India's Nifty ends below 18,000 as Bajaj Finance weighs

A man walks past the Bombay Stock Exchange building in Mumbai

BENGALURU (Reuters) -India's bluechip Nifty 50 index ended below the 18,000 mark for the first time in nearly two weeks on Thursday as Bajaj Finance's disappointing quarterly update sparked a selloff in the high-flying financials sector.

The Nifty 50 index finished 0.28% lower at 17,992.15, closing under the key 18,000-mark for the first time since Dec. 23. The S&P BSE Sensex fell 0.50% to 60,353.27.

Bajaj Finance tumbled 7.17% after reporting moderate growth in new loans and assets under management for the third quarter.

That dragged the heavyweight financials sector down 1.18%, marking its steepest fall in about two weeks. The index has outpaced the broader markets' growth for much of last year and was among the best-performing of the 13 major sectors.

"Since the largest financials firm (Bajaj Finance) is pointing at subdued growth, it has had a ripple effect on other financials," said Siddhartha Khemka, head of retailed research at Motilal Oswal Financial Services.

Khemka also said there was caution across segments in the market ahead of the earnings season, which kicks off next week with IT companies' quarterly results.

However, the losses were not broad-based, with eight of the 13 main sectors ending higher and 33 of the Nifty 50 finishing in the green.

The Nifty 50 has mostly traded between its 50-day and 100-day moving averages – separated by about 400 points – for 10 straight sessions.

Analysts expect this "sideways" move to continue, with 'buy-on-dip' trades at lower levels and 'profit-booking' at higher levels.

The market opened higher after the minutes of the Federal Reserve's meeting showed policymakers agreed on slowing the pace of interest rate hikes, although they diverted from market expectations for late-year rate cuts.

Helping cap losses was the near 9.5% slide in oil prices in the past two sessions. Lower crude prices aid oil-importing countries like India, where crude constitutes the bulk of the country's import bill. [O/R]

(Reporting by Bharath Rajeswaran in Bengaluru; Editing by Savio D'Souza)