CONTINUED optimism on Sino-British relations and some special year-end activity gave the stock market a good last half-day of trade for the year, with the Hang Seng Index rising 44.5 points. The close of 5,512.39 represents a gain of 28.3 per cent on the year. Turnover yesterday was $1.14 billion, which brokers said was a good figure but in line with expectations. Hang Seng Index stocks with stable business prospects had gentle buying, but the real trade was in some smaller stocks which were actively traded by private investors. ''It seems that sentiment has improved quite a bit,'' said Mr Percy Au-Young, research director of SHK Securities. ''People have started to think that 4,950 is the bottom floor.'' The index rose sharply on opening, the early quote of 5,467.89 points being the day's lowest. After 15 minutes the index had zipped above the 5,500 mark, nearly 40 points above Wednesday's close. Minor selling started at this point, pushing the index down and by 11 am it was back down to around 5,485. However, further buying saw the index resume its climb, ensuring it would end the year above 5,500, although it was close. Just 15 minutes before trading ended the index reached 5,499.11. ''I think everyone in town expected the market to be pushed up. It's quite normal at year-end,'' said Mr Michael Ng Wai-ming, assistant general manager at Sassoon Securities. In the thin trade a relatively small purchase could be enough to lift prices, particularly in some of the less liquid stocks. There was some disappointment on the futures market, however. The January index contract slipped back below the cash market price, ending down 24 points at 5,480. Volume for all futures contracts was 3,407 lots. The stock with the highest turnover was HSBC, which rose 50 cents to $55.50 on a turnover of $79.78 million. The utilities index added 100.3 points to 7,038.98, with a 2.6 per cent rise of 40 cents in Hongkong and China Gas to $15.70 an important factor. Kowloon Motor Bus added 20 cents or 2.3 per cent to $8.90. Cathay Pacific was the best performer among index stocks, with a gain of 30 cents or 3.3 per cent to $9.45. All sector sub-indices ended the day higher, with property the weakest on a rise of 25.13 points to 8,384.89. Although there was more news of mortgages being offered above 70 per cent, brokers said this had already been reflected in the recent rise in the price of property stocks. Jardine Matheson dropped 75 cents or 1.7 per cent to $42.75, one of the five index stocks to lose ground. Among smaller stocks, International Tak Cheung improved nine cents or 13.4 per cent to 76 cents. Also up was Fairwood, 30 cents or 7.1 per cent to $4.50. Jademan rose seven cents to $1.29 after settling a court case with a former chairman. QPL, which this week announced the purchase of another European electronics factory from SGS Thompson, moved up four cents or 5.2 per cent to 81 cents.