MUMBAI The BSE Sensex ended flat after sluggish trading on Wednesday as mortgage lender HDFC Ltd (HDFC.NS) gained on expectations a cut in its prime lending rate would lead to higher loan growth, while NTPC Ltd (NTPC.NS) slipped ahead of a stake sale.
Shares touched a more than four-week low, having steadily lost ground ever since the central bank last week reduced expectations about future rate cuts with a cautious statement on future monetary policy.
In the near-term, investors are focused on upcoming stake sales in state-run companies, including around 120 billion worth of shares in state power utility NTPC on Thursday.
Earnings are also in focus, with ACC Ltd (ACC.NS) and Ambuja Cements Ltd (ABUJ.NS) results due on Thursday, while Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd (MAHM.NS), Sun Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd (SUN.NS) and Hindalco Industries Ltd (HALC.NS) will report earnings on Friday.
The key event remains the federal budget, to be unveiled later this month, which will provide a key test to a government that has been pushing fiscal reforms but is also facing general elections by 2014.
"Some profit-booking might continue as the finance minister has a Hobson's choice: while he has to set the economy right, he has to also ensure that the budget is a bit populist in the light of pending elections," said Paras Adenwala, Managing Director & Principal Portfolio Manager, Capital Portfolio Advisors
The BSE index fell 0.1 percent, or 20.10 points, to end at 19,639.72, marking its lowest close since January 1.
The broader NSE index rose 0.04 percent, or 2.30 points, to end at 5,959.20.
NTPC fell 2.35 percent ahead of Thursday's share sale. Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL.NS) fell 4.5 percent on worries the government's planned stake sale will have to be at a discount to attract interest as there are concerns about the company's earnings outlook.
The floor price for NTPC's share sale has been set at 145 rupees, or a 4.5 percent discount to the share's Wednesday close.
ICICI Bank Ltd (ICBK.NS) shares fell 0.9 percent, while HDFC Bank Ltd (HDBK.NS) ended 0.7 percent lower, posting their fourth fall in five sessions on continued profit taking.
Shares in HDFC Ltd rose 1.3 percent a day after the mortgage lender cut its prime lending rate by 10 basis points starting Wednesday, which could boost loan growth despite the hit to margins.
Jubilant Foodworks Ltd (JUBI.NS) rose 9.1 percent after Deutsche Bank upgraded its rating on the company to "buy" from "hold", saying the recent underperformance of shares did not properly factor in the fast food chain operator's ability to sustain "strong" earnings growth.
Shares of private sector Indian power producers gained on media reports the cabinet has given preliminary approval to price coal by averaging prices of domestic and imported coal.
The measures are intended to bring down coal prices, but details still need to be fleshed out, according to the reports, including from The Economic Times.
Lanco Infratech Ltd (LAIN.NS) shares rose 3.6 percent while Adani Power Ltd (ADAN.NS) rose 0.35 percent.
(Additional reporting by Abhishek Vishnoi; Editing by Anupama Dwivedi)