* HSI +0.6 pct, H-shares +1 pct, CSI300 +0.2 pct
* China export data beats consensus, beta plays soar
* New World jumps ahead of HK housing secretary address
* China airlines lifted by Citi upgrade
By Clement Tan
HONG KONG, Jan 10 Hong Kong shares posted their best day in a week on Thursday, with Aluminum Corporation of China leading gains among growth-sensitive counters after data showing a far stronger than expected trade performance by China in December.
Markets in the mainland also rose, but A-share gains were more cautious ahead of more data on Friday that is expected to show inflation hit a 7-month high of 2.3 percent in December. While there have been widespread calls for the People's Bank of China to loosen monetary conditions the central bank has shied away from forceful policy easing due to concern over any spike in inflation.
The Hang Seng Index ended up 0.6 percent at 23,354.3, its best day since Jan. 2, though after running into resistance it failed to close above a 19-month high set last Thursday.
The China Enterprises Index of the top Chinese listings in Hong Kong finished up 1 percent, outshining the 0.2 percent rise on the CSI300 of the top Shanghai and Shenzhen A-shares and the 0.4 percent gain on the Shanghai Composite Index.
"The China trade data was an obvious trigger for gains today, which are still driven by fresh buying," said Jackson Wong, Tanrich Securities' vice-president for equity sales.
China's export growth rebounded sharply in December to notch a seven-month high, but the spike may not herald an enduring recovery for an economy that had slowed for seven quarters as global demand remains subdued.
The murky trade outlook contrasts with data that showed resilient local loan demand, which supported hopes that the world's second-largest economy rebounded towards 8 percent in the final quarter of 2012 on firming domestic demand and as the nation undertook a once-in-a-decade leadership change.
Still, growth-sensitive sectors saw the bigger percentage gains in Hong Kong, with Aluminum Corporation of China (Chalco) soaring 6.5 percent to a 10-month high in more than four times its 30-day average volume.
In Shanghai, shares of Baoshan Iron & Steel (Baosteel) rose 1.2 percent after China's largest listed steel maker posted a 40 percent rise in 2012 net profit to 10.3 billion yuan.
Chinese shippers were also buoyed by the export data. China Cosco Holdings jumped 7.3 percent to its highest close in nine months in Hong Kong and 2.5 percent in its best day in a month in Shanghai.
CITI UPGRADE BUOYS CHINA AIRLINE GAINS
Chinese airlines were also buoyed by a Citi upgrade of the sector's Hong Kong listings, based on an expected improvement in earnings as domestic air traffic continued to recover in December, and some recovery on routes to and from Japan after passenger numbers plunged following the Diaoyu island dispute between China and Japan.
Air China climbed 5.8 percent after Citi added the stock to its Pan Asia focus list and raised its target price by 28 percent. Its Shanghai listing rose 1.8 percent.
Citi expects the industry leader to benefit from a recovery in domestic traffic, especially in the Beijing market.
China Eastern Airlines soared 8.2 percent after Citi analysts upgraded their rating from "neutral" to "buy" and raised their target price for its Hong Kong listing by 36 percent.
They expect CEA to be the largest beneficiary if the Japan market recovers. Its Shanghai listing climbed 3.5 percent.
Hong Kong property developer New World Development spiked 5.4 percent ahead of an expected press conference by the Chinese territory's housing secretary later on Thursday, where he may talk about land supply.
Ping An Insurance was again weaker on Thursday, down 1.4 percent in Hong Kong and 0.2 percent in Shanghai after China's insurance regulator said it was seeking more information about HSBC's attempted stake sale to Thailand's CP Group.
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