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HSBC's strong performance gives Hang Seng 9-point lift

INVESTORS have a strong performance from HSBC Holdings to thank for a 9.34-point rise in the Hang Seng Index yesterday.

A 3.3 per cent rise in the company's shares was the only reason the Year of the Rooster started on an upward trend, adding 29.3 points to the index.

HSBC Holdings rose $2 to $60 on strong demand from overseas and arbitrage trading, while most other large shares slipped slightly as the investors tried to guess the market's next move after the index finally topped 5,900 after a week of trying.

The index closed at 5,923.73 on turnover of $2.09 billion, with HSBC Holdings easily the biggest traded stock - its turnover of $382.7 million representing more than 18 per cent of the day's activity.

''The market is quite relaxed,'' said Mr Alan Hargreaves, Hongkong managing director for HG Asia. ''It has had a good run and is now looking for direction.'' Dealers cited a number of factors that investors were having to consider, including the health of Chinese patriarch Deng Xiaoping, the possibility of further measures from China in its campaign against Governor Chris Patten, the Cathay Pacific strike, the state of the property market and the cap on mortgage loans.

Yet the day started very well with the index flying up to the day's high of 5,970.47 in the first few minutes before starting to slip, with selling pressure emerging mid-morning, a common pattern of the past few weeks.

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By lunch, it was at 5,919.92, 5.53 above the last close on January 21, and after lunch it rose slightly.

At the futures exchange, the January Hang Seng Index closed at 5,880, 44 points below the cash index. The last day of trade for this contract is January 28.

''It indicates the market might suffer some correction over the next few days,'' said Mr Andrew To Koon-hung, sales director for PBI Securities.

Bank of East Asia was also in demand yesterday, to a much lesser degree than HSBC, but the two pushed the finance index up 79.6 to 5,648.56.

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''Bank shares usually perform well in January,'' said Mr To. ''The banking sector is the first to announce its results and this generates some speculative buying.'' Bank of East Asia shares were up 25 cents to $35.25. The company reports its annual results on Thursday. Those wanting a safe investment were also buying utility stocks, pushing the utilities index to 7,470.04, a rise of 35.88 points.

After being the engine for the rise last week, shares in Mr Li Ka-shing's stable fell back on profit taking, notably Hutchison Whampoa, which fell 20 cents to $16.60.

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Outside the index, C.P. Pokphand continued to slide, shedding another 7.4 per cent to $2.825, a fall of 22.5 cents.

The shares have now under-performed the index by about 20 per cent this year, a fall which is still being attributed to a devaluation of the renminbi, which would hit the company hard.

FE Hotels posted a notice with the exchange that it knew of no reason for the dramatic increase in its share price. The company's shares rose 11.1 per cent last Thursday, and today added another two cents to close at 62 cents.

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Exchange data showed that on January 18, Allied Group and its associate companies lifted their shareholdings in Santai Manufacturing above 75 per cent.

Allied has bought a further 2.03 per cent of the company, taking its stake to 75.16 per cent.

Ong Holdings, which suffered a 16.1 per cent fall on Thursday when the controlling shareholders said talks for a change of control had broken down, bounced back up.

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The shares rose 28.3 per cent to $1.54, a jump of 34 cents.

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