March 5, 2020 / 4:43 AM / 25 days ago

Indian shares inch higher, virus fears limit gains

March 5 (Reuters) - Indian shares edged up on Thursday, supported by a rise in Asian and U.S. markets, but worries over a spike in coronavirus cases in the country kept gains in check.

The NSE Nifty 50 index rose 0.25% to 11,276.3 by 0401 GMT, while the benchmark S&P BSE Sensex was up 0.26% at 38,505.2.

The markets closed lower on Wednesday as the total number of known coronavirus cases rose sharply, fuelling concerns that a rapid spread could further hit an already slowing economy.

“Markets will be volatile as virus fears persist, it is very difficult to say that the trend has changed right now,” said Siddharth Khemka, head of retail research at Motilal Oswal Securities.

Wall Street surged on Wednesday after former Vice President Joe Biden, considered less likely to raise taxes and impose new regulations than rival Bernie Sanders, rolled to victories on the biggest day of voting in the Democratic nomination campaign.

The U.S. House of Representatives also approved an $8.3 billion funding bill to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

India is pushing state-run banks to approve new loans amounting to 500-600 billion rupees ($6.8-$8.2 billion) by the end of March, two government sources told Reuters, in efforts to shore up a stuttering economy as the virus spreads.

Consumer goods company Hindustan Unilever Ltd was the top boost to the indexes, rising as much as 3.6% to a one-week high.

IT stocks also contributed, with Tata Consultancy Services Ltd up 1.4% and HCL Technologies Ltd rising 3%.

Large cap banks and energy firms were among the top drags. ICICI Bank Ltd fell 1.5%, while Reliance Industries Ltd slipped 0.8%. (Reporting by Chris Thomas in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila)

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