Hong Kong shares rise after AgBank, BoC earnings; China inches higher

Last Updated: Wed, Mar 27, 2013 05:20 hrs

* HSI +0.6 pct, H-shares +1.2 pct, CSI300 +0.4 pct

* China banks lifted by AgBank, BoC 2012 earnings

* Sinopec lifted by new China fuel pricing system

By Clement Tan

HONG KONG, March 27 (Reuters) - Hong Kong shares rose on Wednesday, supported by Chinese banks, after two of the "Big Four" reported 2012 corporate earnings largely in line with expectations.

Bank of China (BoC) climbed 2 percent and Agricultural Bank of China (AgBank) gained 0.8 percent after their net interest margins stayed steady in the fourth quarter and their non-performing loan ratios remained largely unchanged from 2011.

At 0335 GMT, the Hang Seng Index was up 0.6 percent, with the China Enterprises Index of the leading Chinese listings in Hong Kong 1.2 percent higher.

In the mainland, the CSI300 of the top Shanghai and Shenzhen listings was up 0.4 percent, while the Shanghai Composite Index climbed 0.3 percent.

"Earnings from the Chinese banks were largely in line, as with for most of companies that have reported, but longer term issues to do with bad loans and interest rate liberalisation remain," said Wang Ao-chao, UOB-Kay Hian's Shanghai-based head of research.

"There might be another bounce for the sector's shares if March inflation dips, but I would remain cautious," Wang added, suggesting investors should remained defensively-positioned in their portfolios.

Shares of Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, the country's largest rose 0.7 percent and Bank of Communications, the country's fifth-largest, gained 1 percent ahead of their 2012 results later in the day.

Both ICBC and AgBank are marginally down on the year in Hong Kong, while the rest of the top five Chinese banks are still positive, with BoC the best performer, up more than 4 percent in 2013.

Of the 66 percent of Hong Kong-listed companies that have posted 2012 earnings, more than half have underwhelmed expectations, according to Thomson Reuters StarMine, with the energy and materials sector reporting the most disappointing results..

But on Wednesday, Chinese oil majors were buoyed by an announcement that China will start a more flexible system for pricing domestic fuel, the first major revamp for four years, to help avoid shortages and tame consumption.

The new scheme should reverse years of losses for China's oil refiners, analysts said, by increasing the link with world crude prices and scrapping a rigid formula for altering prices for oil products such as gasoline and diesel.

Shares of top state-owned refiner, China Petroleum and Chemical Corp (Sinopec) climbed 2 percent. Bernstein said Sinopec should benefit most from the reform and should see the operating margin for its refining improve to 10-12 yuan ($1.6-$1.9) per barrel from 7 yuan in 2012.

PetroChina rose 1.1 percent, while CNOOC was up 0.5 percent.

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