* HSI +0.1 pct, H-shares -0.4 pct, CSI300 +0.3 pct
* China autos lifted by strong January sales data
* China shippers boosted by positive January trade data
* Chalco hit by BofA-ML downgrade
By Clement Tan
Feb 8 (Reuters) - China shares rose in choppy Friday trade ahead of the week-long Lunar New Year holiday, buoying slim Hong Kong gains, lifted by strength in the auto sector after strong January sales.
Shippers were boosted by China’s better-than-expected January trade. That, along with a surprisingly firm official yuan midpoint, suggests inflation data due later in the day, could come in higher than expected.
The CSI300 of the top Shanghai and Shenzhen A-share listings went into the midday break up 0.3 percent, the Shanghai Composite Index also rose 0.3 percent after posting its first loss in nine sessions on Thursday.
The Hang Seng Index was up 0.1 percent, but the China Enterprises Index of the top Chinese listings in Hong Kong was down 0.4 percent. Turnover in Hong Kong stayed weak, while Shanghai midday volume was the lowest in two weeks.
On the week, the Hang Seng Index is down more than 2 percent, while the China Enterprises Index is down almost 5 percent. The Shanghai Composite is up 0.3 percent, and the CSI300 up 0.9 percent.
Chinese markets are closed next week for the Lunar New Year holiday, while Hong Kong will resume trading on Thursday. Beijing is expected to post money supply and loan growth data anytime next week.
“Some investors seem to be positioning for strong data during the holiday week, but there’s also some bargain hunting in the Chinese property sector which suffered steep losses earlier this week,” said Jackson Wong, Tanrich Securities equity vice-president for equity sales in Hong Kong.
China Overseas Land rose 0.9 percent from Thursday’s three-month closing low in Hong Kong. China Resources Land climbed 1.2 percent, but it is still set for its worst week in 11 months, down 7 percent.
SAIC Motor jumped 6.1 percent in Shanghai after data showed China’s vehicle sales in January jumped 46.4 percent from a year earlier, the strongest pace of growth in almost three years largely due to a low base effect from last year.
Gains on Friday elevated SAIC shares to their highest since July 2011, while rival Changan Auto soared 7.7 percent in Shenzhen to a record high. Great Wall Motor climbed 1.7 percent in Hong Kong and 5.2 percent in Shanghai.
Chinese shippers rose after China’s January exports data trumped expectations. In Hong Kong, China Shipping Development climbed 2.2 percent, while China Cosco climbed 3.4 percent.
But shares of Aluminum Corporation of China (Chalco) in Hong Kong sank another 1.1 percent, hit on Friday by a downgrade by Bank of America-Merrill Lynch analysts from “neutral” to “underweight.”
Chalco had slid 2.8 percent on Thursday after the index manager said late on Wednesday that it would be replaced by Lenovo Group as a Hang Seng Index component from March 4.
China Minsheng Bank shares slid 2.4 percent in Hong Kong and 3.4 percent in Shanghai after the mid-sized lender received regulatory approval to issue 20 billion yuan ($3.21 billion) in six-year convertible bonds.
Minsheng shares in Shanghai are now down 5.3 percent this week, its worst weekly showing since November 2010. Its Hong Kong listing is now down 8.7 percent this week after coming off Monday’s record closing high.