3 Min Read
* SSEC +0.1 pct, CSI300 -0.1 pct, HSI +0.6 pct
* Property shares sag after China steps up real estate restrictions
* Shenhua lead energy share surge in Hong Kong
SHANGHAI, March 20 (Reuters) - China stocks struggled for traction on Monday as fears of fresh property cooling measures and broader monetary policy tightening hit shares of developers.
The Beijing municipal government announced new steps to rein in its booming housing market after the market close on Friday.
Data on Saturday suggested the impact of earlier property cooling steps by many cities may have been short-lived. China's home prices picked up speed again in February after slowing in the previous four months, while sales have surged.
China's blue-chip CSI300 index dipped 0.1 percent by the lunch break to 3,441.09 points, while the Shanghai Composite Index gained 0.1 percent to 3,239.57.
An index tracking the property sector tumbled nearly 2 percent after more cities imposed fresh property restrictions over the weekend.
But Hong Kong stocks edged higher as energy shares jumped, led by a surge in China Shenhua Energy on the back of stellar profit growth.
Investors in China are being torn between recent data showing a resilient economy and fears that expected policy tightening, while gradual, will eventually lead to higher borrowing costs and stunt business activity.
Last week, China's' central bank raised short-term interest rates for the third time in as many months in the immediate wake of the U.S. rate hike.
Over the past week, a number of local governments have stepped up restrictions on property investment, and the central government vowed over the weekend to control bank lending to the property sector.
"The market is concerned about two things: whether the economic recovery is sustainable, and the reality of tighter liquidity," Galaxy Securities said in its latest strategy report.
The brokerage added that upbeat economic data offers "trading opportunities" for investors, but warned investors that the recovery may fade in the second half, when tighter liquidity will also add pressure to the market.
The view was echoed by Gao Ting, head of China strategy at UBS Securities, who wrote: "As improved economic fundamentals allow the PBOC more room to manoeuvre, we think monetary policy will remain in tightening mode for a longer period.
As tight liquidity usually has a negative impact on the stock market, we want to keep an eye on the PBOC's subsequent actions."
In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index rose 0.6 percent to 24,447.91, while the Hong Kong China Enterprises Index also gained 0.6 percent to 10,573.04.
Weakness in the real estate sector was offset by strength in energy shares, which jumped 1.7 percent.
China Shenhua Energy, one of the country's top coal miners, surged 16 percent to an 18-month high after it said its 2016 net profit rose 40.7 percent and and expected its first-quarter net profit to rise at least 50 percent.
Reporting by Samuel Shen and John Ruwitch; Editing by Kim Coghill