* HSI and H-shares -0.1 pct; CSI300 +0.5 pct
* China property aided by benign inflation, pilot programme change
* Offshore Oil Engineering soars on 2013 profit expectation
* China railway H-shares down on fears of lower 2014 investment
By Clement Tan and Alice Woodhouse
HONG KONG, Jan 9 (Reuters) - China shares crept higher early on Thursday, with Hong Kong markets sluggish, as the property sector led gains after weaker-than-expected inflation data eased some fears about more cooling measures.
An expected wave of China’s first initial public offerings since October 2012 - which has raised some concerns - is giving a boost to the ChiNext Composite Index of mainly startups in technology and other nascent industries listed in Shenzhen. It climbed 0.4 percent to a record high by midday.
The CSI300 of the biggest Shanghai and Shenzhen A-share listings was up 0.5 percent, while the Shanghai Composite Index rose 0.3 percent as volumes stayed relatively muted.
The Hang Seng Index slipped 0.1 percent to 22,969.9 points. The China Enterprises Index of the leading offshore Chinese listings in Hong Kong also declined 0.1 percent.
The China Securities Regulatory Commission has approved about 50 A-share IPO applications. Most of them are small and mid-cap counters, raising concerns this may direct funds away from the large cap counters, which dominate the main benchmarks.
“Retail interest has been rather strong in those IPOs, so these concerns are not without basis, but I doubt it will impact market liquidity as much as people think,” said Cao Xuefeng, a Chengdu-based analyst with Huaxi Securities.
On Thursday, Offshore Oil Engineering was the biggest percentage gainer among CSI300 component stocks. The stock surged 9.9 percent after the company said it expects 2013 profits to rise 220 percent from the year before.
China Oilfield Services Limited < rose 6.2 percent in Shanghai and 1.7 percent in Hong Kong as investors cheered its plans to look for secondhand capacity and to keep this year’s capital expenditure at 2013 levels.
In a call on Wednesday following a $750 million new H-share issue, COSL management gave analysts a preview of the company’s strategy for the year.
Weaker inflation gave battered Chinese property counters some respite. Poly Real Estate climbed 2.5 percent in Shanghai after closing on Wednesday at its lowest since November 2011.
Rising home prices raised fears that more curbs could be implemented, including a nation-wide expansion of a property tax trial.
The National Business Daily reported on Thursday that Chongqing, one of two cities in the pilot trial, has raised the land price threshold at which home owners have to pay taxes for the third time since the trial’s 2011 launch.
Data showed China’s annual consumer inflation slowed more sharply than expected to a seven-month low of 2.5 percent in December, easing market fears of tighter monetary policy rates although the central bank is tapping the brakes on bank liquidity.
The People’s Bank of China stood pat at its second scheduled open market operations on Thursday, the fifth-straight session it had done so. Markets are braced for higher interbank rates at the end of January as demand spikes for Chinese New Year.
Railway counters fell in Hong Kong as officials met to discuss 2014 investment, which is expected to be lower than last year’s 660 billion yuan ($109.07 billion), according to the 21st Century Business Herald.
China Railway Group fell 1.6 percent, while China Railway Construction shed 1.1 percent.