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Index seesaws to end above 6,200

OPTIMISTS and institutions looking for cheap stock overcame pessimists on the stock exchange floor yesterday, pulling the Hang Seng Index up 26.19 points and above the 6,200 mark.

The index rose, fell and then rose as investors took differing interpretations of yesterday's Legislative Council session in which the Government said it would gazette Governor Chris Patten's election proposals ''as early as possible'' but gave no date.

The continued delay in gazetting the bill has been seen as a sign of willingness to discuss the proposals.

''I think sentiment at the moment is still quite mixed,'' said Mr K.S. Ng, assistant director at Barclays de Zoete Wedd. ''6,200 is a resistance level. When it goes above that we get some profit-taking.'' Yesterday the index crossed the 6,200 level three times and only just held above it at the close of trade to end at 6,203.88 on a turnover of $2.73 billion.

Hongkong Electric benefited from a rosier view of utilities after Wednesday's profit announcement from Hongkong and China Gas.

Hongkong Land, which is lifting its stake in Trafalgar House of Britain, also performed well, possibly helped by the warrant issue announced by Barclays de Zoete Wedd.

Eastern Century, IHD and China Strategic resumed trade after being suspended.

The index rose smartly on opening, adding nearly 30 points in the first 30 minutes to take it above 6,200, where it stayed for 30 minutes before being dragged down by profit-taking.

Throughout the day institutions were buying stocks marked down, while local investors looking for short-term profits were more keen on selling.

Around 11.30 am the index had sunk to 6,167.71, the day's low, but it pulled back to the lunch close of 6,185.51. The mild buying continued during the afternoon, briefly pushing the index above 6,200 on a brief price rise to $64 in HSBC, and then again just before the close on a broader price rise.

On the futures exchange, the March index contract closed at 6,233 points, a rise of seven and a 29-point premium to the cash index. Total trade was 9,990 contracts, down on Wednesday's confirmed total of 11,493.

Hutchison Whampoa saw the highest turnover, spurred by the Polycourt covered warrants which close for trade today.

Traders could take profits by selling shares and buying the warrants and converting them.

Hutchison shares closed down 20 cents at $17.20, a drop of 1.1 per cent, while the Polycourt March warrants closed at $3.15, down 35 cents.

Hutchison shares had the day's biggest turnover of $120.26 million.

Analysts said the Polycourt warrants had been hanging over the Hutchison share price, and hoped Hutchison would end its underperformance when the second set of Polycourt warrants expired in May.

The Polycourt May warrants had a strong turnover of $35 million, closing up 7.5 cents at $2.175.

Hongkong Electric added 40 cents to $16.80, a rise of 2.4 per cent, the biggest jump among index stocks.

Hongkong Land had the third biggest rise, up 2.2 per cent to $17.80 on a strong turnover of $119.34 million.

Although there was no sector pattern to the buying, property had slightly the best day, the property index rising 90.09 points to 9,827.6, helped by Henderson Land's 2.3 per cent gain of 40 cents to $17.80.

Commercial and industrial stocks ended almost unchanged, their index falling 9.98 points to 4,611.13, the only sector index to drop.

Mandarin Oriental fell back after Wednesday's sharp rise, down three per cent to $8 - the biggest in the index.

First Pacific, which has seen rising activity in its shares over recent days, was up nine cents or 6.9 per cent to $1.40, on trade of $18.4 million.

Eastern Century, which will be a listed vehicle for a mainland iron and steel group, was unchanged at $2.45 after trade restarted. Turnover was $29.3 million.

IHD and China Strategic unveiled a share swap while they were suspended. IHD climbed 10 cents to $2.35, a rise of 4.4 per cent. China Strategic fell 10 cents to $7, a drop of 1.4 per cent.