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Meltdown: 'Many Gujaratis went bankrupt'
Sheela Bhatt in Ahmedabad
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January 23, 2008

"Shocking, very shocking. Nobody predicted such a severe slide," said a woebegone Suresh Mehta, a small investor, while talking about the crash of Sensex.

A middle-aged man with heart ailment, he said he "can't take it any more." "Whatever I earned in the last two years, I have lost in the last four days. I will sit at home for six months. How depressing to see that people were selling Reliance Petroleum [Get Quote] even below Rs130. I had bought it at Rs 270. I can't do business like this."

Gujaratis, the community that boasts of the largest number of investors in the stock market, are witnessing extraordinary financial turmoil with many families going bankrupt overnight, literally.

In Ahmedabad and Mumbai, much family-talk veers around 'share prices.' A Gujarati broker, from Ghatkopar in suburban Mumbai, told, "In the last two-three days, a record number of people have gone bankrupt. All the investors' portfolios stand to lose a minimum 30 per cent."

Investors are speechless to see that the stocks that were not even available for more than Rs 500 are today available for Rs 400 and yet there are few buyers.

A stock broker in South Mumbai said he invested about Rs 30 lakh (Rs 3 million) in Reliance Industries [Get Quote] in the last three years. The last time, he bought RIL shares at the rate of Rs 3,200. "Right now, while talking to you, my shares are selling at Rs 2,327. I am doomed," he said, sitting in front of his trading terminal.

Another broker who is plays in the derivatives market said: "This is terrible (Bau kharab thayu). We were hopeful. I was far too positive. Actually, many of us discounted India's future in 2009 and 2010. But, today, we have learnt a lesson. No stock exchange or no market in India will remain unaffected by America."

He was angry and cursed two American financial majors who posted huge losses recently.

A top investor who is closely connected to one of the stock exchanges told, "The Indian market was over-heated. The fundamentals didn't justify the share prices. Anything in extreme is bad. I am going to seek withdrawal of my money in Reliance Power."

"As it happens in all such crises, FIIs have sold their stocks and have pocketed profits, while Indian mutual funds and investors are left with cheap stock. The government and the controller of stock exchanges are helpless because it's a free market," he added.

Nimesh Kampani, chairman, JM Financial [Get Quote], said: "I don't think there is any problem with the fundamentals; this is a technical fault due to American market."

However, most investors agree that the market meltdown was not because of some scam or a policy blunder. It is believed that the American markets affected the Asian market and Indian markets were caught in this storm.

Some analysts said that the bourses suffered because of a cash crisis faced by some big fish in the market. To some extent the market was facing a shortage of funds following the Future Capital and the Reliance Power IPOs, said Mehta.

When some brokers who were facing a cash crisis and could not meet margin calls on time as the pressure from stock exchanges began to rise and the bourses started off-loading shares held as security. Margin calls come about when bourses instruct brokers to pay margins when there is a huge fall in stock prices.

A jeweler turned stock-investor says: "We are astounded. When we (the country) have 9% growth, when Indian companies are still doing good businesses and promise robust dividends, why should I not be hopeful? Why should the American sub-prime crisis make me so vulnerable? I really do not understand. I have no idea what lies in the future."

Mehta, meanwhile, said: "On second thoughts, I feel we panicked. Indeed, we crashed in panic."

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