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Bolt from the blue hits markets

Mumbai, Aug. 25: All hell broke loose in dealer rooms across stock brokerages in the city as news of the bomb blasts spread.

Everything was normal. It was the beginning of the week and dealers had taken to their desks and phones, reeling off stock quotes to investors and fund managers.

The sensex touched 4169.01 by 10 am, even as news of the ASI report on the disputed site in Ayodhya and the political shenanigans in Uttar Pradesh trickled in. But the stock markets have long claimed that they are immune to the political world.

It was around 1 pm and the sensex was at 4117.97. Arun Kejriwal of Kejriwal Research and Investment Services was just looking for the market to correct itself after the climb of over 1,000 points that the sensex undertook without any big let-up.

But even Kejriwal did not expect the day’s events to unfold like it did.

It came as a bolt from the blue. He got wind of the blast when a brother of one of the dealer’s phoned in around 1.10 pm to inform them of the blast in Zaveri Bazaar, the central hub of the bullion trade in the city. Kejriwal’s office in Opera House is close to the diamond trade hub in the city.

The information was not taken seriously till calls started pouring in of several explosions, including the blast near the Gateway of India.

The news and the rumours accompanying it spread like wildfire. The Gateway of India is in the vicinity of the Taj Mahal Hotel, the showpiece five-star hotel of the Tatas.

It made Kejriwal sit up. Remembering that he has a friend working in the Taj, he called him up around 1.15 pm.

The friend confirmed his worst fears and gave him a graphic account of how the roof of the taxi in which the bomb was planted soared higher than the Gateway of India, before dropping with a thud.

Kejriwal immediately decided to liquidate certain positions he held and so did investors and dealers in the office. He was among the lucky few.

Many others were caught on the wrong foot. Telephone lines were jammed immediately afterwards as the government tried to block one of the main channels spreading rumours. They simply could not phone in to exit from their positions.

A couple of kilometres away as the crow flies, The Oberoi Towers basement hall was full of optimism. UCO Bank chairman and managing director V.P. Shetty was showcasing his institution’s forthcoming public issue when a flurry of calls from newswire offices to correspondents sitting there changed sentiments dramatically.

Merchant bankers to the issue soon became wary of the blast tremors.

The stock markets, it may be recalled, have off late been bullish as several companies have unveiled healthy first-quarter numbers. Further, a good monsoon has also generated much optimism about India Inc’s performance in the coming months.

Consequently, share values of banks and other manufacturing sectors have considerably vaulted for the past couple of months.

But with news of the blasts coming in and stock markets crashing by over 100 points, a merchant banker who was deep in conversation with a senior official from the bank, wondered how the blasts could shake the market confidence that has been diligently built recently.

“We may see developed countries bringing travel advisories and foreign investments in stock markets getting hit,” Shetty said, echoing the sentiments of quite a few in the initial stages after the blasts.

However, not to be cowed down by this pessimistic view, the official from UCO Bank who had full confidence in the never-say-die attitude of a Mumbaikar said, while the city has been witness to such blasts before, it cannot change the bullish sentiment.

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