* SSEC lower by 0.4 pct; CSI300 down 0.6 pct
* GDP growth to slow to 6.3 in 2019: Reuters poll
* Chinese premier warns of economic headwinds
HONG KONG, Jan 17 (Reuters) - China stocks ended weaker on Thursday amid mounting signs of sluggish economic growth and as Chinese Premier Li Keqaing forecast a rigid year ahead.
** At the midday break, the Shanghai Composite index was down 0.4 percent at 2,559.64 points. ** China’s blue-chip CSI300 index ended down 0.6 percent, with its financial sector sub-index closing 0.5 percent lower, the consumer staples sector ending down 0.2 percent, and the healthcare sub-index closing down 0.4 percent. ** The smaller Shenzhen index was down 0.9 percent and the start-up board ChiNext Composite index was weaker by 1.3 percent. ** Analysts polled by Reuters said Chinese annual GDP growth could come down to 6.3 in 2019, and that the country likely slowed to expanding at 6.4 percent in the last quarter of 2018, the weakest since the financial crisis, as the Sino-U.S. trade war cooled domestic and export demand. ** Li Keqiang, the Chinese premier, warned of a difficult year ahead for the Chinese economy on Wednesday, and vowed to increase investment in public services and infrastructure, expand consumption, to buffer the headwinds. ** To avert a cash crunch in the market, the People’s Bank of China injected a net $83 billion into the country’s financial system on Wednesday, a daily record, and added 380 billion more yuan to the financial system on Thursday. ** The central bank made the moves after money supply data showed several of China’s key credit gauges continue to languish around record lows, and Germany, a key trade partner with China, reported its weaker-than-expected economic growth on Tuesday. ** Wei Yi, an analyst at Kaiyuan Securities predicted in a memo on Thursday that “the leadership may take more policy measures to stimulate the economy, and the consumer sector will be the first to benefit from policy.” ** However, Zhang Gang, a Shanghai-based analyst with China Central Securities, urged caution as “it will take time for the stimulus to be effective.” ** Around the region, MSCI’s Asia ex-Japan stock index was weaker by 0.2 percent, and Japan’s Nikkei index closed down 0.2 percent. ** The largest percentage gainers in the main Shanghai Composite index were Wintime Energy Co Ltd, which ended 10.26 percent firmer, followed by Sichuan Hongda Co Ltd, which ended 10.14 percent higher and Triumph Science & Technology Co Ltd, up by 10.08 percent. ** The largest percentage losses in the Shanghai index were Leysen Jewellery Inc, down 9.9 percent, followed by Nanjing OLO Home Furnishing Co Ltd, losing 7.1 percent and Delixi Xinjiang Transportation Co Ltd, down by 6.3 percent. ** About 16.25 billion shares have traded so far on the Shanghai exchange. The volume traded was 14.93 billion, as of last trading day. ** The Shanghai stock index is below its 50-day moving average and below its 200-day moving average. (Reporting by Noah Sin, Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips)