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The Hong Kong stock market had its worst day in nearly a month on Friday, as increasingly bearish investors focused on worsening corporate profits amid slowing Chinese economic growth and as hopes of monetary policy easing in China and the US in the near term look increasingly unlikely.
China’s top insurer Ping An Insurance (2318.HK) lost 1.58 per cent to HK$59.1 after disappointing interim results overnight prompted banks including Credit Suisse and Citi to cut target prices for the stock on Friday. Citi said in a morning note that Ping An's new business value, a measure of future profitability for life insurers, is weak and “a major concern” for the second half.
Bank of China (3988.HK) lost 1.34 per cent to HK$ 2.95, after posting its slowest quarterly profit growth in three years.
That partly dragged down the benchmark Hang Seng Index (HSI), which fell 1.25 per cent to close at 19,880.03 on Friday, posting its biggest single-day decline in nearly a month. It was the third time since August 7 that the gauge has closed below the psychologically important 20,000.
“People have been doing the so-called ‘day trading’. The market lacks a clear direction to go because policymakers are still vague,” Castor Pang, head of research at Core Pacific-Yamaichi, told SCMP.com. “Investors are just playing some individual stocks based on interim results, instead of building medium or long-term positions.”
China is studying tightening curbs on the housing market to prevent a further rebound in home prices, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development said in an online statement released on Thursday after the market close. That came on the same day as data showing that China’s factories activities had fallen to a nine-month low in August, according to Flash PMI data released by HSBC and Markit.
The Hang Seng China Enterprises Index, which tracks the performance of Hong Kong-listed China enterprises, lost 1.64 per cent to close at 9,674.82.
Heavyweight HSBC (0005.HK), Europe’s biggest bank, lost ground on fears that the euro zone sovereign debt crisis shows no sign of resolution, losing 1.51 per cent to HK$ 68.30.
However, St Louis Federal Reserve Bank President James Bullard struck a more optimistic note in an interview with CNBC overnight, saying the Federal Reserve may not roll out easing measures for the moment because recent economic data showed signs of improvement in the world's biggest economy.
The minutes, the details of FOMC meeting held three weeks ago, are "a bit stale" and the US economy had improved since then, Bullard said.
The HSI could fall to 19,670 if the European Central Bank approves Greece’s petition to allow the nation to postpone key parts of the austerity conditions imposed as part of the bailout agreement, Pang said. He said investors would also monitor Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke's speech at Jackson Hole next week for hints on possible further easing.
PetroChina (0857.HK) dipped 0.62 per cent to HK$9.65 on Friday, a day after it revealed a 6 per cent drop in first-half profit after the market closed.
Energy and resources counters fell, led by China Shenhua (1088.HK) which is due to report interim results later on Friday, on speculation that slowing mainland growth may curb demand for commodities. China Shenhua lost 3.12 per cent to HK$29.50.
China Unicom (0762.HK) bucked the trend, and rose 0.5 per cent to HK$13.08 after the nation’s second-largest mobile operator said first-half net profit jumped 31 per cent to 3.43 billion yuan.