Nifty ends higher on rate cut but logs sixth week of decline
Photo Credit: Reuters

India's Nifty blue-chip index closed slightly higher on Friday after wild swings late in the session, as the country's central bank slashed interest rates to counter the economic damage from a 21-day lockdown aimed at curbing the spread of coronavirus.

The NSE Nifty 50 index closed 0.2% higher at 8,660.25, while the S&P BSE Sensex finished the session 0.44% lower at 29,815.15.

Still, both indexes recorded their sixth straight week of declines amid historic sell-offs in global stock markets as the virus locked down several countries, raising fears of a deep recession.

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) joined several other central banks across the world in slashing interest rates. It cut the repo rate by 75 basis points to 4.40%, exceeding market expectations of a 50-basis-point cut.

Both the Nifty and Sensex, which rose over 4% in early trade, fell over 1% after the central bank announcement.

"The market is trying to find its feet after the RBI announcement," said Mayuresh Joshi, head of equity research at William O'Neil & Co in India.

"Markets are going to assess to what extent these measures are going to help and to what extent growth is impacted ... it is a very volatile time."

According to a Reuters poll, under a worst-case scenario, the economy was forecast to grow by a median 0.5% in April-June, with one economist predicting a 20% contraction. Still, only about a quarter of those who answered this additional "worst-case" question said the economy would shrink.

While the markets are still down, coordinated stimulus action from governments around the world has offered some respite.

On Thursday, the Indian government announced a $22.6 billion stimulus plan that provides direct cash transfers and food security measures to help the poor amidst a countrywide lockdown.

The number of coronavirus cases in India stood at 724 as of Friday, of which 17 people had died.

The rupee, which bounced a bit earlier in the day, was 0.34% weaker at 75.2675 against the dollar by 10:25 GMT.

The benchmark 10-year bond yield dropped as low as 5.98% in the immediate aftermath of the announcement before rising to 6.1411% by 10:25 GMT. It had closed at 6.22% on Thursday.

In Mumbai, the NSE Bank index, which had surged nearly 8% in the morning, trimmed gains as the RBI governor spoke. It finished the session 1.81% higher.

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