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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 May 2006, 13:27 GMT 14:27 UK
India's fast buck era looks over

By Sanjeev Srivastava
BBC News, Delhi

Indian investors have been urged not to panic

It looks as if the golden era of fantastic profits on the Indian stock markets has drawn to a close.

An uninterrupted run of profit since the last week of May 2004 led many investors to believe the party would go on for ever. And it almost did.

Money-making never looked so easy as the Indian stock markets nearly trebled in two years.

From a low of about 4,500 points on the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) index in May 2004, the markets embarked on an upward spiral and the BSE index was trading at a giddying 12,800 points earlier this month.

Economic powerhouse

Everybody and his uncle made money as the India story caught the fancy of both international and domestic investors.

The world began to take notice and even started to believe in the potential of India as an emerging economic powerhouse of the 21st century.

Indian finance minister Palaniappan Chidambaram
My advice for retail investors is to stay invested, because the economic fundamentals are still strong
Finance Minister P Chidambaram

Indian companies offered good growth potential. Foreign investors alone put in more than a record $10.5bn last year and mutual funds gave returns of up to 200%.

As more and more money started to come into the stock markets, optimism soon turned into euphoria.

Words of warning were dismissed as over-cautious advice from those who had either missed the gravy train or simply did not have the stomach for an exciting but volatile ride.

In the last few months, investors were further lulled into a feeling of a invincibility as the BSE index started to make gains by about 1,000 points virtually every other week.

And whenever there was a fall in stock prices, it was almost always extremely short lived. The markets rebounded with added vigour in a matter of a few trading sessions.

So when the markets began to crack last week the initial reaction of a majority of investors was that it was just another of the many "corrections" seen in this otherwise one-way market.

Only this time the "corrections" continued to deepen. By Monday - when the markets crashed by over 1,100 points leading to a temporary suspension of trading - there was blood on the street.

Traders on Bombay stock exchange
The market is subject to domestic and international pressures

The scenario was even more messy in several individual stocks, which lost nearly half of their value.

But it was a complete massacre for those market speculators and traders who use the forward and options system in the Indian bourses to bolster their positions by speculating which way the market would move.

There was such panic in the markets that the Indian Finance Minister, P Chidambaram, was forced to hold an impromptu press briefing.

He talked up the market by saying that investors need not fear a meltdown in stock prices, as the long term Indian economic and growth story remained unchanged and looked solid.

The Central Bank stepped in to allay fears of a liquidity crunch, and the market regulator - the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) - made soothing noises, pointing out that all systems were in place and that the stock exchanges were in perfect shape to deal with any situation.

The end result is that the market is showing signs of limping back to some kind of a recovery.

'More volatility'

However, the events of the last week have left the Indian investor much poorer, with confidence at a new low. The question is whether the worst is over, or whether the BSE index is still heading downwards after a short term recovery in stock prices.

According to Sushil Choksey, stock analyst with Rosy Blue Securities in Mumbai (Bombay), it is important to understand the reasons behind the crash and find an answer to the problems confronting Indian investors.

He argues that what happened in India was due to a combination of domestic developments and events on world markets.

"It was largely the result of what is happening the world over," he said.

Traders on Bombay stock exchange
Bombay traders have had an up and down time this year

"Emerging markets across the world cracked and so did India. There are concerns about oil prices, dollar stability and valuation, fears of an interest rate hike and the US economy slowing down."

According to Nimesh Kampani, India chairman of JM Morgan Stanley, it is now time for investors to take stock of their portfolio and remain calm.

"Stability has come in to the markets now although a little more volatility cannot be ruled out," he said.

"Investors should not panic... they should hold on to what they have and wait for an appropriate time to make their decision," he said.

A sense of stability has now returned, and in the long term, the Indian markets still look healthy.

For a long term investor who is prepared to wait between three and five years, investment in equity remains a safe bet for a steady income.

But is still seems as though the party is over - at least in the short term - for those who invested in the Indian markets hoping to make big sums overnight.


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