Hong Kong shares fall as investors await trade talks
Hong Kong shares closed lower on Thursday as investors kept a cautious stance hoping for a breakthrough in the trade impasse between the United States and China. At the close of trade, the Hang Seng index was down 0.2 per cent at 28,432.05 points, while Hang Seng China Enterprises index closed 0.3 per cent lower. The sub-index of the Hang Seng tracking energy shares ended up 0.2 per cent, while the IT sector closed 0.8 per cent lower, the financial sector ended flat and the property sector ended 0.1 per cent firmer.
Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have kicked off high-level trade talks on Thursday, which will wrap up a day later. Discussions among lower-ranking officials started on Monday. U.S. tariffs on $200 billion worth of imports from China are scheduled to rise to 25 per cent from 10 per cent if the two sides do not reach a deal by March 1.
U.S. President Donald Trump suggested this week that the deadline could be delayed. A Bloomberg report on Thursday said Trump is touting a 60-day extension to the truce. A deal between China and the United States "will ultimately take … President Trump and President Xi sitting down face-to-face," White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said on Wednesday.
China's exports unexpectedly returned to growth in January after a shock decline the previous month, while imports fell much less than expected. However, seasonal factors played a big role and there could be renewed trade weakness ahead, said analysts.
Around the region, MSCI's Asia ex-Japan stock index was weaker by 0.1 per cent, while Japan's Nikkei index ended pretty much flat. The top gainer on the Hang Seng was China Overseas Land & Investment Ltd, which closed up 2.3 per cent, while the biggest loser was Sunny Optical Technology Group Co Ltd, which ended 5 per cent lower, after issuing a profit warning.
The three biggest H-shares percentage decliners were GF Securities Co Ltd, which ended down 2.8 per cent, China Gas Holdings Ltd, which closed 2.3 per cent lower and China Life Insurance Co Ltd, which ended down 2.2 per cent. About 1.48 billion Hang Seng index shares were traded. The volume traded in the previous trading session was 1.99 billion shares. At the close, China's A-shares were trading at a premium of 17.38 per cent over the Hong Kong-listed H-shares.
(With inputs from agencies.)