HONG KONG, March 20 A Hong Kong stock market index tracking mainland enterprises has fallen more than 20 percent since the start of December, far outpacing a drop in the broader benchmark and signaling that investors are worried about the outlook for the Chinese economy.
The index's drop comes at a time when recent disappointing economic data has fueled concerns China will find it difficult to achieve its 2014 growth target of 7.5 percent.
On Thursday, Hong Kong-listed stocks were hurt by the signal overnight from the U.S. Federal Reserve that it was ready to raise interest rates sooner than expected. In recent years, risky assets such as equities have benefited from the Fed's heavy asset-buying -- now getting steadily reduced -- and low global interest rates.
The China Enterprises Index of the top Chinese listings in Hong Kong fell 1.7 percent on Thursday and is off 20.3 percent from a Dec. 2 high. The index, the easiest way to bet on mainland enterprises, has suffered the brunt of a selloff in recent days.
The broader Hang Seng Index tumbled 1.8 percent on Thursday to 21,182.16, its lowest close since July 10. It was hurt by the Fed news and disappointing 2013 earnings from China Mobile, the world's largest carrier by subscribers.
Since Dec. 2, the Hong Kong benchmark has fallen 11.9 percent, about half of the HSCE's drop.
Ben Kwong, chief operating officer of stockbroker KGI Asia, said weakness for China-related stocks "may drag on for a period of time until there are signs that the government will do something such as introducing a stimulus package or maybe the monetary policy will change."
On Thursday, Premier Li Keqiang said China will speed up investment and construction plans to ensure domestic demand expands at a stable rate - an indication authorities are considering practical measures to support slackening economic growth.
In Hong Kong, China Mobile dropped 3.6 percent to its lowest close since April 2009 after the reporting its first annual profit fall in 14 years. Profit in 2013 was down 5.9 percent to 121.8 billion yuan ($19.66 billion), below analyst estimates.
Stocks aren't the only assets to be suffering at present. The yuan fell to more than one-year lows after the central bank widened its trading band over the weekend while high-yield bonds from China's property sector were caught in the selloff.
($1 = 6.1965 Chinese Yuan) (Editing by Richard Borsuk)