MUMBAI: The BSE benchmark Sensex closed by about 18 points down at 18,726.97 today, as investors sold market heavy-weights to invest in low-valued stocks ahead of upcoming quarter earnings.

Brokers said market was cautious ahead of the release of quarterly earnings by leading companies, fearing steep hike in interest rates to curb inflation might have curtailed their profits. They said investors were selling blue-chips to invest in low value stocks in midcap and small cap sectors.

The Bombay Stock Exchange’s key index, Sensex, which had lost 70 points yesterday, rolled down by another 17.59 points to 18,726.97 in a session marked by volatile trading. It had moved between 18,823.45 and 18,682.60 range during the day.

Bucking the trend, the BSE smallcap index gained 0.23 per cent to 8,357.65 and midcap index by 0.04 per cent to 6,961.51 points.

On the 30-scrip Sensex, the banking sector index suffered the most by losing 0.93 per cent to 12,915.38. Largest private lender ICICI Bank fell by 1.98 pc while largest lender SBI fell by 1.16 per cent.

However, the HDFC Bank, which will be the first Sensex company to report June quarter earnings on July 8, was firm with gains of 0.18 per cent.

However, recovery by the index leader Reliance Industries, which rose by Rs. 6.50 to Rs. 852.65 a share, saved the market from a major fall.

Further, gains by engineering major Larsen and Toubro that climbed to a week-high at Rs. 1,806.80 a share after announcing its target to double its orders from outside India, also checked the weakening trend.

Broad-based National Stock Exchange index Nifty fell by 6.65 points to 5,625.45, led by the decline in financial stocks.

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