Hong Kong shares hit 2-week high; China slips on weak liquor makers

Thu Nov 22, 2012 5:04am GMT

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* HSI +0.7 pct, H-shares +0.8 pct, CSI300 -0.6 pct

* China property sector strong, finmin comments buoy reform hopes

* China Unicom up after plan to buy fixed assets from parent

* Wuliangye set for 6th daily loss, contamination fears escalate

By Clement Tan

HONG KONG, Nov 22 (Reuters) - Hong Kong shares climbed to their highest in two weeks on Thursday, helped by strength in Chinese property counters as investors cheered comments by the country's finance minister carried in official media about policy on the sector.

But gains were capped by a weak mainland Chinese market, hit again by a slump in the share prices of alcohol producers. Official investigations by Hunan provincial authorities substantiated earlier Chinese press reports about excessive toxic substances in Jiugui Liquor products.

China and Hong Kong markets, however, barely reacted to a preliminary survey of November manufacturing activity in China, which showed the country's vast manufacturing sector saw expansion accelerate in November for the first time in 13 months.

The Hang Seng Index was up 0.7 percent at 21,663.3 at midday, its highest intra-day level since Nov. 8. The China Enterprises Index of the top Chinese listings in Hong Kong rose 0.8 percent.

The CSI300 Index of the top Shanghai and Shenzhen listings crept down 0.6 percent, while the Shanghai Composite Index slipped 0.5 percent. Both trimmed gains after a strong intra-day reversal of losses on Wednesday.

"The question now is what Beijing is planning to do to ensure stability in the property market in the longer run. They have maxed out all the micromanaging-type of policies this year," said Lee Wee-Liat, head of Asia property research at BNP Paribas.

"I think the expectation in the market is for structural reforms to be gradually announced next year, leading to the phasing out of things like home price curbs. Comments today should feed this sentiment," Lee added.

Official media on Thursday quoted Finance Minister Xie Xuren as saying that the implementation of property taxes will be done gradually.

On Thursday, China Overseas Land & Investment jumped 2.4 percent, creeping back towards an all-time high set on Nov. 5. China Resources Land soared 3.7 percent to its highest in almost three years.

They are each set for their first annual gain in three years, now up 68 and 58 percent on the year.

In the mainland, China Vanke gained 0.6 percent, while Poly Real Estate edged up 0.2 percent.

But Evergrande bucked strength among its sector rivals on the day, declining 1.4 percent after the Hong Kong Economic Journal reported on Thursday that the southern China-focused developer cut prices by as much as 15 percent to meet full year sales targets.

China Unicom was up 2.9 percent after the country's second-largest mobile operator said on Wednesday it would pay 12.2 billion yuan ($2 billion) to its parent company for the fixed-line assets in 21 southern Chinese cities and provinces.

BOTTOMS UP NO MORE

Chinese alcohol makers listed in the mainland tumbled further after the official Xinhua news agency reported that Hunan provincial authorities found as much as 1.04 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg) of plasticisers in samples of Jiugui Liquor's products.

Plasticisers are additives that increase the fluidity of a material, but are also toxic chemicals that can cause damage to men's reproductive health and cause early female puberty when consumed over a long period.

This according to Xinhua, was more than three times above the health ministry's 0.3 mg/kg limit, but was within the 0.495-2.32 mg/kg range the China Alcoholic Drinks Association listed in a statement on Monday, adding that higher-end alcoholic drinks contain higher levels of plasticiser.

Jiugui's Shenzhen shares stayed suspended, as they have been since Monday, but major players in the Chinese white spirits, or baijiu, sector deepened a downward spiral on the month.

Wuliangye Yibin is set for a sixth-straight loss, diving 4.4 percent to its lowest since July 2010. It has now slumped 18.1 percent in November, set for its worst monthly showing in more than four years.

Bigger rival, Kweichow Moutai shed 1.7 percent but went into the midday break off the day's lows, which were also its lowest since April 11.

Moutai was up as much as 28 percent on the year at the end of October, losses of about 13 percent this month have seen this year's gains cut to just more than 11 percent.

Shares of baijiu makers have been on the backfoot since last month on worries over high inventory levels and fears that strong anti-corruption moves would sap demand for the expensive bottles often used as gifts to local government officials.

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