India's Indian stocks retreated for the fourth day this week, led by lenders and carmakers. A gauge of volatility climbed to more than a four-month high.
The S&P BSE Sensex lost 0.7 per cent to 19,427.56 at the close in Mumbai, taking the weekly drop to 1.3 per cent. ICICI Bank and HDFC Bank were among the biggest losers on the index after the central bank said it is 'collecting information' on reports of money laundering by the lenders. The banks have said they are probing the report.
Tata Motors and Maruti Suzuki India declined on concern slowing sales will erode their profits.
India's non-food inflation eased last month even as the benchmark gauge accelerated from a three-year low, government data showed, sustaining scope for the Reserve Bank of India to reduce rates on March 19. The 30-day volatility in the Sensex was at 12.9, the highest since October 29, data shows.
"The market is at a critical juncture with conflicting signals leading to higher volatility," Jitendra Panda, head of broking at Capital First, said in a phone interview yesterday. "Core inflation has fallen, while overall inflation is still high. The bulls and bears are fighting a hard battle."
Fifteen of 16 economists forecast the central bank will cut the benchmark repurchase rate to 7.5 per cent from 7.75 per cent next week. Reserve Bank of India governor Duvvuri Subbarao last cut the repurchase rate by 25 basis points on January 29 and signalled lingering price pressures and risks such as a record current-account gap left limited space for further easing. ICICI Bank tumbled 3.9 per cent to Rs1,067, the most since February 28.
HDFC Bank slid 1.5 per cent to Rs639. Axis Bank lost 1 per cent to Rs1,339 its lowest closing price since December 21.
The three banks are running a nationwide 'money laundering racket', which has violated multiple rules including tax and banking regulations, news website Cobrapost reported on Thursday after a sting operation.
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