Mumbai: The BSE benchmark Sensex nosedived by 176 points on Wednesday on intense selling in banking and realty stocks, triggered by fears of a rate hike by the Reserve Bank on Thursday in its mid-quarterly policy review to tame inflation.

Shares of IT companies were also battered by investors after the release of recent weak economic data in the US amid the continuing sovereign debt crisis in Europe. The US and Europe are the two key markets for Indian IT companies.

Markers opened on a bad note and remained under pressure throughout the day. The 30-share Sensex closed the day down at 18,132.24, down 176.42 points or 0.96 per cent from last close.

The NSE 50-share Nifty also fell by 53.00 points or 0.96 per cent to settle at 5,447.50.

Brokers said there was intense profit-booking at current levels as investors were expecting a 25-basis point hike in key policy rates the RBI

"Weak opening in European markets further aided the fall during the afternoon session. Apprehensions regarding RBI’s monetary policy review led to the cautious stance by the market men on interest rate sensitive stocks," Bonanza Portfolio Senior Research analyst Shanu Goel said.

Realty major DLF was the biggest Sensex loser at 2.80 perr cent. Country's largest lender SBI lost 2.33 per cent and its private sector counterpart ICICI Bank 2.10 per cent.

Software exporters Wipro and Infosys declined 2.78 per cent and 1.38 per cent, respectively. Jaiprakash Associates, NTPC and Hindalco also lost over two per cent each.

"Even an increase in advance tax figures (YoY basis) by some of the heavyweights like TCS, Infosys, SBI and Reliance failed to cheer the market," Goel said.

Agencies