China shares slip, pull Hong Kong down from 16-month high

Thu Dec 13, 2012 2:25pm IST

* HSI -0.3, H-shares -0.2 pct

* CSI300 -1.1 pct, Shanghai Comp -1.0 pct

* CLP Holdings down after equity offering

* Foreign investors remain optimistic on China

* HSBC sees Shang Comp at 2,500 at end-2013

By Vikram Subhedar

HONG KONG, Dec 13 (Reuters) - Hong Kong shares retreated from a 16-month high on Thursday as concern over the U.S. "fiscal cliff" and a weak day on mainland markets triggered profit-taking after the recent rally.

The Hang Seng Index eased 0.3 percent to 22,445.6. The China Enterprises index of top locally listed mainland firms fell 0.2 percent but extended its outperformance over China's domestic indexes.

On the mainland, the CSI300 fell 1.1 percent while the Shanghai Composite closed down 1.0 percent with large-cap energy and banking shares the biggest drags.

Utilities were weak in Hong Kong, led by a 3.6 percent drop for CLP Holdings after it raised $982 million in new shares to fund expansion. Power Assets fell 1.4 percent while China Resources Power dropped 4.2 percent and was the day's worst performing Hang Seng component.

Corporates and investors have taken advantage of the recent rally in Hong Kong to sell shares in the open market.

Shares of property firm Kaisa Holdings fell 5.8 percent after private equity firm Carlyle Group said it was selling up to $67 million of stock in the company.

A combination of global central bank easing and steadily improving Chinese economic data has spurred revived interest among foreign investors, causing money to flow back into Hong Kong.

The territory's monetary authority intervened in the currency market again on Wednesday to defend the Hong Kong dollar's peg which has come under pressure because of the inflows.

WORRY OVER CLIFF DAMAGE

In the U.S., Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke pledged to keep interest rates low till the unemployment rate drops to 6.5 percent and extended the central bank's asset purchase programme, but reiterated that monetary policy won't be enough to offset damage from going over the "fiscal cliff".

In Hong Kong, investors are still fretting about the U.S. political stand-off.

"If there's some bad news about the fiscal cliff, then yes, you will probably see a pull back," said David Gaud, a senior portfolio manager at Edmond de Rothschild Asset Management in Hong Kong, referring to the Hang Seng.

But he added that China is looking increasingly attractive.

"The earnings momentum is probably strengthening and for the first time in nearly two years in China we may start to get some positive surprises," said Gaud.

On the mainland, investors locked in some profits after China's indexes hit one-month highs earlier this week.

ICBC fell 1.3 percent and was the biggest drag on the CSI300 followed by a 0.6 percent slide for Petrochina .

Kweichow Moutai shares, which rebounded earlier this week, following a contamination scare eased 2.9 percent.

China's domestic markets are poised for their third straight annual loss this year although there is increasing bullishness about the market's prospects next year.

HSBC maintained its "overweight" view on China but cut its rating on Hong Kong to "underweight" from "neutral", citing valuations.

"The most obvious value market in Asia is China," said Herald van der Linde, head of equity strategy, Asia-Pacific at HSBC. At 9.7 times forward price-to-earnings, China is Asia's second-cheapest market after Korea, according to the broker.

HSBC is forecasting that the Shanghai Composite will be at 2,500 at the end of 2013, a rise of 21 percent from where it ended on Thursday.