March 5, 2020 / 5:07 AM / in a month

China stocks hit near 2-week high amid fewer virus cases, policy support hopes

* SSEC +1.4%, CSI300 +1.6%, HSI +1.2%, HSCE +1.1%

* Broadly fewer new cases in China, though Wuhan tally rises

* Policy easing expected to cushion economic fallout

HONG KONG/SHANGHAI, March 5 (Reuters) - Shares in China hit a near two-week high on Thursday, as fewer new coronavirus cases were recorded outside of the epicentre Wuhan, while hopes that Beijing will carry on lowering financing costs for businesses hurt by the epidemic also aided sentiment.

** The Shanghai Composite index climbed 1.4% to 3,053.91 and the blue-chip CSI300 index gained 1.6%. Both indexes hit their highest level since Feb. 21 during the session.

** CSI300’s financial sector sub-index gained 1.9%, the consumer staples sector rallied 3.5%, the real estate index fell 0.1% and the healthcare sub-index rose 2.5%. ** Chinese H-shares listed in Hong Kong rose 1.1%, while the Hang Seng Index was up 1.2% at 26,529.35. ** The smaller Shenzhen index gained 1.1% and the start-up board ChiNext Composite index was higher by 1%. ** Mainland China has seen a broad trend that has seen numbers of new cases fall from mid-February. While cases rose to 139 on Wednesday, most of the new infections were from Wuhan. In the rest of mainland China, there were only five new cases.

** Markets widely believe the authorities will continue to move to lower financing costs for business and roll out powerful measures prop up the economy despite the central bank holding a short-term interest rate this week. ** The widening economic fallout of the virus has prompted policymakers around the world to step up monetary support, including an emergency 50 basis points interest rate cut by the U.S. Federal Reserve.

** While China’s monetary policy is relatively independent, loose external liquidity conditions could afford Beijing room to ease policy and offset the downward pressure on the world’s second largest economy, Chuancai Securities noted in report.

** Around the region, MSCI’s Asia ex-Japan stock index firmed 0.8% while Japan’s Nikkei index was up 0.9%. ** The yuan was weaker by 0.19% at 6.9390 per U.S. dollar at 0358 GMT. ** So far this year, the Shanghai stock index is up 0.1%, while the CSI300 index is up 2.1%. Shanghai stocks have risen 6% this month. ** At midday, China’s A-shares were trading at a premium of 30.42% over the Hong Kong-listed H-shares. ** The Shanghai stock index is above its 50-day moving average and above its 200-day moving average. ** In Hong Kong, the sub-index of the Hang Seng index tracking energy shares rose 0.5% while the IT sector gained 1.7%. (Reporting by Noah Sin and Luoyan Liu; editing by Uttaresh.V)

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