Indian shares closed lower on Friday, pressured by modest declines in index heavyweights Reliance Industries and ICICI Bank, while Hindustan Unilever gained on signs that coronavirus curbs could spur greater demand for daily-use consumer products.
Surging COVID-19 infections have threatened to disrupt a nascent economic recovery in India and its main stock indexes have retreated from February's all-time highs. Total cases in the country jumped by another daily record on Friday.
Still, analysts believe that the impact on the market may be limited as a nationwide shutdown of the kind seen last year is not expected.
The NSE Nifty 50 index closed 0.26% lower at 14,834.85, while the S&P BSE Sensex ended down 0.31% at 49,591.32. The indexes fell after three straight days of gains.
Reliance and ICICI Bank — each down more than 1% — were the biggest two drags on the Nifty 50.
Hindustan Unilever gained 2.7% and was the biggest boost to the Nifty 50. Tata Consumer rose 1.4%. Retailers are stocking up on supplies of consumer goods as some states imposed curfews to counter a rise in COVID-19 cases.
State-run lenders ended 2.1% higher. These stocks have gained 25% this year amid reports that some government-owned banks could be privatised.
Pharmaceutical stocks also jumped, closing 3% higher. The gains came amid expectations that Indian drugmakers could see higher sales of medicines used to treat COVID-19. Cadila Healthcare surged 9%.