* New cases fall for 2nd day on the mainland, lowest since Jan 29
* China cuts some pension contributions, insurance fees
SHANGHAI/HONG KONG, Feb 19 (Reuters) - Chinese stocks ticked higher on Wednesday as new virus cases in mainland China fell to a more than three-week low, although worries about the financial fallout from the epidemic capped gains. ** At the midday break, the Shanghai Composite index was up 0.3% at 2,994.07 points. The blue-chip CSI300 index was up 0.5%.
** CSI300’s financial sector sub-index rose 0.7%, the consumer staples sector gained 1.8%, the real estate index edged up 0.1% and the healthcare sub-index fell 0.9%. ** Chinese H-shares listed in Hong Kong rose 1%, while the Hang Seng Index edged up 0.4% to 27,651.41. ** The smaller Shenzhen index rose 0.5% and the start-up board ChiNext Composite index was weaker by 0.5%. ** The number of new coronavirus infection cases fell for a second straight day on Wednesday in mainland China as authorities tightened already severe containment measures in the worst-hit city of Wuhan.
** China’s National Health Commission reported 1,749 new confirmed cases of coronavirus infections, the lowest daily rise since Jan. 29. In the outbreak’s epicentre, Hubei province, new infections fell to lowest since Feb. 11. ** Stocks are looking more positive as China’s efforts to contain the epidemic yield initial results and the workforce returns, Guodu Securities analyst Xiao Shijun said in a report.
** The market is also underpinned by policy support and deregulation such as tweaks to refinancing rules, said Zhang Chi, analyst at Western Securities. Policymakers have implemented a raft of measures to support the economy amid the virus outbreak.
** China will cut some pension contributions and insurance fees to help companies cope with the coronavirus, while firms in Hubei are exempted from paying pensions, jobless and work-injury insurance until June.
** Around the region, MSCI’s Asia ex-Japan stock index was firmer by 0.4%, while Japan’s Nikkei index was up 0.8%. ** The largest percentage gainers in the main Shanghai Composite index were Hefei Metalforming Intelligent Manufacturing Co Ltd , Anhui Tongfeng Electronics Co Ltd, and Anhui Xinli Finance Co Ltd, all up over 10%. ** So far this year, the Shanghai stock index is down 1.8%, while CSI300 index is down 0.4%. ** By midday, China’s A-shares were trading at a premium of 24.13% over the Hong Kong-listed H-shares. ** The Shanghai stock index is trading above its 50-day moving average and above its 200-day moving average.
Reporting by Luoyan Liu and Noah Sin; Editing by Aditya Soni