Mumbai: Indian stocks fell to a two-week low on concern an unprecedented levy on Cyprus's bank savings will throw Europe back into crisis, reducing demand for riskier assets.
A measure of volatility climbed to a four-month high.
The S&P BSE Sensex index slid 0.7 per cent to 19,293.2, the lowest close since March 6, with volumes 27 per cent less than the 30-day average. ICICI Bank, the nation's third-biggest lender by value, retreated to the lowest level this month. Coal India dropped to the lowest in more than a year.
Foreigners have bought a net $9.5 billion of local stocks this year, a record for the period, extending last year's $24.5 billion of inflows, data shows. The nation needs more than $75 billion of overseas capital this year and next to fund a record current-account deficit, finance minister P. Chidambaram said in a March 15 interview. About 4 per cent, or $6.8 billion, of foreign investment to India in the 12 years through December came through Cyprus, government data show.
"A potential escalation of the European debt problem may lead to a lull in foreign inflows as global investors turn risk averse," Nilesh Karani, assistant vice president of research at Magnum Equity Broking, said in an interview yesterday.
While Cyprus accounts for less than half a percent of the 17-nation euro economy, the concern is that the one-time tax on accounts could trigger bank runs across Europe. India has tax treaties with nations including Cyprus to eliminate duplicate levies on goods and capital. ICICI Bank fell 1.5 per cent to Rs1,051, the lowest price since February 28. Axis Bank lost 1.1 per cent to Rs1,325. Coal India lost 2.6 per cent to Rs302, the lowest close since December 30, 2011, after CNBC-TV18 reported March 15 the government plans to sell a 10 per cent stake in the company.
Copper producer Sterlite retreated 2.6 per cent to Rs96.
Tata Steel, the nation's top producer of the alloy, declined 1.5 per cent to Rs349. Reliance Industries, the owner of the world's largest refining complex, dropped 1.1 per cent to Rs834.
Chidambaram said the government may ease caps on foreign investment and called on the Reserve Bank of India to reduce interest rates, as he extends efforts to revive growth at a decade low. The review may herald a sweeping relaxation of the investment caps in two dozen industries, the nation's biggest opening to overseas companies since the 1990s.
"Many caps can be removed or certainly relaxed," and a review of the limits has begun, Chidambaram said. "We need to clear some of the cobwebs accumulated in India and go out and woo specific business houses."
The central bank is due to review funding costs tomorrow. RBI governor Duvvuri Subbarao last week signalled the budget deficit was less of an obstacle to rate cuts, despite inflation that is 'still high and stubborn'. Thirty of 35 economists are predicting a quarter-point reduction in the benchmark rate to 7.5 per cent. The rest expect no change.
The Sensex trades at 13.1 times projected 12-month profits, compared to 14.3 times on January 25, when the 30-stock measure climbed to a two-year high, data shows.