Indian equity benchmarks are expected to open higher on Thursday, following mixed cues from Asian peers and a weak finish at Wall Street overnight amid waning signs of progress in Russia-Ukraine peace talks. The bullish trends on SGX Nifty also indicated a gap-up opening for the domestic bourses, with SGX Nifty futures trading 34 points, or 0.19%, higher at 17,531 on the Singapore Stock Exchange at 8:05 AM.

"Hopes of de-escalation in the war have proved to be short-lived and the uncertainty associated with the war continues. From the market perspective, there are two positives which may support the market. One, the sharp decline in dollar index from above 99 to 97.7 is positive for equity markets globally. Two, FPIs turning buyers with a good buy figure of ₹1,357 crore along with DII buying will impart resilience to the market. Reports of large crude releases from US's strategic reserves may further soften crude prices. There is more room for financials to move up," says V K Vijayakumar, Chief Investment Strategist at Geojit Financial Services.

On Wednesday, the domestic benchmark indices ended higher for the third straight session, supported by buying across bank and realty space. Investors tracked progress in the Russian-Ukraine peace talks, while the ease in commodity prices, especially Brent crude, also boosted market sentiments. The BSE Sensex rallied 740 points, or 1.28%, to end higher at 58,684, and the 50-share Nifty closed at 17,488, up 163 points or 0.94%. The market witnessed broad-based buying with 21 of the top 30 shares on the BSE Sensex pack ending higher. The top performers were Bajaj Finserv, Mahindra & Mahindra, Bajaj Finance, Power Grid Corporation, and Maruti Suzuki India. Among sectors, realty and bank indices gained the most, while metal and energy were the biggest losers.

Stocks to focus

Axis Bank: The private lender has acquired the retail assets of Citi India after a month-long bidding process for a cash consideration of ₹12,325 crore ($1.6 billion). The acquisition deal will bring around three million new customers to the Indian lender's clientele over from the American banking major.

NTPC: Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC) has inked a joint venture agreement with NTPC Renewable Energy, a fully owned subsidiary of the NTPC, for renewable power projects in its command area.

Jain Irrigation Systems: The lenders to the crisis-hit company, led by State Bank of India, have completed restructuring of debt worth ₹3,878 crore.

Tata Steel: The steel major has announced plans to acquire ferro alloys producing assets of Odisha-based Stork Ferro and Mineral Industries for ₹155 crore in an all-cash deal.

Bharti Airtel: The telecom major has registered growth in its mobile subscribers on a month-on-month basis, while Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea saw drop in its user base, as per data released by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India on Wednesday.

Hero MotoCorp: The two-wheeler major has refuted the report of the IT Department finding ₹1,000 crore false expense claims, saying it is speculative.

Max Healthcare Institute: Private equity fund KKR will reportedly offload stake in Max Healthcare through a block deal on March 31. Kayak Investment, a KKR-affiliated entity, is expected to sell shares worth $500 million.

Britannia Industries: The country’s biggest cookie manufacturer is mulling to hike prices in wake of rising raw material costs.

Here are the key things investors should know before the market opens today:

Wall Street snaps 4-day gain

In the overnight trade, all three major U.S. stocks ended lower, snapping four sessions gaining streak, on waning signs of progress in Russia-Ukraine peace talks after Russian troops bombarded in Kyiv, a day after promising to scale down operations. Investors also remained concerned about boiling inflation which raises the risk of a more hawkish policy stance by the U.S. central bank.

Ending four-day gains, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 0.19%, the S&P 500 shed 0.63%, and the Nasdaq Composite ended 1.21% lower.

Asian markets mixed on Ukraine woes

Shares in the Asia-Pacific region witnessed mixed trading in opening, with regional heavyweights Japan, China and Hong Kong flashing in red. The market sentiments were dented by negative finish at Wall Street overnight and Russia's aggression against Ukraine.

Extending fall for the second session, Japan’s benchmark index Nikkei 225 fell 0.2%, while South Korea’s KOSPI climbed 0.6%.

Hong Kong's benchmark index, the Hang Seng, tumbled 0.75%, while the Straits Times Index in Singapore slipped 0.1%.

In mainland China, the Shenzhen Component and the Shanghai Composite dropped 0.6% and 0.1%, respectively, amid Covid-19 concerns.

Among others, Australia’s ASX 200 index gained 0.4%, Indonesia’s Jakarta Composite gained 0.5%, and Thailand’s SET Composite climbed 0.55%.

Oil prices fall as U.S. mulls massive reserves release

The price of Brent crude, the global benchmark, fell sharply by more than 5% on Thursday amid report that the Biden administration is considering releasing around 1 million barrels of oil per day from strategic reserves for several months. The move aimed to bring down oil prices that have skyrocketed following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

During the early trading hours on Thursday, the U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were down 5.4% at $101.94 a barrel, while the Brent oil futures tumbled 4.4% to $106.6 per barrel.

Meanwhile, petrol and diesel prices were again hiked by 80 paise a litre each on Thursday, taking the total increase in rates in the last ten days to ₹6.4 per litre.

FIIs, DIIs turn net buyers

The foreign institutional investors (FIIs) and domestic institutional investors (DIIs) emerged as net buyers in the Indian equity market on March 30. As per the exchange data, FIIs net purchased shares worth ₹1,357.47 crore, while DIIs net bought shares worth ₹ 1,216 crore.

Ind-Ra cuts India's FY23 GDP forecast to 7-7.2%

India Ratings, a part of Fitch group, has slashed India’s GDP growth forecast for FY23 to 7-7.2%, from 7.6% projected earlier, citing that the consumer sentiment is likely to witness a further dent due to the Russia-Ukraine conflict leading to rising commodity prices and consumer inflation.

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