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Sri Lanka’s EPF loses most from Laugfs, Dockyard, Carsons; gains from banks

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Employees Provident Fund, managed by the central bank has lost 9.2 billion rupees on its stock portfolio up to June 2018 despite investments in banks gaining it about 9 billion rupees led by Sampath Bank, a report from the agency said.

The stocks have been bought at different times, but among the most controversial were those made at the height of a stock market bubble which ended around 2011.

The Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF) Department on January 16 said the 2 trillion rupee fund made up of private sector employee retirement savings has lost 8.4 billion rupees in the value of stocks held for investment, since it first purchased each stock, up to June 2018.

This was a fall of 10.9 percent to 68.88 billion rupees.

Stocks held for trading lost 24.9 percent of their value, or 742.7 million rupees, with the biggest hit coming from Aitken Spence and its hotel subsidiary.

The EF had lost about 2.0 billion rupees on Colombo Dockyard shares which It had bought for 2,791 million rupees and was in its books at 765 million rupees, losing about three fourths of the value.

Market value of Laugfs Gas Plc voting and non-voting stocks fell 56.9 percent or 1.9 billion rupees. Voting stock the EFP bought for 2.68 billion rupees was worth 1.15 billion rupees, by June 2018.

A 1.7 billion rupee fall in value came through Carsons Cumberbatch Plc, which is currently attempting to delist most of its companies from the stock exchange, with the initial investment value down 64.5 percent compared to the market value in June 2018.

The EPF had bought Carsons Cumberbatch, which owned several Malaysian oil palm firm, for 2.59 billion rupees, but it was now worth 919 million rupees.

Another 1.7 billion hit came from Carsons oil palm unit Bukit Darah Plc. Bukit stock had been bought for 2.3 billion rupees and was now worth 577 million rupees.

Over a billion rupees each were also slashed from market values of Browns & Co Plc, the troubled The Finance Company Plc and the John Keells hotel subsidiary Asian Hotels & Properties Plc.

In total 43 stocks lost value for EPF shareholders after being bought, out of 66 stocks held in the investment portfolio.

Five of the six bank stocks, adding 9 billion rupees to market value of the investment equity portfolio.

Sampath Bank, Hatton National Bank and Commercial Bank, three of the country’s systemically important banks, contributed 88.8 percent to the gain.

Sampath stock bought for 4.8 billion rupees were worth 8.4 billion rupees.

DFCC was the sole bank to lose market value after being purchased by the EPF, devaluing by 842.1 million rupees or 24.8 percent.

The central bank has been criticized for buying bank shares through the EPF, as the central bank then becomes both a controlling shareholder and the regulator, but had bought the most gains.

The EPF had invested 10.8 billion rupees in companies not listed publicly, most of which had generated had not paid dividends up to end-2017, the central bank said in a disclosure under the right to information law in 2018.

Sri Lanka’s stock market is now at lower price to earnings multiples, unlike the 2011 bubble, leading to some making a cases for it to enter the market.

Current governor Indrajit Coomaraswamy had said that corporate Sri Lanka was going at ‘fire sale’ prices.

Coomaraswamy had said he was setting up a more transparent framework for stock market investments.

He had said stock investments make up around 2.5 percent of EPF assets,  and the central bank plans to increase this to around 5 percent. 

The EPF dealers had earlier made controversial ‘pump and dump’ deals with some market participants in the run up to 2011, earning it the sobriquet ‘buyer of last resort.’

Some critics suspect that the relationships made at the time made the so-called ‘bondscam’ possible. (Colombo/Jan21/2019)