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Cheery Hill Interiors starts operations in SL

India's leading corporate interiors firm specialising in LEED certified projects, Cherry Hill Interiors Private Ltd, has started its operations in Sri Lanka.

According to a company press release, after having a pan-India presence, the company has set up its first international office in Colombo.

This financial year saw the company bagging clients like Western Union,Airbus, Standard Chartered, Amazon, PwC, Bank of New York Melon, Genpact and Airbus.

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India ride-sharing firm Ola to enter Australia

India's ride-sharing company Ola is entering the Australian market in what will be the firm's first international venture. It plans to first launch in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth and says it will soon start recruiting drivers.

The Australian taxi-hailing industry is dominated by Uber - Ola's biggest rival in India.

Bangalore-based Ola was set up in 2011 and has grown rapidly as more people bought smartphones. It now claims to have about 125 million users in India, with around one million drivers across more than 110 cities.

Ola, which still needs regulatory approval to launch in Australia, said it would offer a "high-quality and affordable travel experience".

"We are very excited about launching Ola in Australia and see immense potential for the ride-sharing ecosystem which embraces new technology and innovation," said Ola's chief executive and co-founder Bhavish Aggarwal.

 Source : BBC

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Nestlé unveils coconut-flavoured milk beverage

Nestlé aims to provide children more ways to enjoy milk with the launch of Nespray Coco-Up in Sri Lanka.

The beverage is made with coconut and Nespray milk and is said to have a nutty taste. It contains no added artificial colours or preservatives.

Nestlé said the dairy milk is the first product of its kind for Nestlé worldwide and Sri Lanka’s first dairy milk beverage to be enhanced with coconut extract.

The company aims to draw on the health benefits of milk and combine it with coconut, which it describes as a “much-loved loved staple of cuisine in Sri Lanka and around the world, pepping up any meal or drink with a distinct and refreshing taste”.

Nestlé vice president of dairy Ruwan Welikala said: “Nespray has always been a milk brand trusted by mothers to provide their children with a strong nutritional foundation. It offers a range of local milk products that cater to children’s varying tastes and needs.

“With its innovative recipe of fresh milk and coconut, Nespray Coco-Up now joins our strong portfolio with a unique consumption experience, making drinking milk more fun, adventurous and refreshing for kids.”

Shivani Hegde, Nestlé Sri Lanka managing director, added: “Innovation is in our DNA, ever since our company was founded more than 150 years ago. Today we continue to provide innovative, science-based products and services that enhance quality of life.

“We’re proud to offer our local consumers a variety of products made from local fresh milk, with the latest being Nespray Coco-Up with the unique infusion of coconut.

“This innovation perfectly reflects Nestlé in Sri Lanka, combining cutting-edge global technology and R&D with local innovation, using local ingredients and strong local consumer insights to develop superior products.”

Last year, Nestlé began construction of a new manufacturing plant in Sri Lanka, in a move to strengthen its position in dairy and coconut products.


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Sri Lanka Tea Board to put criminal factory owners out of business

Sri Lankan tea factories owned by people who adulterate black tea to get higher prices will be shut down from next month, Tea Board Chairman Rohan Pethiyagoda said.

Making good tea is difficult but consumers want a clean product, he said at a forum on the tea supply chain organized by the Shippers’ Academy Colombo.

“Consumers have a right to clean tea,” Pethiyagoda said. “From next month, I will be selecting factories whose tea we will clean and if we find it is contaminated we will shut them down.

“Of the 700 factories in Sri Lanka, we could have a better industry if we shut down a couple of hundred,” he said.

 “If people can’t produce tea that would be recognised as the best in the world they don’t deserve to be in business.”

 The latest abuse was that factory managers have been found adulterating their tea with sugar, a practice that everyone in the industry is concerned about as it could damage the image of Ceylon tea.

Detecting tea adulterated with sugar, to blacken the tea and get higher prices, was difficult given the several hundred chemical compounds involved, although experienced tea tasters are able to spot it.

The Tea Board has been trying to weed out factories engaged in the practice but since tea adulterated with sugar fetches high prices, it acts as an incentive for bad factories, Pethiyagida said.

“My approach to factories who get caught – there were over a dozen last year – is to shut them down, put them out of business, never allow them to come back.

“But we don’t. Instead, we suspend them. They go behind politicians and eventually, after a few months, they are back in business adding sugar again,” Pethiyagoda said. Because of the money involved, part of the criminal underclass was now running tea factories.

 Source : Economy Next

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Asia stock markets drop sharply after US falls

Major Asian markets has suffered sharp losses today following another day of steep falls on Wall Street. In a volatile week for global investors, Japan's Nikkei 225 index slid 3.2% during early trading, while China's Shanghai Composite tumbled 5%.

Earlier, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell by more than 1,000 points for the second time this week. Sell-offs around the world have been pinned partly on concerns over higher interest rates.

Elsewhere in Asia on Friday, Hong Kong's Hang Seng pulled back 3.8%, while South Korea's Kospi index traded down 1.9% and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 fell 1.2%. Those losses came as little surprise, with moves in major US markets providing the cue for global investors.

On Thursday, Dow Jones ended 4.2% lower at 23,860, the S&P 500 closed down 3.8%, while the Nasdaq sank 3.9%. European exchanges also headed south on Thursday. "The return of volatility after two relatively calm days supports the idea there are further losses to come in the days and weeks ahead," said CMC Markets analyst Michael McCarthy.

Rate rises imminent?

Investors have begun to worry that inflation might rise more quickly than expected, leading policymakers to raise rates, prompting a pull-back from stocks.

On Thursday, the Bank of England seemed to offer support for that view.

The bank left interest rates at 0.5% at its meeting, but said a strengthening economy meant interest rates were likely to rise sooner than the markets were expecting.

Also worrying investors was a government budget proposal announced by US lawmakers, which raises spending caps and could fan inflation. Bond yields in the US have also risen in recent weeks, typically a signal of higher rates. Higher interest rates push up borrowing costs for companies and individuals, which can hurt corporate profits and curb economic activity.

At the same time, higher interest rates can make investment alternatives to stocks, such as bonds, more attractive.

Shifting conditions

The uptick in volatility comes as investors react to the shifting conditions. Thursday's declines mean the Dow and S&P 500 have now fallen by more than 10% from the record highs set in January, a threshold analysts call a correction.

Shares in financial, technology and consumer companies led the declines on Thursday, which infected every sector. American Express and Intel were the two biggest losers on the Dow. Analysts, who have said for months that the financial markets were due a correction after a long period of rising prices, urged calm.

"The latest decline takes us back to where we were 17 November," said Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at Bankrate.com, which tracks interest rates. "We've just given back some recent gains, not wiped out anyone's life savings."

 Source : BBC

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Fitch Downgrades HDFC Bank

Fitch Ratings has downgraded Housing Development Finance Corporation Bank of Sri Lanka's (HDFC Bank) National Long-Term Rating to 'BBB-(lka)' from 'BBB(lka)'. HDFC Bank's senior secured and senior unsecured debentures have also been downgraded to 'BBB-(lka)' from 'BBB(lka)'.

Releasing a statement Fitch said the one-notch downgrade reflects Fitch's assessment of the weakening of support from the Sri Lanka sovereign (B+/Stable) to HDFC Bank. This is after the state failed to provide capital to the bank in a timely manner for it to meet the minimum Rs. 5 billion regulatory capital requirement by January 1, 2018. However, “Fitch believes that it is still likely that the authorities would provide adequate support to meet the shortfall within an extended deadline” the release further added.

According to the assessment of the bank's standalone profile, Fitch said the Bank is weak compared with better-rated peers.

It also said that Fitch will downgrade the bank's rating if the sovereign does not raise HDFC Bank's capital as this would indicate that sovereign support cannot be relied upon. Should this occur, Fitch is likely to downgrade the bank to the 'BB' category on the National Rating scale; the extent of the downgrade would depend on whether the bank's intrinsic strength continues to weaken.

“Furthermore, Fitch may also downgrade HDFC Bank's ratings if there is a change in our expectation of state support due to a weakening of the bank's linkages with the state, through a dilution of the state's majority ownership or a revision of Fitch's view of the bank's policy role” it said.

However, it also went on to say that HDFC Bank's rating could be affirmed if the state were to provide the additional capital required in the next six months.

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Allianz buys Janashakthi Insurance for LKR 16.4 billion

Allianz, a global financial services leader, has announced that it has entered into an agreement with Janashakthi Insurance to acquire 100% of its subsidiary Janashakthi General Insurance (JGIL) for LKR 16.4 billion (US$106 million).

This acquisition makes Allianz Insurance Lanka one of the country’s largest general insurers, with a market share of approximately 20%.

This transaction also represents one of the largest investments into Sri Lanka, demonstrating Allianz’s confidence in the Sri Lankan market.

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Ikea founder Kamprad dies at 91

The Swedish founder of the Ikea furniture chain, Ingvar Kamprad, has died at the age of 91, the company has announced.

Mr Kamprad died at his home in Småland, Ikea confirmed in a statement.

The company said that Mr Kamprad was "one of the greatest entrepreneurs of the 20th century".

The Ikea founder had faced questions over his past links to the Nazis, which he referred to as the "greatest mistake" of his life.

 Source : BBC News

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AirAsia Offers Exclusive Deals to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

AirAsia this week announced a special deal of RS.12,699 for direct flights from Colombo to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The exclusive promotion is part of the airline’s efforts to further engage the local market ahead of its plans for 2018.

Travellers can discover the best of Malaysia with the iconic attractions and world-class shopping experience in Kuala Lumpur, a slice of paradise in coastal cities such as Langkawi and Terengganu, the charms of the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Penang, lush rainforests in East Malaysia, and more, with low fares for the booking period from now to 18 February 2018 on airasia.com or the AirAsia mobile app for immediate travel until 31 July 2018.

Spencer Lee, Head of Commercial for AirAsia Malaysia said, “Our focus in Sri Lanka remains on connecting locals to the world thanks to our extensive Fly-Thru network and low fares. Flying via Kuala Lumpur, Fly-Thru passengers will be within reach to the best Asia has to offer across Malaysia with must-visit destinations such as Penang, Langkawi, Kuching, and Kota Kinabalu among others. Guests will also be only hours away from many great adventures exploring several ASEAN countries, China, Japan, Maldives, Australia, and even the US.

“But the next phase for us is to offer an even seamless experience using technology and data. We want guests to enjoy products and services that are personalised, convenient, and most importantly, easily accessible with just a few clicks. Among them include our cashless transaction app, BigPay; in-flight Wi-Fi and free entertainment platform, ROKKI; duty-free marketplace, ROKKIshop.com; and many more. We look forward to growing further in Sri Lanka not only in terms of connectivity but digitally as well to cultivate an ecosystem of smart travelling,” he added.

AirAsia currently connects Sri Lanka directly to Malaysia with two times daily flights operating out of Colombo to the capital city of Kuala Lumpur.

Aside from the direct route, guests can also make use of the airline’s seamless Fly-Thru service that connects travellers to other flights with their baggage checked-through to the final destination without the hassle of immigration clearance at the transit hub in Kuala Lumpur. AirAsia offers a total of 41 routes across 14 countries in Asia, Australia, and the US.

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SriLankan Chief Ratwatte given marching orders

SriLankan Airlines CEO Suren Ratwatte was asked to step down following a Board meeting on Thursday. According to government officials, Manoj Gunawardena is tipped to be the hot favourite to take over from Ratawatte.

The move comes amidst plans to restructure the troubled national carrier, with its Chairman and Board of Directors expected to step down once the Government finalises the reform agenda.

When asked about the changes, a member of the Board said: “decisions on restructuring and changes in personnel need the approval of the ministerial committee under the Prime Minister which includes the line Minister.”

The appointment will be finalised during next week’s board meeting upon Company Chairman Ajit Dias’ return to the country.

SriLankan Airline employee unions had repeatedly called for Ratwatte’s removal from the post amidst claims that he was unable to keep the cash-strapped airline from taking a nosedive. The Unions were receptive to the possibility of Guwardene’s appointment.

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Sony names Kenichiro Yoshida as new chief

Sony has appointed Kenichiro Yoshida, the chief financial officer credited for executing the turnaround at the once-struggling Japanese electronics and entertainment group, as its new chief executive.

The promotion of 58-year-old Yoshida, which will take place in April, boosted Sony’s share price by 1.9 percent on Friday as investors cheered the selection of a chief executive who has proven willing to jettison Sony’s previously renowned consumer products to plug losses.

Kazuo Hirai, Sony’s current chief executive, will be handing over the role he has held for six years to become the group’s chairman after spending much of his tenure scaling down Sony that has resulted in the sale of its Vaio PC and battery businesses and decisions to split out as separate businesses its TV and Walkman divisions.

Under his watch, Sony also became a target of a massive cyber attack on its US movie studio in 2014, leading to a revamp of its management team. Thanks to these restructuring efforts, Sony’s fortunes have improved since Hirai took the helm in 2012, replacing Sir Howard Stringer. On Friday, the group confirmed it was heading for its most profitable year on record and raised its operating profit target for the second time in three months.

Source : The Financial Times

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Softlogic to raise Rs. 7 bn with foreign equity investments up to USD 35 mn

Softlogic Holdings PLC came to an agreement with Samena Ceylon Holdings Limited to raise private equity in order to restructure Company balance sheet and improve key capital ratios.

Samena Ceylon Holdings is a fully owned subsidiary of Samena Capital, a principal investment group focusing on the Subcontinent, Asia, Middle East and North Africa.

The firm has raised more than USD 1.5 billion of capital since 2008 and has returned USD 615 million to investors from over 45 full and partial exits. Samena Capital currently manages total capital of approximately USD 1 billion across three primary investment strategies: private equity, direct investments, and credit.

This will be Samena Capital first investment in Sri Lanka and its fourth investment in the Asian region within the past six months.

The private placement of 182.7 million ordinary shares at Rs. 17 per share raises Rs. 3.11 billion for Softlogic Holdings PLC to be utilized to settle short-term debt. Subsequently, Samena Capital will hold 19% of the Company.

A further issue of 230.81Mn shares by way of rights issue in the proportion of 24:100 at Rs. 17.00 per share will be made to raise Rs. 3.9 billion.

Softlogic Holdings PLC’s present stated capital stands at Rs. 5,089 million with 779 million shares in issue. Subsequent to the private placement and rights issue, the stated capital would rise to Rs. 12,119 million with 1,192.5 million shares.

Softlogic Holdings PLC has been investing in strategic CAPEX projects with a long term view.

This fund-raising exercise which raises over Rs. 7 billion will help the Company rectify the funding mismatch and, in turn, boost profitability with noticeable saving in finance costs when equity replacesdebt.

Ashok Pathirage – Chairman/ Managing Director of Softlogic Group, said, “Samena brings in a wealth of global business expertise and access to quality financing. With this equity infusion, Softlogic’s financial position will be strengthened, propelling strong bottom line and supporting medium term investments.”

Shirish Saraf, Founder & Vice Chairman of Samena Capital, said, “We are delighted about our first investment in Sri Lanka and to partner with Ashok Pathirage in Softlogic Holdings. We strongly believe Sri Lanka is one of the most exciting markets in the Samena region and our investment reflects our confidence in the Softlogic Group.

We see multiple growth drivers for each of the businesses and look forward to actively supporting the Softlogic team in their endeavour of building a truly world class enterprise.”

This fund-raising exercise is subject to regulatory approvals and shareholder approval at a General Meeting.

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