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Cautious investors look forward to Budget
February, 26th 2007
Decision on securities transaction, capital gains tax keenly awaited

Firm inflation trend, unwinding of February derivative contracts on the NSE and rising interest rates created havoc at the stock markets last week, with the BSE Sensex tumbling by about 770 points and the NSE's S&P CNX Nifty by 207 points. As mentioned last week in this column, inflation fears took the wind out of the sails of the market, which had been sailing smoothly thus far.

Politics take lead

The Budget has suddenly become a very crucial event for market participants and for many others who dismissed it as a `non-event' or said `no expectation' a couple of weeks back.

With politics taking a lead over the economy, apprehension has already set in investors' mind on whether the Budget will be political- or reform-oriented. In a move to check inflation, the Reserve Bank of India had asked non-banking financial institutions to furnish details of their large exposures to large borrowers; the Finance Minister has hinted that the Government may take fresh steps on the issue of futures trading on farm commodities based on inputs from Ministries concerned.

But these measures have raised serious doubts in the minds of investors as regards reform commitments. Besides, the Prime Minister Office's missive to the Industry Ministry on not responding to concerns raised by Congress President Ms Sonia Gandhi over MNC investment in retail and seeking a detailed study on the subject has also been viewed with some reservations.

Fears and hopes

Apprehension among investors is likely to persist in the coming week on whether the Government would hike short-term capital gains tax on sale of shares and securities transaction tax in the Budget. The CPI (M), which supports the Government from outside, has already asked the Government to tax profits earned from the stock market.

There were hopes that the Finance Minister may give a big impetus to agriculture and infrastructure and may not bother corporates much.

Amid such hopes, the stock market is likely to witness intra-day volatility and caution may be the keyword for investors on Dalal Street.

Besides the Budget, poll results in Punjab, Uttarakhand and Manipur are being awaited keenly; failure of the Congress in these elections, as predicted by various exit polls, would further push the political agenda.

Banks, metals to shine

The RBI's decision to pay graded interest on eligible CRR balances held above the minimum three per cent is likely to buoy sentiment in banking stocks. The strong rebound in LME prices may help metal stocks.

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