HK stocks fall 1.9 pct to mark worst qtr in 6 years

Mon Mar 31, 2008 5:28am EDT

(For Shanghai stock market reports, click [.SS]) (Updates to close)

HONG KONG, March 31 (Reuters) - Hong Kong stocks fell 1.88 percent on Monday to post their worst quarterly performance in more than six years, as investors took to the sidelines on lingering concerns about the global credit crunch.

The benchmark Hang Seng Index .HSI fell 436.75 points to close at 22,849.20 points. It fell more than 6 percent for the month of March and was down 18 percent for the quarter.

"Today's correction was a healthy one and was within predictions. There was no disappointment," said Patrick Yiu, an associate director at CASH Asset Management, adding that local stocks had also tracked softer mainland markets in late trade. The China Enterprises Index of Hong Kong-listed mainland companies .HSCE, or H shares, finished down 2.81 percent at 12,083.30, ending the first quarter down more than 25 percent and the month of March about 13 percent lower.

China's main stock index Shanghai Composite Index .SSEC slid 3 percent on Monday to end the first quarter with a loss of 34 percent, its biggest quarterly loss since 1992.

Mainboard turnover was HK$74.50 billion (US$9.55 billion) compared with HK$97.54 billion on Friday.

Brokers said weakness in overseas and mainland markets had weighed on the Hong Kong market.

"The market is expected to be more stable in the upcoming quarter, with buying interest likely to be fuelled ahead of the Beijing Olympics," Yiu said.

"But the underlying tone for the market may still be weak because an uptrend has not been confirmed."

Shares in heavyweight China Mobile (0941.HK) led the fall on Monday, falling 2.11 percent to HK$115.80. Insurer China Life (2628.HK) plunged 4.29 percent to HK$26.75, while global lender HSBC (0005.HK) fell 0.86 percent to HK$126.80.

Airline stocks rebounded on weaker oil prices, bucking the broad market trend. Air China (0753.HK) climbed 2.5 percent, China Southern (1055.HK) rose 2.01 percent, China Eastern (0670.HK) gained 0.51 percent and Cathay Pacific (0293.HK) rose 1.73 percent.

New listing Solargiga Energy Holdings (0757.HK) failed to excite the market, closing at HK$2.93, up just 0.3 percent from its IPO price of HK$2.92. It raised about $127 million in an IPO that was delayed and downsized amid weak markets.

Another new listing, aluminium profiles maker Xingfa Aluminium Holdings (0098.HK), fell more than 7 percent to end at HK$2.11 compared with its issue price of HK$2.28.

Brokers said the umimpressive performance suggested that investors were still cautious on IPOs.

Shares of China Telecom (0728.HK) plunged 4.69 percent to HK$4.88 after the larger of the country's two fixed-line service providers said it had agreed to buy Beijing Telecom from its state parent for 5.557 billion yuan ($792.3 million).

China Telecom posted a full-year net profit of 23.7 billion yuan, compared with a consensus forecast of 24.26 billion yuan.

Shares of China Resources (0291.HK) rose 1.63 percent to HK$25 after the beverage-to-ports conglomerate posted a 79 percent rise in full-year profit, thanks to strong retail and beer sales, and gains from the sale of a unit.

Shares of small Hong Kong lender Wing Lung Bank (0096.HK), whose two largest shareholders were considering a possible sale of their holdings, outperformed to jump 14.81 percent to HK$135.70 on expectations that talks on the sale of a controlling stake would conclude soon.

Henderson Investment (0097.HK), which said last week that a joint venture partner had expressed interest in buying some of its assets, jumped 37.68 percent to HK$0.95.

Another bright spot was Jiangsu Expressway Co Ltd (0177.HK), which saw its shares rise 4.63 percent to HK$7 after the Chinese toll road operator posted a 40 percent rise in 2007 profit to 1.64 billion yuan.

Dongfang Electrical Corp (1072.HK) fell 6.8 percent after the company said it would issue up to 65 million new A shares, raising capital to fund part of its 3.96 billion yuan ($564.8 million) investment in power projects.

Shares of China Communications Services (0552.HK) lost 6.04 percent to HK$5.29. The company and a stakeholder, the National Social Security Fund, were selling up to $249 million worth of shares on Friday, according to a term sheet obtained by Reuters. (US$1=HK$7.8) (Editing by Anne Marie Roantree)

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