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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 January 2008, 10:05 GMT
Indian investors despair as shares fall
Karishma Vaswani
By Karishma Vaswani
Business correspondent, BBC News, Mumbai

Stockbrokers in Mumbai
Some investors regret getting involved

Investors in India are calling it a market meltdown. The drastic fall in the value of Indian shares took investors here by surprise.

Many gathered outside the Bombay Stock Exchange, gazing up at the screens flashing market numbers in stunned silence.

No one had expected the impact from falls in regional markets to be so pronounced in India.

"It doesn't make sense for markets to fall so much," one investor said as he looked up at the flashing red arrows.

"We are the worst affected out of all the regional markets, but we were performing the best before this. It just doesn't make sense.

"I've lost a lot of money today and I don't know what to do next."

Tempting fate

If there was an overwhelming sentiment at the Bombay Stock Exchange on Tuesday, it was this: utter confusion.

I thought this was somewhere I could put my money safely and grow it, rather than putting in the bank like my dad did
Gauravi Sharma, a first-time investor

Millions of retail investors have put their life savings in these markets, hoping to make a pretty profit.

A small group of traders demonstrated outside the exchange, blaming Indian financial authorities for not having done more to protect small investors.

Some were even targeting the new statue of a bull placed outside the Exchange - saying it was inauspicious.

"Ever since the authorities here put the bull up outside the exchange, we've had bad luck," said Kaushik Vyas, a day trader in Mumbai.

"The gods are punishing us for our arrogance . We put up a bull and no bear? Did we think we could tempt the fates like this? We have to bring the bull down."

Historic moment

A sign marks the Sensex hitting 20,000 points
Last year the Sensex topped 20,000 points

Police were brought in to calm protesters, many whom were irate about the amount of money they had lost in the Indian markets.

But there are some who say it could have been much worse, if financial authorities had not stepped in when they did.

Financial regulators had halted trading in Indian shares at the very start of trade on Tuesday, when shares on the Bombay Stock Exchange fell by almost 10%.

It is the fourth time in the history of the stock market that shares have been suspended.

Strong fundamentals

When markets reopened, there was some recovery in the value of shares, but activity was still very volatile.

Analysts say that India's stock market is still fundamentally intact.

"The Indian market will continue to be one of the best-performing in the world," says William Norbega, president of the Conrad Group, which advises institutional capital worth $2bn where to put their funds.

"What we've seen today is a healthy and much needed correction. Valuations in Indian shares were getting really high.

"Now you'll see lots of institutions come in, private equity funds come in, to buy shares in the Indian market. The economic fundamentals in India and companies here are very strong."

Error of judgement?

That offers little consolation to small investors who had put away money in equity markets here, thinking they had found a safe place for their investments.

"I thought this was somewhere I could put my money safely and grow it, rather than putting in the bank like my dad did," said Gauravi Sharma, a first-time investor.

"My parents had never invested in Indian shares, they said it was unsafe. But I thought, after everything I heard on TV and in the news, that this was the right place to put my money. Now I'm not so sure."

Indian investors have just learned a harsh lesson. No matter how quickly a market goes up, it can fall just as suddenly too.

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