* HSI +0.3 pct, H-shares +0.6 pct, CSI300 -0.6 pct
* Kweichow Moutai nears 3-1/2 year low after more anti-corruption rhetoric
* Cement producers lifted by two positive profit alerts
* ChiNext hits record high, more gains possible: BoComm
By Clement Tan
HONG KONG, Jan 15 (Reuters) - China shares again underperformed most of Asia early on Wednesday, limiting gains in Hong Kong, after weaker-than-expected money supply and loan growth data deepened concerns about tightening liquidity in the mainland.
The data added to fears of further cash squeezes in the country’s money markets after regulators announced the resumption of initial public offerings.
With a backlog of more than 700 IPO applications and about 50 approved so far, investors have frowned at the prospect of increased competition for limited funds with the resumption of A-share initial public offerings after a halt of more than a year. Larger offerings could lock up considerable amounts of capital from time to time.
At midday, the Hang Seng Index was up 0.3 percent at 22,862.7 points, sticking to the same 320-point trading range it has been locked in for nearly two weeks. The China Enterprises Index of the leading offshore Chinese listings in Hong Kong rose 0.6 percent.
The Shanghai Composite Index and the CSI300 of the biggest Shanghai and Shenzhen A-share listings each shed 0.6 percent. They are now down 4.8 and 5.6 percent, respectively, since the start of the year.
Instead, investors have continued piling into small cap stocks. The ChiNext Composite Index of mainly startups in technology and other nascent industries listed in Shenzhen climbed 0.7 percent to a record high. It is now up nearly 7 percent this year after surging 75 percent in 2013.
“In this kind of tight liquidity situation, this divergence could get even more pronounced. It’s far easier to maximise returns in small caps with less money,” said Hong Hao, chief equity strategist at Bank of Communication International.
Financials led declines following the credit data.
On Wednesday, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) , which slipped 0.6 percent on Tuesday, sank another 2.3 percent in Shanghai to its lowest since end-June. Its Hong Kong listing inched up 0.2 percent, but is still hovering at a five-month low.
The official China Securities Journal had reported on Tuesday that the country’s largest lender is planning to sell 100 billion yuan worth of negotiable certificates of deposits this year, another step towards interest rate reform which may crimp net interest margins for the country’s biggest lenders.
Chinese banks made 482.5 billion yuan ($79.9 billion) worth of new yuan loans in December, lower than a forecast of 600 billion yuan and lower than the previous month’s 624.6 billion yuan, central bank data showed on Wednesday.
Brokerages were also weaker after three small Chinese companies decided to sell shares at valuations much lower than those of peers, just days after the securities regulator issued a new rule to prevent excessive stock pricing.
Haitong Securities sank 1.2 percent in Hong Kong and 1.7 percent in Shanghai. The China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC) on Sunday said companies pricing shares at a premium to those of peers must delay sales by three weeks to publish risk warnings.
Premium Chinese liquor producer Kweichow Moutai sank 2 percent, nearing a 3-1/2-year low trough, after Chinese President Xi Jinping said late on Tuesday that corruption is a grim and complicated problem that needs to be solved quickly with “drastic medicine”.
Chinese liquor makers have been hit hard by government efforts to cut down on lavish spending by officials.
There were gains, however, for Chinese cement producers. Positive profit alerts from Anhui Conch Cement and China Resources Cement spurred some short covering in Hong Kong that also buoyed other Chinese cement producer counters.
Anhui Conch Cement shares climbed 4.6 percent in Hong Kong and 2.2 percent in Shanghai after the company said it expects 2013 net profit to jump about 50 percent from a year earlier on improving market demand and as lower coal prices reduced production costs.
Based on current cement prices, which went up on average 13 and 24 percent respectively in East and Central China in the fourth quarter last year, Conch could issue another positive alert for the first quarter of 2014, Jefferies analysts said in a client note dated Tuesday.
They expect a few other companies in the sector to follow suit with positive profit alerts. China Resources Cement spiked 6.3 percent, while China National Building Material rebounded 4.6 percent after closing on Tuesday at its lowest in nearly 10 weeks.