Profit-taking hits HSBC

HSBC Holdings came under selling pressure yesterday to help nudge the Hang Seng Index down 7.54 points to 7,542.19 as investors took profits after the group reported a 126 per cent rise in interim profits on Tuesday.

The shares, the most heavily traded in dollar terms, fell 50 cents to $83.50, clipping 7.22 points off the index. Market turnover, at $3.99 billion, was again moderate.

September index futures fell 35 points to 7,425 to close at a 117.13-point discount to the cash market. Total volume was 7,652 contracts.

Brokers said overseas buyers of utility stocks and Hutchison Whampoa had sent the index soaring close to 7,600 earlier in the day before short-term punters began selling, pushing the index down.

Seapower Securities research director Samuel Lau Kwok-leung said: ''The punters moved in as the 7,600 mark is perceived as a resistance level. They wanted to sell at a high level and on the good news from HSBC.'' The market opened sluggishly, gaining 18 points in the first 15 minutes.

The index climbed steadily to hit an intra-day high of 7,589.55 in the afternoon, 25.51 points off the record high of 7,615.06 reached on August 19.

It then went into reverse, losing the ground it had gained earlier in the day.

''The market had a very good run and it is now looking tired and is in a consolidation mode,'' said Nomura research head Clive Weedon.

Political issues are expected to be a key influence in the coming weeks.

Chinese chief negotiator Guo Fengmin announced yesterday that a body charged with making practical arrangements for Hong Kong's 1997 return to China would meet again from September 14 to 16.

The utility sector was yesterday's best performer, and the only Hang Seng sub-index to make any ground, rising 1.24 per cent, 111.65 points, to 9,117.39.

Second-best was the conglomerates and commercial index, which fell 0.15 per cent, 8.72 points, to 5,689.85, while property lost 0.57 per cent, 65.07 points, to 11,380.44.

The finance sector was the worst performer, losing 0.7 per cent, 51.54 points, to 7,296.14. Hang Seng Bank lost 50 cents to $55.

Hongkong Telecom and Hongkong Electric were among the utilities to perform well. Telecom gained 20 cents to $12.60, while Electric added 50 cents to $20.60.

Salomon Brothers vice-president David Williamson said that the impending listing of Singapore Telecom in Singapore would put Hongkong Telecom in a good light.

''[Investors] will see that Hongkong Telecom is by far cheaper and has a higher growth rate,'' he said.

Hong Kong and China Gas gained 10 cents to $14.60, while China Light and Power remained unchanged at $43.50.

Hutchison rose 50 cents to $23.90 after announcing the resignation of managing director Simon Murray.

Mr Weedon said the resignation was seen as strengthening the possibility that the group was about to sell its loss-making UK telecom operation, a move that investors would welcome.

Hong Kong Aircraft Engineering Co (HAECO) rose $2.25 to $38.75 after news leaked out that Japan Airlines (JAL) would take a 10 per cent stake in HAECO's new joint-venture aircraft maintenance and engineering company in Xiamen.

Morgan Grenfell institutional salesman Stuart Gregory said HAECO was a monopoly business and had guaranteed customers in Cathay Pacific, British Airways and Dragonair.

''As a monopoly, it is an inexpensive stock,'' he said. ''It has a 30 per cent return on equity per year.'' Mr Gregory said HAECO's reliability and capacity made it the engineering group in the region best placed to break into China, especially in the heavy engineering sector.

Hong stock Jardine Matheson fell 50 cents to $61, while Swire Pacific fell 75 cents to $37.75.

Yeebo International, making its market debut, closed at $2.05, against an offer price of $1.50 a share.