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Asia, News

Indian stocks fall after country goes into lockdown

By Chandini Monnappa

BENGALURU, March 25 (Reuters) – Indian shares fell in choppy trading on Wednesday, a day after the country’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered a 21-day nation-wide lockdown to contain the rapid spread of the coronavirus.

The Indian finance minister said on Tuesday the government would soon announce a fiscal package to help the economy face the hit from the virus outbreak.

Both the NSE Nifty 50 index and the S&P BSE Sensex rose over a percent in early trade before giving up gains. The Nifty was last down 0.96% at 7,731.40 by 0420 GMT, while the Sensex was down 0.91% at 26,418.58

“We are seeing weakness because there is fear about the impact of the 21 day shutdown on the economy,” said Deepak Jasani, head of retail research at HDFC Securities Ltd.

“People will wait to buy for a few hours at least.”

Late on Tuesday, Modi asked India’s 1.3 billion people to not leave their homes for the next three weeks as health researchers warned the virus could infect more than a million people in the country by mid May.

The Sensex was down about 35% so far this year as of Wednesday morning, making it the worst performing Asian market.

India so far has reported nearly 500 cases of the virus and 10 deaths. Authorities across several countries are scrambling to keep people home and prevent the virus from spreading.

The pandemic threatens to worsen India’s already slow economic growth, languishing at multi-year lows due to a drop in consumption.

In Mumbai’s main stock indexes, financial shares were the worst hit, with the NSE Bank index slipping over 2%.

However, shares of Reliance Industries Ltd surged over 9%. A media report on Tuesday said Facebook Inc was in talks to buy a multi-billion dollar stake in the company’s telecom unit, Jio.

Gains in Reliance pushed the Nifty Energy index over 1% higher.

Rupee and bond markets in India were closed on Wednesday for a local holiday. (Reporting by Chandini Monnappa in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Savio Shetty in Mumbai; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta)


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