Hong Kong shares may start weaker, China banks in focus

HONG KONG, March 28 Wed Mar 27, 2013 9:15pm EDT

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HONG KONG, March 28 (Reuters) - Hong Kong shares may start weaker on Thursday as investors take risk off the table ahead of a four-day Easter weekend with the potential for a run on Cyprus's banks when they reopen later in the day still unnerving markets.

China's banking watchdog has ordered banks to strengthen checks on the underlying assets of a range of wealth management products to ward off potential risks to the financial system.

China's government said on Wednesday it would unveil new measures to further liberalise interest rate and exchange rate markets this year to stabilise and sustain economic growth.

On Wednesday, the Hang Seng Index rose 0.7 percent at 22,464.8, a third straight daily gain taking it to the highest close since March 15. The China Enterprises Index of the top Chinese listings in Hong Kong climbed 1 percent.

Elsewhere in Asia, Japan's Nikkei was down 0.8 percent, while South Korea's KOSPI was down 0.1 percent at 0100 GMT.

FACTORS TO WATCH:

* Sun Hung Kai Properties Ltd, the world's second-largest property developer, won a HK$4.14 billion ($534 million) auction for two sites in Hong Kong, one for residential use and the other for a hotel, the government said on Wednesday.

* Aluminum Corp of China posted a worse-than-expected net annual loss of 8.2 billion yuan ($1.3 billion), hit by low aluminium prices and rising costs.

* Tsingtao Brewery Co Ltd , China's second-biggest brewer by volume, on Wednesday said its 2012 net profit rose 1.2 percent in its slowest growth since 1999, as higher production costs offset growth in beer sales.

* CITIC Securities , China's biggest brokerage, posted a 66 percent drop in profit for 2012, its first decline since 2008, due to a sluggish stock market that reduced trading commissions and investment banking income.

* China COSCO Holdings Co Ltd posted its second-largest yearly net loss of 9.6 billion yuan ($1.5 billion) in 2012 as its bulk cargo business was hit hard by a lingering industry slump due to a supply glut and weak global economy.

* China's ZTE Corp, the world's No.5 telecommunications equipment maker, posted its first annual net loss, totalling 2.84 billion yuan ($460 million), due to project delays and falling margins in emerging markets.

* Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Ltd (ICBC) , the world's biggest bank by market value, said 2012 earnings rose 14.5 percent, beating analyst estimates, helped by widening margins as it lent more to small- and medium-sized enterprises.

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