March 30 (Bloomberg) -- Sri Lanka’s economy expanded at the fastest pace in five quarters as the government stepped up spending on new roads and ports after the end of a quarter- century of civil war in the country.
Gross domestic product rose 6.2 percent in the three months ended Dec. 31 from a year earlier after gaining 4.2 percent in the previous quarter, the statistics department said in a statement in Colombo today.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was reelected for a six- year term in January after defeating the Tamil Tiger rebels in May, has pledged to spend $1 billion on ports, roads and power plants in 2010. Reconstruction in the $41 billion South Asian economy is boosting profit in companies including Tokyo Cement Co. Lanka Plc and Central Industries Plc.
“The infrastructure investments will have a spillover effect in the economy,” Saminda Weerasinghe, research manager at Acuity Stockbrokers Pvt. in Colombo, said before the report. “It will help even faster growth in the second half of 2010.”
Central Bank of Sri Lanka Governor Nivard Cabraal on March 18 maintained benchmark interest rates at a five-year low to boost consumer demand and drive growth to as much as 7 percent in 2010. Sri Lanka’s reverse repurchase rate is 9.75 percent and the repurchase rate is 7.5 percent.
Cabraal can afford to keep borrowing costs low because of tame inflation in the country. Consumer prices in the capital, Colombo, rose 6.9 percent in February from a year earlier, almost half the average inflation rate between 2004 and 2009.
Commercial bank loans rose to 1.196 trillion rupees ($10.5 billion) in January from 1.195 trillion in December, the fourth gain in five months, according to the central bank, an indicator of growing consumer spending.
Low interest rates are also critical to support domestic demand as Sri Lanka’s exports may slow in the coming months after the European Union on Feb. 15 said it will suspend preferential trade benefits to the island nation because of human rights “shortcomings” during the war.
Sri Lankan exports rose 6.4 percent in December to $723.4 million after a yearlong decline.
Peace has prompted foreign companies, including HSBC Holdings Plc and Emirates Telecommunications Corp., to start operations in the island’s northern and eastern areas that were earlier under the control of the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
HSBC Holdings, Europe’s biggest bank, in February opened the first branch by any foreign bank in Sri Lanka’s northern Jaffna peninsula.
Etisalat, the United Arab Emirates’ biggest phone company, started services in Jaffna on Feb. 26 after acquiring Tigo Pvt., the Sri Lankan unit of Millicom International Cellular SA, for $155 million in October.
Demand for building roads and ports after the end of the war helped lift sales at Tokyo Cement by 79 percent in the three months ended Dec. 31.
Sri Lanka plans to invite overseas and local companies this month to set up business in a new $550 million tax-free port zone in the island’s south. The country is also seeking foreign investments to help build a new terminal in Colombo port, Sri Lanka Ports Authority Chairman Priyath Wickrarma said March 5.
To contact the reporter on this story: Anusha Ondaatjie in Colombo at email@example.com