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By Anjana Pasricha
New Delhi
15 September 2008

Indian stock markets have plunged sharply as worries about the global financial systems rock the world. Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, the Indian market was among the hardest hit in Asia.  

An onlooker reacts as he watches stock prices on a screen on the facade of the Bombay Stock Exchange in Mumbai, India, 15 Sep 2008<br />
An onlooker reacts as he watches stock prices on a screen on the facade of the Bombay Stock Exchange in Mumbai, India, 15 Sep 2008
The Mumbai Stock Index, the Sensex, tumbled soon after trading opened, but recovered somewhat by the end of the day The Sensex closed at 13,531, 469 points lower, a loss of about 3.5 percent.

The trigger for the falling markets in India, as elsewhere, was the financial turmoil gripping international investment firms in the United States. Lehman Brothers is filing for bankruptcy and Bank of America has announced it will acquire Merrill Lynch.

Analysts say fears are growing the financial turbulence could spread to Asia. Vice chairman at Indian domestic rating agency ICRA, P.K. Choudhury, says there is a lot of apprehension among investors. 

"There is a feeling that what we are seeing is the proverbial tip of the iceberg, so one does not know what are the things which are going to come out," said Choudhury.

Monday's losses were the latest to hit a market that has been battered since the start of the year. The Mumbai stock index has lost more than 30 percent of its value since it traded at a peak of more than 21,000 points in January.

Analysts cite several reasons for the downturn in the Indian stock market.

The high economic growth witnessed in recent years is expected to slow, inflation has been running at more than 12 percent, and the Central Bank has raised interest rates, dampening consumer demand. That has led to fears that Indian companies will post lower profits this year. 

Foreign investors, who had helped drive the market up in recent years, have pulled nearly $8 billion out of the market as they sell off riskier assets all over the world.

Choudhury of ICRA says investors are likely to be cautious for some time. 

"All over the world, there is a lot of uncertainty, a lot of apprehension that economic growth, development, demand are not likely to go up substantially," added Choudhury. "So the bearish tendency we are seeing now is getting aggravated in the process."

The Indian economy, which is among the world's fastest growing, has been expanding at more than eight percent for the past three years.

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