March 17, 2020 / 5:42 AM / 16 days ago

China stocks largely unchanged after four days in red, virus fears persist

* SSEC, CSI300 swing in and out of negative territory

* Virus spread slows in China but imported cases rise

* Market steadies after tanking on dismal data on Monday

HONG KONG, March 17 (Reuters) - The Chinese stock market was flat on Tuesday after falling for four straight sessions, as fewer local headlines on the coronavirus kept investors on the lookout for firmer cues from global markets and policy efforts.

** At the midday break, the Shanghai Composite index was flat at 2,790 points. The blue-chip CSI300 index was also largely unchanged, having touched its lowest level since August 2019 in the morning session.

** “There’s not a lot of news coming out of the mainland. U.S. stocks have been volatile. Although we are not as affected by the epidemic right now, the market’s atmosphere is still one of caution,” said Steven Leung, executive director for institutional sales at brokerage UOB Kay Hian.

** The Shanghai market dropped 4.8% last week as the coronavirus spread rapidly beyond China, and lost over 3% on Monday after China’s dismal factory production data underscored the impact of the pandemic on the country.

** CSI300’s financial sector sub-index gained 0.5%, the consumer staples sector fell 1.3%, the real estate index lost 0.8% and the healthcare sub-index edged down 0.1%. ** Chinese H-shares listed in Hong Kong rose 0.1% while the Hang Seng Index climbed 1.1% to 23,306.48. ** The smaller Shenzhen index added 0.1% and the start-up board ChiNext Composite index gained almost 1%.

** China, where local transmission of the disease has slowed, reported another rise in confirmed virus cases as infections from abroad continued to push up the overall infection count. ** China’s economy will return to normal in the second quarter as government support measures to mitigate the impact of the pandemic take effect, the state planner said on Tuesday.

** But Chinese A-shares have remained relatively calm compared with global markets. On Wall Street, trading halted again overnight as shares dropped on virus fears.

** “In China, before we have any major economic policy support, nobody wants to do anything. People will also be less inclined to take action until U.S. stocks steady. Global investors will generally want to reduce equity exposure in their portfolios,” Leung added.

** Around the region, MSCI’s Asia ex-Japan stock index was up 0.1%, while Japan’s Nikkei index was down 0.8%.

Reporting by Noah Sin; Editing by Devika Syamnath

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