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=ASIA MARKETS: Hong Kong Shares Lead Nikkei Asia300 Index Lower

HONG KONG (Apr 16) -- Asian stocks outside of Japan fell on Monday, dragged down by weakness in Hong Kong-listed property developers and Chinese financial companies.

The Nikkei Asia300 Index lost 0.6% to 1,425.32. AIA Group slid 4% and Sun Hung Kai Properties gave up 2.9%. The losses came as the Hong Kong dollar traded at 7.8499 to the U.S. dollar, near the lower end of its 7.75-to-7.85 range against the greenback. The weakness prompted the Hong Kong Monetary Authority to intervene in the foreign exchange markets last week and on Monday to support the peg.

Industrial & Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) lost 2.4% and China Construction Bank (CCB) shed 2.3% on speculation competition among lenders for deposits may boost rates and weigh on their net interest margins. Reuters reported late on Friday, citing sources familiar with the matter, that the People’s Bank of China will relax its informal guidance for the upper limit of commercial banks’ deposit rates.

Ping An Insurance Group fell 2% despite reporting a 20.6% increase in January-March life insurance business gross premium income.

Casino operator Galaxy Entertainment Group slid 3% after China’s plans to set up a free trade zone on Hainan island and explore development of sports lottery and horse-racing events in the province fueled speculation that Macau’s allure as a destination for gambling-related activities may be weakened.

The country gauges for Hong Kong and China declined 2.3% and 1.7%, respectively.

Andy Wong, chief investment strategist at wealth-management company Harris Fraser (International), cited Syria-related war worries and concern about capital flight because of a weakened Hong Kong dollar among concerns that weighed on sentiment.

Some participants said further military action was unlikely. The Pentagon said the U.S. missiles targeted chemical-weapons facilities after the Syrian government was suspected to have carried out a poison gas attack in a rebel-held town earlier this month.

“Saturday’s operation, which also included the U.K. and France, was a limited one, and intended to be a one-off as President Trump declared ‘mission accomplished,’” said Hussein Sayed, chief market strategist at FXTM.

The Nikkei Asia300 ASEAN Index of Southeast Asian companies edged 0.1% higher, while the country gauge for South Korea added 0.2%. Taiwan’s index slipped 0.1%. Heavyweight Samsung Electronics rose 1.1% in Seoul, while Hon Hai Precision Industry climbed 0.7% in Taipei.

Singapore’s index rose 0.1%. According to data from the Urban Redevelopment Authority, developers in the city state sold 718 new units in March. The number excludes executive condominiums, which are reserved for Singaporeans. Although the March figure is an 87% rise from the 384 apartments sold in February, it’s a sharp drop from the 1,780 apartments sold in the year-earlier month.

- By V. Phani Kumar and Amy Lam; phani.kumar@NikkeiNewsrise.com; +852 39605150
- Edited by Suzannah Benjamin
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