Shares in India fell on Thursday as the nation’s month-long election began, breaking an eight-day winning streak with investors taking profits.

The Sensex in Mumbai dropped 3.3 per cent to 10,915, having breached the 11,000 mark for the first time since October on Wednesday, and producing its best run for 1½ years.

Reliance Industries led the market lower, dropping 5.5 per cent to Rs1,728.85 and ICICI dropped 3.9 per cent to Rs425.55.

Ranbaxy, the maker of generic drugs, lost 6.5 per cent to Rs187.2 after a local report said the company may report losses from its hedging strategy.

News of a slowdown in Chinese economic growth dampened buying appetite across the Asia-Pacific region with the FTSE Asia-Pacific index gaining 0.1 per cent to 168.04 by early evening in Tokyo.

Investors were encouraged by the outcome of the Federal Reserve’s Beige Book survey showing that the contraction in some of its 12 districts had slowed in March.

However, China’s 6.1 per cent growth in first-quarter GDP, its lowest level since quarterly data was first published in 1992, weakened sentiment in the market, though the figures were in line with expectations. The decline in the pace of growth was also smaller than that of the previous quarter.

Declines in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Tokyo markets were all less than 1 per cent.

The Hang Seng fell 0.6 per cent to 15,582.99, while the main sub index of mainland shares traded in Hong Kong lost 18 per cent to 9,141.23. Property developer Hang Lung lost 2.1 per cent to HK$20.95, and mainland financials declined. Construction Bank of China lost 1.3 per cent to HK$4.74 and Ping An, the insurer, dropped 3.5 per cent to HK$51.00.

China Eastern Airlines shares dropped 5.6 per cent to HK$1.34 following its Rmb15.3bn loss for 2008 as it lost money from its hedging strategy. Other airlines also declined, with China Southern falling 4.2 per cent to HK$1.83.

Orient Overseas, which leases shops and operates terminals, dropped 4.4 per cent to HK$24.85, after its first-quarter revenues dropped 31.2 per cent.

In Shanghai, shares dropped just 0.1 per cent to 2,534.134, but ended five-straight days of gains on the composite index. China Shenhua Energy led the market lower, with a 3.1 per cent decline to Rmb24.63.

In Tokyo, the Nikkei 225 gained 0.1 per cent to 8,755.26, while the broader Topix lost 0.4 per cent to 832.04. Individual company news drove the market in both directions.

NEC Electronics’ shares jumped 12.1 per cent to Y930 following news that it was considering merging its operations with unlisted Renesas Technology amid falling demand for semiconductors.

Aderans, the wigmaker, gained 10.6 per cent to Y1,045, after a local report said that Unison Capital was planning on launching a tender offer for the Japanese company.

Meanwhile, the financial sector was under pressure ahead of earnings from JPMorgan later on Thursday. Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group fell 3.1 per cent to Y505, Nomura dropped 2.5 per cent to Y582 and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group fell 1.8 per cent to Y2,930.

Shares on Thailand’s SET index dropped 0.2 per cent to 452.97, in its first day of trading this week due to national holidays, during which anti-government protests caused chaos in Bangkok and the government to call a state of emergency.

In Taiwan, the Taiex gained 2.1 per cent to 5,997.17, its highest level since September. Cathay Financial rallied 6.9 per cent to T$38

The S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.8 per cent to 3,775.70, while the Kospi in Seoul rose 0.3 per cent to 1,336.72.

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