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=ASIA MARKETS: Hong Kong Shares Climb Amid US-China Trade Talks Optimism

HONG KONG (Mar 15) -- Hong Kong shares headed higher on Friday, led by gains in Chinese equities, as optimism over progress in Sino-American trade talks cheered investors.

The Hang Seng Index added 1% to 29,124.18 by noon. Pork producer WH Group, which has significant interests in the U.S., was up 8% ahead of its full-year results, due later Friday. Ping An Insurance Group climbed 1.8%, bringing its gains for the week so far to 3.2%, after it reported an increase in 2018 profit.

Pan Asia insurer AIA Group slipped 0.1%, and was among the five index stocks trading lower by the midday break, after reporting a 48% decline in annual net profit, even as the value of its new business climbed 22% from a year ago.

The Shanghai Composite Index was up 1.5% in the mainland, while the Hang Seng China Enterprises Index climbed 1%. Chinese Vice Premier Liu He spoke with U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer by telephone, and the two sides made further progress on trade talks, Chinese state media Xinhua reportedly said on Friday.

Some participants were circumspect about the developments.

“People have been saying there is progress, but nobody knows what the progress is,” said Stanley Chik, head of research at Bright Smart Securities. “Earnings will have a bigger impact on the market in the short term.”

Chik said as long as the A-share market continues rebounding, and company earnings remain positive, the Hong Kong stock market will remain supported.

“The most important thing for the A-share market is sentiment,” he added.

Most markets in the rest of Asia also edged higher, with the FTSE Bursa Malaysia KLCI climbing 0.2% and Singapore’s Straits Times Index rising 0.3%. The Nikkei Asia300 Index was up 0.7%.

Shares of coking and refined chemicals producer China Risun Group edged 1.1% lower in their trading debut in Hong Kong, while Chinese property management company Binjiang Service Group, also debuting Friday, climbed to HK$7.30 from its IPO at HK$6.96.

Hong Kong’s Securities and Futures Commission on Thursday said it has reprimanded and fined Merrill Lynch Far East, Morgan Stanley Asia and Standard Chartered Securities for failures in their roles as sponsors for initial public offerings in the city. The regulator also fined UBS HK$375 million for failure in its role as sponsor, and partially suspended UBS Securities Hong Kong’s licence to advise on corporate finance for one year, preventing it from acting as a sponsor during the period.

Air China edged 0.5% higher after reporting a 6.9% increase in passengers carried during February.

Television maker Skyworth Digital Holdings climbed 3.9% after saying it expects net profit for the nine months ended Dec. 31 to have at least doubled from a year ago.

Sinopec Oilfield Service added 2.4% after saying its unit secured a contract worth $340 million from Saudi Aramco for four drilling rigs services.

Colour Life Services Group rose 3.5%. The property management services company on Thursday said it expects 2018 profit to have increase more than 50% from a year ago.

Financial services company Differ Group Holding climbed 3.2% after saying it expects 2018 net profit to have risen at least 50% from a year ago.

Chicken products maker Leyou Technologies Holdings was 1.7% higher following a forecast of 2018 profit growth of at least 50% from a year ago.

China Resources Land added 2.6% after reporting an 18.5% increase in gross contracted sales for February.

- By Benny Kung;; +852 3960 5150
- Edited By Suzannah Benjamin
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