Indian shares hit record highs, post biggest gains

MUMBAI (REUTERS) - Indian shares surged to a record high and the rupee rallied to its strongest in 10 months on rising hopes that exit polls would show Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies winning a majority in the current elections.

A win for a BJP-led coalition is widely seen as setting the stage for a revival in confidence, investment and growth as Asia's third-largest economy steers through a rough patch. BJP and its National Democratic Alliance would need to win 273 seats in the 545-seat parliament to clinch the most seats in India's lower house, but analysts say even a number close to that would be seen as enough to lead to a stable government. India's NSE index has surged 17 per cent since Mr Narendra Modi became the BJP candidate on Sept 13, as the opposition party is perceived by markets as being more business friendly at a time when the economy is growing at its slowest pace in a decade. The optimism comes even as exit polls by media organisations - due to be released after 6:30pm India time once the last votes are cast - have proven unreliable in the past. Actual results for India's five-week long elections are out on Friday.

Mr UR Bhat, managing director, Dalton Capital Advisors, who advises foreign investors, says domestic-oriented shares could gain on expectations the BJP will be able to revive investments and spark a broader economic recovery.

"Infrastructure, engineering, cement, power and industrial stocks should gain if a Modi-led government comes to power,"said Mr Bhat. "One should take exit polls with a pinch of salt, but people will latch on to them as they are the only information available ahead of actual results. The broader NSE index gained as much as 1.7 per cent to a record high of 6,975.70 points, surpassing its previous record high of 6,871.35 points. Meanwhile, the rupee strengthened to as much as 59.51 per dollar, its strongest level since July 29, 2013 from its close of 60.02/03 on Friday. At these levels, the currency is up around 16 per cent from the record low of 68.85 hit in late August, when Indian markets were gripped by its worst market turmoil since the balance of payment crisis in 1991.

Domestic-oriented shares led the rally, with the NSE bank sub-index hitting a record high. ICICI Bank Ltd gained 2.2 per cent, while Larsen & Toubro was up 2 per cent. Infrastructure shares also gained, with Ambuja Cements up 1.8 per cent, while state-run power equipment maker Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd surged 2.1 per cent.