January 3, 2020 / 4:58 AM / 18 days ago

China, Hong Kong stocks give up gains as Middle East tensions flare

* SSEC -0.3%, CSI300 -0.4%, HSI -0.2%

* HK->Shanghai Connect daily quota used 3.5%, Shanghai->HK daily quota used 3.2%

* FTSE China A50 -0.7%

SHANGHAI, Jan 3(Reuters) - China and Hong Kong stocks turned negative on Friday, as investors worried about heightening geopolitical tensions in the Middle East after U.S. air strikes killed a top Iranian commander.

** The Hang Seng index fell 0.2% to 28,495.11, after climbing as much as 1.2% to a six-month high, while the Hong Kong China Enterprises Index lost 0.3% to 11,291.30.

** On the mainland, the CSI300 index dropped 0.4% to 4,135.46 at the end of the morning session, while the Shanghai Composite Index lost 0.3% to 3,076.01.

** Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, head of the elite Quds Force and top Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis were killed early on Friday in a U.S. air strike on their convoy at Baghdad airport, the Pentagon and Iran said.

** The tensions in the Middle East after the U.S. air strike was the main reason that knocked Hong Kong stocks off from a six-month high, Ample Finance Group analyst Alex Wong said.

** Investors flocked to gold for shelter, pushing the precious metal to a four-month high.

** Besides, market participants also tended to pocket gains after a recent rally, Wong added.

** The benchmark Hang Seng index had advanced 7% in the last month of 2019 amid signs of progress in Sino-U.S. trade talks.

** In China, worries over corporate earnings surfaced as companies began to publish annual estimates for 2019 and 2020, denting sentiment further for markets in the country.

** The world’s most valuable liquor maker Kweichow Moutai dropped 4% to a near four-month low, extending its sharp correction from Thursday, after the consumer giant forecast full-year profit below estimates.

** There could be other blue-chip companies whose earnings estimates might disappoint, China Fortune Securities’ analyst Yan Kaiwen said.

** Around the region, MSCI’s Asia ex-Japan stock index fell 0.09%.

** The yuan was quoted at 6.9678 per U.S. dollar, 0.05% weaker than the previous close of 6.9643.

** By 0402 GMT, China’s A-shares were trading at a premium of 26.45% over the Hong Kong-listed H-shares. (Reporting by Luoyan Liu and Brenda Goh; editing by Uttaresh.V)

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