Indian shares struggle in choppy trade as coronavirus cases cross 20 mln

BENGALURU, May 4 (Reuters) - Indian shares struggled to make headway on Tuesday as the country crossed the grim milestone of 20 million coronavirus cases, with losses in heavyweights Reliance and HDFC Bank limiting advances by most banks and metal stocks.

The NSE Nifty 50 index edged up 0.08% to 14,645.95 by 0459 GMT, while the benchmark S&P BSE Sensex was up 0.03% at 48,734.19. The Nifty midcap and smallcap indexes, however, gained more than 1% each.

India reported 357,229 new COVID-19 cases over the last 24 hours, taking the total tally to 20.28 million. The second wave of COVID-19 infections has overwhelmed the healthcare system and forced several states to enter lockdowns. Several states in the world’s second-most populous country have also run out of COVID-19 vaccines.

“Markets will likely remain choppy for some time because of the uncertainties around the pandemic. Investors will be waiting for clarity on the vaccine situation, plateauing of cases and whether we will see a central level lockdown again,” said Aishvarya Dadheech, fund manager at Ambit Asset Management.

“The ongoing corporate earnings season is encouraging so far, and management commentary is sanguine. If the number of cases plateaus soon, it won’t take much time for the economy to come back strongly.”

ICICI Bank, Kotak Mahindra Bank, State Bank of India and Bajaj Finance were among the top boosts to the Nifty 50, gaining 1.9%-2.8%.

The Nifty Bank index rose 1.3%, while the Nifty Metal index advanced 1.9% to a record high on strong metal prices.

Capping the gains, conglomerate Reliance Industries and top lender HDFC Bank fell about 1.5% each.

Tata Chemicals slid nearly 8% and L&T Technology Services slumped 8.6% after both companies reported weaker quarterly profit.

Nifty 50 component Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone climbed 2.4% ahead of its quarterly results.

Asian share markets were marginally higher as investors looked to signs of recovery from the pandemic as major economies around the world reopen. (Reporting by Chris Thomas in Bengaluru; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu)