Stocks in India finally took a breather on Thursday after trading higher for three straight days. Investors in the Far East squared up positions ahead of the annual budget set to be released by Finance Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram on Friday morning. This will be the last full budget report Indian investors will see before the start of general elections in May 2009. An economic report released by the Indian government Thursday forecasted India's gross domestic product to grow at 8.7% -- slightly higher than the Reserve Bank of India's projection of 8.5%. The report highlighted the U.S. economic slowdown. "There are several challenges to inclusive growth-agriculture, infrastructure, education and skill development," said Chidambaram to local reports. "Keeping inflation under control in an uncertain global environment will be one of the major challenges in 2008-09." The Bombay Stock Exchange 30-share benchmark Sensex Index closed flat, down just 1.5 points at 17,824.48. Speculation of a land sale involving Tata Communications ( TCL) is making the rounds on Wall Street Thursday. Jay Somaney a RealMoney.com contributor said he is hearing from his sources that the government of India has approved an auction involving a land bank held by Tata. Shares of Tata Communications closed up 0.4% at $25.60. Technology firm Satyam ( SAY) is reported to be in talks for eight to nine domestic deals that range in size from $25 million to $50 million, according to The Financial Express. Satyam and Infosys ( INFY) are also reported to be vying for a large IT outsourcing deal with the Indian Railways, according to thehindubusinessline.com. Shares of Satyam fell 0.9% to $26.67, and Infosys fell 2.6% to $40.92. Leading the decliners among the Indian ADRs were ICICI Bank ( IBN), trading off by 3.3% to $53.88, information technology firm Wipro ( WIT), falling 2.9% to $11.94, and HDFC Bank ( HDB), dropping 2.6% to $113.28. Be sure to check out the Far East Portfolio at Stockpickr.com every night to find out which stocks in India and China are making big moves and announcing major news.
China's economic growth will cool off to 10.5% for the first quarter from 11.2% in the previous quarter, according to a report in the China Securities Journal. The slow down in growth was blamed on the recent crippling snowstorms, but many economists also feel the U.S. economic slowdown is contributing to global market weakness. The China Securities Journal also reported that consumer inflation is projected to hit 6.9% for the first quarter of 2008, up from 6.6% for the fourth quarter of 2007. The rise in inflation brought out some strong opinions from a leading economic think tank in the region. The State Information Center (SIC) issued a statement saying, "interest rate hikes aren't the proper way to address rising inflation because higher rates could have a negative impact on the stock market. Asian markets finished mixed Thursday with Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index advancing 0.4% to 24,591.69 and China's Shanghai Composite Index closing down 0.8% to 1,736.17. Shanghai-based online travel operator Ctrip.com ( CTRP) exploded 14% higher Wednesday after the company reported over 100% growth in net profits for the fourth quarter. The stock closed up $7.69 at $62.25 on over 3 times the average trading volume. Another Chinese Internet ADR earnings winner was online financial information provider China Finance Online ( JRJC). China Finance Online reported a 22% rise in fourth-quarter net revenue and guided 2008 net revenue to be in the range of $54 million to $64 million, vs. previous guidance of $50 million to $60 million. Shares of China Finance Online moved up $1.04, or 6%, to $18.05 in after-hours trading.