canada members and CPA Australia members "who have gained membership through the business route" preferred access to CIMA membership, while CIMA members will be given preferred access membership to both CMA Canada and CPA Australia. The new agreements will be accessible to more than 190,000 finance professionals.

South Asia and Middle East Regional Director Bradley Emerson said, "this establishes the global recognition of CIMA. It is of particular interest to Sri Lanka, given the fact that both Canada and Australia are countries where most of Sri Lankan members and students are relocated. In effect CIMA is one qualification that brings in three professional memberships, this will no doubt be an incentive to all our members and passed finalists."


Ideal communication partner

By Ashwin Hemmathagama

Looking for a business partner who can understand your business? A partner who can see the marketing problem from both sides of the coin and come up with a strategically developed creative solution which will deliver the needed results? It is the right time to partner with the best advertising agency in town; Sarva Integrated. Following are excerpts of an interview with its Managing Director Chrishantha Jayasingha, "how best it would fit into your organisation."

Question (Q): You have expanded your operations when the rest of the ad world is downsizing, why?

Answer (A): We have a reputation for delivering results to our clients with our creative work. As the competitive landscape becomes intense we have seen more and more clients requiring the Sarva touch. So we thought we will go against the tide and expand our operation. Not only have we added a new 5,000 square foot extension to our existing office premises, we have also added four more Senior Creative Heads to our team, virtually doubling our bandwidth.

Q: Sarva is your brainchild, what made you to form such an effective organisation?

A: Believe it or not, effectiveness is an attitude and a passion to understand both the business side of things as well as the creative process. Unlike at Sarva most of the creative talent in an agency don’t understand the business side of things and consider advertising as merely an art. What we at Sarva believe is if its art it should belong in a Gallery and if it’s advertising our primary task is to make the clients’ cash registers ring. We take a lot of trouble to educate our creative team on business and that has helped us to create effective work which cuts through the clutter.

Q: Even though Sarva is not a well known name in the industry, it however happens to make a big change in the system. How is this possible?

A: We believe our work should speak louder than us and therefore chose to remain a low profile agency. But it is our commitment and focus on effectiveness which has made it possible to transform what started out as a five man operation to a 45 man fully digital full service agency within three short years.

What makes us unique is our people. A vibrant and sometime volatile fusion of experienced veterans and raw talent who love what they do using strategic creative thinking to make work that will win the heart of people. In doing what we love, we deliver results.

Q: Would you mind naming a few of your existing clients and some of your recent work?

A: We are most famous for the work we have done for Lanka Bell and we are proud to have created some landmark commercials for them. From our first commercial called Kurukuruless to Stella to the most recent one which is the kottu commercial, most of the work we have done for Lanka Bell have been big hits.

Research has proven that Lanka bell advertising has double the effective cut compared with other teleco advertisers which includes mobiles as well, which means our work for Lanka Bell makes them get double the impact from their advertising budget.

Another commercial we have done which has become very popular is the Korale Mahattaya commercial for Osram which saw sales go through the roof.

Our client list includes Lanka Bell, SLIC, Chevron, DIMO (TATA, Osram Seimens, Bosch), Kotmale Dairies CIMA and Odel.

Q: What has been your most successful campaign?

A: It has to be the Coolant campaign we carried out for Caltex Coolant. We saw a sales increase of 1,000% with the work we did and it was for a very small budget.

We are proud of the intimate knowledge we have of the local culture and consumer. And this knowledge plays a major role in everything we do.

Q: Being in the industry with "turning point" experience, what is the key advice you give?

A: Just because you spend money on advertising does not mean that you automatically get results. This is best outlined in the case of Lanka Bell. The client told us that before we got the account that people thought of them as a manufacturer of doorbells when they went to the field to sell their product even though they had spent a huge amount of money on a large multi media campaign. No one had seen it or heard it. Of course after kurukuruless things changed. So if you want results then choose a partner who has a strong track record of delivering results.


Three win Tourism Legend awards

Confifi Group Chairman Desamanya Prof. M.T.A. Furkhan was given the Tourism legend Award for 2008 at the prestigious Presidential Tourism Award ceremony held recently at the BMICH.

Jetwing Group former Chairman the late Herbert Cooray and Aitken Spence Group former Chairman Ratna Sivaratnam were also posthumously awarded the Tourism Legend Award.

In the late 1960s when there were only the Hikkaduwa Beach Hotel, Hikkaduwa; Bentota Beach Hotel, Bentota; Mount Lavinia Hotel and Galle Face Hotel and Grand Oriental Hotel in Colombo.

When hardly anyone expected tourism to flourish in Sri Lanka, Furkhan came forward and took the risk to start his first Hotel in one of the most beautiful beach locations in Moragalla, Beruwala.

The Tourist Board gazetted the project as an Approved Tourist Hotel on March 30, 1970 and the site clearing of the five acre land started on April 1, 1970.

The Confifi Beach Hotel opened six months later on December 23, 1970.

Four months later, the first JVP insurrection took place in April 1971 and the Hotel was closed and the staff sent home.

Furkhan re-opened the Hotel three months later and never looked back. In 1976 he opened the 140 room, 03 star Club Palm Garden Hotel also in Beruwala. That was followed in October 1983 when he opened the 04 star Riverina Hotel with 192 rooms in the adjoining land.

In April 1995 he opened the 158 room 05 star Eden Hotel within half a mile of the earlier hotels, all in the Golden Mile in Beruwala.

Through these hotels, over the nearly 40 years, he was able to offer employment to thousands of young people and generate substantial foreign exchange earnings for the country.

With four star class hotels of the Confifi Group and other hotels such as Barberyn Reef, Neptune, Wornels Reef, Swanee and Lanka Princess, Beruwala was turned into a prosperous town.

Confifi was the first Hotel Group in Sri Lanka to employ female staff, and set up a Hotel Management Trainee Scheme offering five year training to young graduates and A/L qualified school leavers.

Over the 40 years, under the tutelage of Furkhan, the Confifi Group has trained over 500 hotel managers who now hold senior hotel management positions both in Sri Lanka and overseas.

One of the strongest features of the Confifi Group under his leadership was the innovation of new products.

Confifi Hotels were the first to introduce Mini Golf, all inclusive fares, Spa Resort, Kiddies Club, Horse Riding and the Beach Derby in Sri Lanka.

Furkhan has held office in various professional bodies, government institutions, state corporations and private sector business associations including the Chamber of Commerce, Federation of Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Sri Lanka Tourist Hotels Association President.

An accountant (FCMA, J.Dip.MA, FCIS and FCPA (Aust)) by profession, he was twice elected CIMA Sri Lanka President and CIMA New South Wales Australia President. Furkhan is also a Rotarian.

He has been elected thrice as Institute of Chartered Secretaries President.

He was also Principal, Zahira College, Colombo, his old school, and also served as Jayewardenepura University’s Management Accounting Professor. He has been a member of the National Police Commission and the Finance Commission of Sri Lanka.

In recognition of the services rendered to education and to the country, the President of Sri Lanka awarded him the title of Deshabandu in 1987 and was later conferred the Desamanya title in 2005.


Pranama passes 1,000

Ceylinco Life’s Pranama scholarships programme has touched the lives of more than 1,000 young Sri Lankans by January 2009, the company announced recently.

The eighth edition of this annual scholarships presentation this month (January) resulted in the award of 144 new scholarships, bringing the total number of beneficiaries to 1,001.

Students from all parts of Sri Lanka including the northern and eastern provinces were honoured for academic and extra curricular achievements in the presence of school principals, teachers and parents at this ceremony at the BMICH.

Addressing the scholarship awards ceremony, Ceylinco Life Chief Executive Director R. Renganathan pointed out that although many people invest their money in houses, gold jewellery and the like, such investments can be lost overnight.

However, investment in education can never be destroyed, he said. "Although Sri Lanka has free education, the high level of competition for admission to schools and universities requires parents to spend on extra tuition for their children," he said.

"This was one of the factors that led to the creation of the Pranama scholarships programme."

He said some of the recipients of these scholarships have gone on to become doctors and engineers, justifying the company’s investment in their future.

Examinations Commissioner Anura Edirisinghe who was the Guest of Honour said, "At a time when many companies are focusing their attention of making profit, it is praiseworthy to see Ceylinco Life’s commitment

to the community," he said.

Ceylinco Life to date awarded Pranama scholarships worth Rs 35 million, making a significant contribution towards encouraging future leaders of Sri Lanka, one of the key objectives of the programme. ‘Ceylinco Pranama’ is one of the main components of the company’s ‘Life Rewards’ portfolio of special benefits.

Ceylinco Pranama scholarships are presented to policyholders’ children who achieve best results in their respective districts at the Year 5 scholarship exam, to policyholders’ children who achieve the best results in their districts at the GCE Ordinary Level exam, to the four children in each district who achieve the best results at the GCE Advanced Level exam and to young people who excel at the national or international level in sports, aesthetics, invention or creativity.

Ceylinco Life also presents scholarships to students who achieved the

highest marks island-wide in physical science, biology, commerce and arts at the GCE A/L exam, irrespective of whether or not they are policyholders’ children.

One of many benefits available to Ceylinco Life policyholders, the four-tiered Pranama scholarship scheme underscores the importance attributed by the company to education. Besides the Pranama scholarships scheme, Ceylinco Life has also established the Ceylinco Aloka Fund for education, which pays up to Rs 54,000 in 36 equal monthly instalments on the death of an active policyholder in the low income segment whose children are undergoing primary, secondary or tertiary education.


Schols. to Japan

Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University (APU) Japan announced the signing of agreements with two leading schools in Sri Lanka to offer scholarships to their students to study at their University.

At a press conference announcing the signing of the Agreements between APU and the respective school were APU Admissions Dean Professor Susumu Yamamoto, Sri Lanka Admissions Officer Takaumi Iwayama, Wycherley International Principal Kingsley Jayasinghe, Ladies College Principal Mrs. Nirmali Wickremesinghe and APU Representative in Sri Lanka Harin Gunawardena.

The APU will team up with Ladies College and Wycherley as an initial step, to offer talented students an opportunity to receive an overseas education.

Although the university is situated in Japan, APU ensures 50% of its student body as well as the academic staff are non-Japanese. There are students from 87 countries studying at APU, including over 40 Sri Lankan students.

Yamamoto said that under this MoU with the two leading secondary education institutions, APU will provide as part of its commitment 100% scholarships on tuition to two outstanding students from each of the selected schools for the academic year starting in 2010. Each scholarship is valued at over SLR 5.0m.

He said that he hopes to extend this scheme to similar secondary educational institutes in Sri Lanka.

APU offers degree programmes in social science and management with specializations possible in areas such as media, tourism, development, marketing, and international business. In addition APU offers an MBA and several Master’s and PhD degrees.


Record sales

Keells Food Products plc enjoyed record sales this past festive season with its ‘Keells Chicken Meatball Curry,’ the newest product to its fast growing portfolio and the first such innovative product of its kind introduced to the Sri Lankan market, rapidly gaining market share.

Keells Food Products CEO Asitha Samaraweera said, "The feedback from consumers was that it was full of flavour and a welcome addition to any meal, more so especially when relatives or neighbours dropped in. Affordably priced, Keells Meatball Curry comes in 400g cans with enough for the whole family and brings the best of traditional Sri Lanka chicken curry.

"What also makes Keells Chicken Meatball Curry unique is that it is easy-to-stock even in non-refrigerated conditions and is a product that can be quickly served with minimum preparation for breakfast, lunch or dinner, thus bringing convenience to busy Sri Lankan lifestyles.

These pre-cooked, seasoned and succulent meatballs captured public imagination and interest with their "easy to cook-heat & eat"

option which proved to be the key indicator for its success this past festive season," Samaraweera added.

The first to introduce a product of this nature, Keells Food Products has won the faith and confidence of thousands of Sri Lankans across the country with its 25 years of trusted operations in the food industry. Keells Food Products is also the only processed foods company which maintains SLS and ISO Quality Management Systems and HACCP Food Safety Management System.


Highest working poor in S. Asia, Africa

The global economic crisis is expected to lead to a dramatic increase in the number of people joining the ranks of the unemployed, working poor and those in vulnerable employment, the International Labour Office (ILO) says in its annual Global Employment Trends report (GET).

Based on new developments in the labour market and depending on the timeliness and effectiveness of recovery efforts, the report says global unemployment in 2009 could increase over 2007 by a range of 18 million to 30 million workers and more than 50 million if the situation continues to deteriorate.

According to the study, Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia stand out as regions with extremely harsh labour market conditions and with the highest shares of working poor of all regions. Although the trend has been declining over the past 10 years, around four fifths of the employed were still classified as working poor in these regions in 2007.

If a large number of countries, using their own accumulated reserves, emergency IMF loans and stronger aid mechanisms, put in place coordinated policies in line with the ILO Decent Work Agenda, then the effects of the downturn on enterprises, workers and their families could be cushioned and the recovery better prepared.

The ILO report also said that in this last scenario some 200 million workers, mostly in developing economies, could be pushed into extreme poverty.

The new report updates a preliminary estimate released last October indicating that the global financial crisis could increase unemployment by between 15 to 20 million people by 2009. Its key conclusions are as follows: Based on November 2008 IMF forecasts, global unemployment rate would rise to 6.1% in 2009 compared to 5.7% in 2007, resulting in an increase in the number of unemployed by 18 million people in 2009 in comparison with 2007.

If the economic outlook deteriorates beyond what was envisaged in November 2008, which is likely, global unemployment rate could rise to 6.5%, corresponding to an increase of the global number of unemployed by 30 million people in comparison with 2007.

In a current worst case scenario, the global unemployment rate could rise to 7.1% and result in an increase in the global number of unemployed of more than 50 million people.

The number of working poor-people who are unable to earn enough to lift themselves and their families above the US$2 per person, per day, poverty line, may rise up to 1.4 billion, or 45% of all the world’s employed.

In 2009, the proportion of people in vulnerable employment-either contributing family workers or own-account workers who are less likely to benefit from safety nets that guard against loss of incomes during economic hardship could rise considerably in the worst case scenario to reach a level of 53% of the employed population.

The ILO report notes that in 2008, North Africa and the Middle East still had the highest unemployment rates at 10.3 and 9.4% respectively, followed by Central & South Eastern Europe (non EU) & the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) at 8.8%, sub-Saharan Africa (7.9%) and Latin America (7.3%).

The lowest unemployment rate was observed in East Asia at 3.8%, followed by South Asia and South-East Asia & the Pacific where respectively 5.4 % 5.7% of the labour force was unemployed in 2008.

The report shows that the three Asian regions-South Asia, South-East Asia & the Pacific and East Asia accounted for 57% of global employment creation in 2008. In the Developed Economies & European Union region, on the other hand, net employment creation in 2008 was negative (minus 900,000) which explains in part the low global employment creation this year.

Compared with 2007, the largest increase in a regional unemployment rate was observed in the Developed Economies & European Union region, from 5.7 to 6.4%. The number of unemployed in the region jumped by 3.5 million in one year, reaching 32.3 million in 2008.


$ 40,000 for nutrition

Malnutrition is the single biggest contributor to child mortality in the world, the World Bank (WB) in a statement said.

In no place is this problem more serious than in South Asia (SA) where child malnutrition rates are among the highest in the world. Both child underweight and stunting rates in the region are nearly double those in Africa.

In Sri Lanka, the recently completed Demographic and Health Survey 2006/7 showed that 22% of Sri Lankan children below five years of age are underweight, 18% being too short (stunted) and 15% too thin (wasted).

While there has been a significant improvement over the last two decades, nutrition indices need to improve considerably more for Sri Lanka to achieve the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving the proportion of people who suffer from malnutrition.

WB on Wednesday launched a competitive "Development Marketplace for Nutrition" aimed at finding and funding innovative ideas

that will change the lives of thousands of pregnant women, infants, and young children in SA.

The maximum award will be US$40,000 per proposal. Proposals will be accepted until March 31, 2009.

The South Asia Regional Development Marketplace is implemented in partnership with the Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ), Micronutrient Initiative, UNICEF and the World Food Programme.

Titled "Family and Community Approaches to Improving Infant and Young Child Nutrition," the Development Marketplace is looking for entrepreneurial organizations across SA to submit proposals for local, small-scale projects which have the potential to be scaled up and replicated.

The winners will be selected by an international jury of development and nutrition experts at the Development Marketplace event in August 2009 in Dhaka and will receive funding to implement their proposals.

"Malnutrition affects the lives of millions of infants and young children in South Asia," said WB South Asia region Vice President Isabel Guerrero.

It saps a child’s growth potential, delays school enrolment, limits school achievements and lowers lifetime earnings. This competition offers an opportunity to channel small grants directly to community organizations and NGOs who present innovative ways to address this devastating problem.

WB Sri Lanka Country Director Ms. Naoko Ishii said, Development Marketplace provides a unique opportunity to Sri Lankan community-based organizations and NGOs to explore innovative approaches that can complement the many nutrition-related services already provided through the public health services.

If these innovations are successful in reducing the malnutrition burden, scaling up of such complementary strategies can help Sri Lanka achieve the MDG for malnutrition.


Penal rate cut 50 bp

Inflation has been on a path of deceleration, benefiting from the absence of upward pressures from international commodity prices and supported by tight demand management policies put in place by the Central Bank (CB), the Bank in a statement said.

Inflation, as measured by the year on year change in the new Colombo Consumers’ Price Index, dipped to 10.7% last month, from 14.4% in December 2008. The positive developments in inflation dynamics have been further supported by the deceleration observed in monetary aggregates. So far during first quarter 2009, reserve money has remained well within the target, minimising any risk of demand driven inflationary pressure. Accordingly, it is expected that inflation would fall to a single digit this month and continue its decline in the coming months.

Taking the above into consideration, the Monetary Board, at its meeting held on Tuesday decided to reduce the CB’s Repurchase and Reverse Repurchase rates by 25 basis points (bp) to 10.25% and 11.75% respectively. The Monetary Board also decided to reduce the penal rate of interest charged on reverse repurchase transactions with the Central Bank by 50 bp to 16.50% with immediate effect.

This move follows the decision of the Monetary Board to reduce the penal rate of interest by 200 basis points last month. These interest rate reductions by the CB are expected to pass through to other market interest rates soon and lead to significant reductions in the cost of borrowing, resulting in economic activity being stimulated in the face of adverse conditions brought on by the global economic slowdown. The release of the next regular statement on monetary policy will be on March 20, 2009.


Successful year for UA

Union Assurance (UA) ended 2008 on a high note, reporting a year on year (YoY) growth in turnover as well as profitability.

General and life insurance premiums increased by 14%, from Rs. five billion in 2007 to Rs. 5.7 billion in 2008. Consolidated profit after tax increased by 35%, from Rs. 254 million in 2007 to Rs 342 million in 2008. The increase in consolidated profit before tax was 40%.

Both life and general insurance segments performed well during the year. General insurance gross written premium increased by 13% YoY to Rs. 3.2 billion in 2008. Profit from this line increased by 42% to Rs. 157 million in 2008 mainly due to increased investment income.

Life gross written premium increased by 16% YoY to Rs. 2.5 billion in 2008. More importantly, gross written premium from regular business increased by 20%, from Rs. 1.9 billion in 2007 to Rs. 2.3 billion in 2008. Life insurance profits also increased from Rs. 144 million in 2007 to Rs. 185 million in 2008, recording a 28% YoY increase.

The Board of Directors have recommended a first and final dividend of Rs. 3.25 per share for approval by shareholders at the annual general meeting to be held on March 31, 2008.

"We are pleased with the results achieved by Union Assurance in 2008," said Chairman Ajit Gunewardene. "The strong growth in life and general insurance premiums, the highest profit achieved in the company’s history and several national and international awards, all reflect UA’s capability to differentiate itself and prosper in the highly competitive insurance industry."

Commenting on UA’s performance, CEO Ms. Marina Tharmaratnam said, "Both life and general segments of our business performed above expectations, especially with regard to the bottom line. We will continue to invest in our people, brand and constantly work at improving our service standards in order to maintain the growth momentum we have achieved in both turnover and profits."

Union Assurance was recognised both nationally and internationally in 2008. The 2007 annual report was judged among the best reports in the South Asian region by the South Asian Federation of Accountants. The report also won several accolades at the annual report awards ceremony conducted by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Sri Lanka including the best report in the insurance sector and overall 2nd place. "We were ranked among the top 20 companies in Sri Lanka in terms of our human resource management practices at the HR Awards concluded in 2008." The company won a sustainability award from the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, an award for Business Excellence from the National Chamber of Commerce and was selected as a "Superbrand" by Brand Finance.


New GM

People’s Bank (PB) appointed P. V. Pathirana as their new CEO/General Manager recently. PB employs 10,000. 

550,000 customers

IBM recently said that Suntel with over 550,000 customers has selected IBM software to raise employee performance and cost efficiency.

Donation of lentils

Sri Lanka–Canada Business Council (SLCBC) and Canada–Sri Lanka Business Council (in Canada) recently donated 1 ton of lentils to the World Food Programme’s (WFP’s) Colombo office.

Associated at this event were SLCBC President Rajah Abeyasinghe, WFP Country Director Adnan Khan, Nation Building Ministry Secretary W.K.K. Kumarasiri and High Commissioner of Canada Ms. Angela Bogdan.

Bonus miles

Standard Chartered Bank has partnered Singapore Airlines’ frequent flyer programme KrisFlyer to offer its Gold credit cardholders redemption options on their Bonus Points programme.

Every Rs100 spent on purchases both locally and overseas is awarded one bonus point.

Standard Chartered Gold Cardholders can opt to redeem the accumulated bonus points for KrisFlyer Miles. One bonus point will equal One KrisFlyer mile.

Benefits

HSBC Visa Platinum card holders may benefit from "instant" rewards redemption for goods and services at over 30 partner outlets locally, privileges in more than 40 countries, Airmiles programme, dine free facilities and free overseas insurance cover.

This card is accepted at more than 29 million locations worldwide.


In Brief

BoC loser in forex trading

The US Dollar gained by five Sri Lanka cents in spot trading on Friday, with the two State commercial banks, Bank of Ceylon (BoC) and People’s Bank (PB) being actively involved in the foreign exchange (forex) market.

There is a perception in the market that the government has to settle maturing petroleum receipts this month, hence the build-up of pressure for the rupee to depreciate vis-à-vis the greenback, they said.

The dollar in two way quotes was being offered at Rs. 114/10/20 on Friday, as opposed to Rs. 114/05/15 on Thursday. Meanwhile, the BoC, after buying dollars at Rs. 114/15 from the market, was offering the same to the trade at the Rs. 113/85 levels, with sales being executed on the condition that buyers submit the necessary import documents.

Rates move up

The rupee market was short by Rs. 3.5 billion on Friday, making the Central Bank (CB) to open its overnight (O/N) reverse repo window and lend to the same at the concessionary interest rate of 11.75%.

As a result, O/N inter-bank borrowing rates which were in the 12-13% range on Thursday, moved up to the 13-13¼% range on Friday. Sources expected rates to move up by a couple of basis points in the week beginning tomorrow due to expectations that this shortfall will persist in the new week.

In the secondary Treasury (T) Bond market, a bond maturing on 2011 was traded at 18.05%, with Bonds of that and those maturing on 2010 and 2012 commanding yields of 18% in sluggish trading.

They attributed this sluggishness to the market not knowing which direction rates would take. It’s not that the market is illiquid, it’s this uncertainty that is dampening play in the secondary market, the sources said. (See also connected story found elsewhere on this page)

Foreign T Bond holdings down 20%

Foreign holdings in Treasury (T) Bonds in the week ended Wednesday slipped 20.1% week on week to Rs. 14,206 million. (Source: Central Bank)

Hemas PAT down 38%

Hemas Group in the quarter (Q) ended September 30, 2008 saw revenue grow by 18.9% year on year (YoY) to Rs. 4.2 billion. Profit attributable to shareholders during this period however dipped by 38.2% YoY to Rs. 109.2 million.

The company in the nine months ended September 30, 2008 saw revenue grow by 18.1% YoY to Rs. 7.9 billion. Profit during this period however slipped by 8.3% YoY to Rs. 372.4 million.

Acquisition

NDB Bank in a stock exchange filing on Thursday, informed that they have acquired the controlling interest of Capital Market Services Ltd., a licensed merchant bank in Bangladesh.

WAYs fall

Weighted average yields (WAY) at Wednesday’s Treasury (T) Bill primary auction saw the WAY for 91 day maturing T Bills drop by 21 basis points (bp) to 15.78% over the previous week’s figure, while those of 182 and 364 day maturities dropped marginally by two bp each to 16.94% and 17.74% respectively. The auction was for the re-issue of Rs. 6,000 million worth of maturing T Bills of which Rs. 5,233 million was accepted and the balance rejected.


Loans for women entrepreneurs

Thirty eight women micro entrepreneurs from the slums of Kirulapone received loans ranging from Rs. 100,000 to Rs. 250,000 per person at a function held in this suburb on Thursday.

Those loans which are of a three year tenure carries an annual interest rate of 24%. While the loans were provided by HSBC, it was guaranteed by NDB Bank (NDB) on the strength of a US$ 1.4 million fund provided in this connection by UN Habitat, of which NDB is the fund manager. The beneficiaries were selected by SAPSRI, an NGO. A total amount of Rs. 10 million was disbursed in this connection.

Their businesses ranged from selling lunch packets, running small boutiques, making of curtains and beauty culture.

Sustained performance

HNB Assurance PLC in the financial year ended December 31, 2008 saw a 25% growth in turnover to Rs. 1.84 billion and a 33% growth in profit after tax to Rs. 164.5 million.

The company’s managing director Manjula de Silva was confident that they would be able to maintain its excellent track record despite even bigger challenges that it may encounter in the year ahead.

General Insurance contributed Rs. 64.5 million to the company’s bottomline last year, while the balance came from Life Insurance. The company achieved a combined turnover of Rs. 1.84 billion last year.

General Insurance Gross Written Premium (GWP) in the year under review grew by 31% year on year (YoY) to Rs. 924.7 million while Life Insurance GWP grew by 19% YoY to Rs. 914.2 million. The company has allocated upto a maximum of Rs. 40 per Rs. 1,000 sum assured as bonus declarations to its Life policyholders. HNB Assurance has also declared a Rs. 1.25 dividend per share to its shareholders, 25% higher than the distribution made the previous year. The Life fund crossed the Rs. one billion mark to reach Rs. 1.36 billion at end 2008.

Stock market announcements

Eagle Insurance plc has declared a first and final dividend of Rs. 7 per share for the financial year 2008. AGM: March 30, 2009; excluding dividend (XD) date: March 31, 2009 and payment: April 3, 2009.

Sigiriya Village Hotels plc has declared a one for one rights issue (subject to approval), comprising the issuance of 3,478,950 ordinary new shares at an issue price of Rs. 20 a share. Proceeds will be used to reduce the company’s working capital deficit. Sigiriya Village’s present stated capital is Rs. 106,301,215. The rights issue will not be underwritten. Union Assurance plc has declared a first and final dividend of Rs. 3.25 per share on its issued share capital of Rs. 375 million for the year 2008. Chemanex PLC has declared a Rs. six interim dividend per share of the existing 15.75 million ordinary shares for the year ending March 31, 2009. Dividend warrants will be dispatched on March 17,


Union Assurance PAT up 33%

Union Assurance in the fourth quarter (4Q) ended December 31, 2008 saw net profits increase by 33% year on year (YoY) to Rs. 231.95 million. The company in the financial year ended December 31, 2008 saw profit after tax (PAT) increase by 35% YoY to Rs.342.08 million.

Aitken Spence PAT up 38%

Aitken Spence in the 3Q ended December 31, 2008 saw net profits increase by 38% YoY to Rs. 473.70 million. The company in the nine months ended December 31, 2008 saw PAT increase by 15% YoY to Rs.1,266.13 million.

Spence Hotels PAT up 196%

Aitken Spence Hotels in the 3Q ended December 31, 2008 saw net profits increase by 196% YoY to Rs. 357.85 million. The company in the nine months ended December 31, 2008 saw PAT increase by 102% YoY to Rs.264.59 million

CIC makes loss

CIC in the 3Q ended December 31, 2008 made a Rs.21.31 million loss compared with a Rs. 193.72 million net profit in the corresponding Q of the previous year. The company in the nine months ended December 31, 2008 however saw PAT increase by 11% YoY to Rs.395.68 million.

Sathosa makes loss

Sathosa Motors in the 3Q ended December 31, 2008 made a Rs. one million loss compared with a Rs. 25 million net profit in the corresponding Q of the previous year. The company in the nine months ended December 31, 2008 saw PAT decline by 44% YoY to Rs.39.23 million

Colombo Investment Trust PAT up 84%

Colombo Investment Trust plc in the 3Q ended December 31, 2008 saw net profits increase by 84% YoY to Rs. 1.50 million. The company in the nine months ended December 31, 2008 saw PAT increase by 284% YoY to Rs.6.89 million.

Trans Asia PAT down 48%

Trans Asia Hotel plc in the 3Q ended December 31, 2008 saw net profits decline by 48% YoY to Rs. 23.88 million. The company in the nine months ended December 31, 2008 saw PAT decline by 25% YoY to Rs.56.24 million.

Horana makes loss

Horana Plantations in the 3Q ended December 31, 2008 made a Rs. 30.51 million loss compared to a Rs. 87.14 million net profit made in the corresponding Q the previous year. The company in the nine months ended December 31, 2008 saw PAT decline by 75% YoY to Rs. 28.28 million.

Cold Stores PAT up 3%

Ceylon Cold Stores in the 3Q ended December 31, 2008 saw net profits increase by 3% YoY to Rs. 36.82 million. The company in the nine months ended December 31, 2008 however saw PAT decline by 39% YoY to Rs.64.40 million.

LIOC makes loss

Lanka IOC plc in the 3Q ended December 31, 2008 made a Rs. 769.97 million loss compared to a Rs. 282.04 million net profit made in the corresponding Q the previous year. The company in the nine months ended December 31, 2008 saw PAT decline by 75% YoY to Rs. 363.21 million. (John Keells Stock Brokers)

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