* SSEC -0.71 pct; CSI300 -0.87 pct
* Gains in Shanghai stocks led by Xining Special Steel Co Ltd and losses by Jiangsu Sunshine Co Ltd
* Dec exports unexpectedly fall most in 2 years
SHANGHAI, Jan 14 (Reuters) - China shares ended lower on Monday after weaker-than-expected monthly trade data spooked investors, reinforcing worries about an economic slowdown and lean global demand, but traders’ optimism around government moves to cut taxes curbed losses.
** At the close, the Shanghai Composite index was down 0.71 percent at 2,535.77. ** The blue-chip CSI300 index ended 0.87 percent lower, with its financial sector sub-index dropping 0.81 percent and the healthcare sub-index down 2.25 percent. ** China’s December exports unexpectedly fell the most in two years and imports contracted, official data showed on Monday, pointing to further weakening in the world’s second-largest economy and soft global demand. ** “Today’s data reflect an end to export front-loading and the start of payback effects, while the global slowdown could also weigh on China’s exports,” analysts at Nomura said in a note.
“(The) weaker export growth print also suggests that: 1) the recent strength of RMB might be short-lived; 2) Beijing will perhaps be more eager to strike a trade deal with the U.S.; and 3) That policymakers will need to take more aggressive measures to stabilise GDP growth,” the analysts said. ** The smaller Shenzhen index ended down 0.73 percent and the start-up board ChiNext Composite index was weaker by 1.233 percent. ** China’s automotive market contracted in 2018, the country’s top auto industry association said on Monday, marking the first time sales have hit reverse since the 1990s. Automakers fell, with Geely Automobile Holdings Ltd losing 2.7 percent. Warren Buffett-backed electric car maker BYD Co Ltd trimmed losses to end down 0.45 percent in Shenzhen as industry data showed strong growth of new-energy vehicle sales. ** Chinese banking shares dropped after the banking regulator said on Friday that commercial banks’ non-performing loan (NPL) ratio hit a 10-year high of 1.89 percent at the end of 2018 amid slowing economic growth. The CSI China mainland banks index ended 0.66 percent lower. ** China plans to reduce restrictions on foreign investment and address difficulties facing foreign companies investing in the country, the country’s commerce minister said on the weekend. The human resources ministry said it would roll out measures to maintain stable employment. ** China’s foreign exchange regulator said it would double the quota for the Qualified Foreign Institutional Investor (QFII) programme to meet demand from overseas investors. The inclusion of Chinese A-shares in global stock indexes could see foreign inflows into China’s stock market double in 2019, the vice chairman of the China Securities Regulatory Commission said. ** Premier Li Keqiang said China’s plans for tax cuts targeting smaller companies will help to support employment and economic stability, and will expand the country’s tax base over the long term. ** Around the region, MSCI’s Asia ex-Japan stock index was weaker by 1.04 percent, while Japan’s Nikkei index closed up 0.97 percent. ** At 0720 GMT, the yuan was quoted at 6.7687 per U.S. dollar, 0.03 percent weaker than the previous close of 6.7666. ** The largest percentage gainers in the main Shanghai Composite index were Xining Special Steel Co Ltd, which ended 10.14 percent firmer, followed by Yunnan Coal & Energy Co Ltd , which closed 10.1 percent higher and Ningxia Jiaze Renewables Corp Ltd, which ended up 10.09 percent. ** The largest percentage losses in the Shanghai index were Jiangsu Sunshine Co Ltd, which closed down 9.09 percent, followed by Sunny Loan Top Co Ltd, which ended 8.9 percent weaker and Changshu Fengfan Power Equipment Co Ltd, which closed 8.3 percent lower. (Reporting by Andrew Galbraith, Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips)