HONG KONG, Oct 18 (Reuters) - Hong Kong shares could start slightly higher on Thursday, ahead of the release of China's official third-quarter growth figures shortly after market open - expected to show growth slowed to 7.4 percent.
Chinese media late on Wednesday quoted Premier Wen Jiabao as saying that the economic situation in the third quarter was relatively good and that the government was confident of achieving its 2012 growth target of 7.5 percent.
On Wednesday, the Hang Seng Index climbed 1 percent to 21,416.6, a fifth-straight gain propelling the benchmark to its highest close since March 2. The benchmark is now just 1.2 percent shy of the highest close this year recorded on Feb 29.
Elsewhere in Asia, Japan's Nikkei was up 1.3 percent, while South Korea's KOSPI was up 0.3 percent at 0048 GMT.
FACTORS TO WATCH:
* Brazilian mining company Vale SA said on Wednesday that its iron ore output fell 4.5 percent in the third quarter compared with a year earlier as demand and prices fell in China, its largest market.
* A top Standard Chartered banker involved in making a $1 billion loan to the Indonesian chairman of London-listed Bumi Plc has quit after the bank struggled to get other lenders on board.
* China Life , the world's largest insurer by market value, warned of a 55 percent fall in profits in the first nine months - pointing to its first quarterly loss since 2008.
* Russia's Rusal expects to shift all its aluminium supply contracts for 2013 to floating premiums, an unprecedented move that could overhaul decades-old industry pricing practices.
* Hong Kong Air Cargo Terminals Ltd (Hactl) said its cargo traffic rose 2.1 percent in the third quarter from the same period a year ago and it forecast that 2012 should end better than expected. Hactl's shareholders are Jardine Matheson & Co Ltd, Hutchison Whampoa Ltd unit Hutchison Port Holdings Ltd, Wharf (Holdings) Ltd and China National Aviation Corporation (Group) Ltd.
* Next Media Ltd, controlled by Hong Kong media mogul Jimmy Lai, will sell its Taiwan newspaper, magazine and television assets to Chinatrust Financial's former vice-chairman Jeffrey Koo Jr for NT$17.5 billion ($600 million).
* Cable & Wireless Communications (CWC) is in talks to sell its controlling stake in Macau's largest telecoms group to fellow investor Citic Telecom International as it seeks to exit its operations outside the Caribbean and Central America.
* A consortium foremd by K.Wah Internatiaonl Holdings Ltd and Sino Land Co Ltd has won a tender for the development of West Rail Long Ping Station residential project in New Territories, according to project coordinator Long Ping Property Development Ltd. (Reporting by Clement Tan and Donny Kwok; Editing by Eric Meijer)