Asian Banks Soar, Property Still a Good Bet in China & HK

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Shares in Asia closed higher Thursday. Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index rose 1.9% to 20,291 and China's Shanghai Composite Index added 0.1% to end the day at 2,986. Japan's Tokyo Stock Exchange was closed in celebration of National Foundation Day.Hong Kong banks were among the best-performing stocks today. Bank of East Asia rallied 3% after reporting it had returned to profitability in the second half of 2009. According to Bloomberg, the bank had reported losses in 2008 for the fist time in 40 years. Other banks also closed higher with many reporting a surge in Chinese bank loans over the past month in anticipation of upcoming lending restrictions. Bank of Communications surged 3.8%, Bank of China rose 2.4% and Industrial & Commercial Bank of China gained 1.3%. HSBC, Hong Kong's most heavily weighted stock, added 1.6%.

China Unicom spiked 5.1% today on reports that Spain's Telefonica plans to team up with the Hong Kong-listed internet and telecom company that provides service in China. Together, the companies hope to gain market share in Asia and push into Africa, according to mobile88.com. Another mobile phone deal sent shares in Hong Kong-listed Wumart Stores surging 10.8%. According to chinatechnews.com, the Beijing-based retailer has cinched a deal to begin providing bill payment and top up services for China Mobile Beijing customers.

Hong Kong-listed property developers advanced today. Reports are circulating that the Hong Kong government is considering raising the stamp duty on properties that sell for more than HK$20 million ($2.57 million). The proposed hike is intended to cool the overheated real estate market, which is continuing to boil. Last month, property transactions in the territory increased 11.4%, according to HKTDC.com, with luxury properties making up at least 10% of the sales. In today's trading, Henderson Land, still holding the record for selling the world's most expensive property, spiked 3.5%, Shimao Property surged 3%, China Overseas gained 2.5%, Cheung Kong rose 1.9% and Hang Lung Property advanced 1.7%.

Housing prices across the mainland have risen 9.5% from a year earlier, and Chinese property development companies closed higher today. Gemdale Corp. surged 2.3%, Poly Real Estate gained 1.6% and China Vanke was up 0.8%.

As the Chinese building boom continues, demand for steel and other building materials continues to rise. Baoshan Steel soared 5.7% and says it may increase prices in March with orders pouring in, according to Bloomberg. CITIC Pacific, which specializes in building materials and manufactures steel pipes, shot up 5.2%, Angang Steel rose 3.2% and Hebei Steel added 2.7%.

With so many Chinese still in need of decent housing, property is still looking like a good bet.
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