HONG KONG (Nikkei Markets) -- Hong Kong stocks ended lower after some choppy moves on Thursday, with investors weighing prospects of policy easing in China against risks related to Britain's exit from the European Union and Sino-American tensions.
The benchmark Hang Seng Index ended 0.5% lower at 26,755.63, after climbing as high as 27,012.19 earlier in the day. Life insurer AIA Group shed 1.5% and China Mobile slipped 0.9%, while conglomerate CITIC declined 3.3%.
Investors are looking ahead to Monday, when China's gross domestic product data for the fourth quarter and the full year is due to be released.
Banny Lam, head of research at CEB International Investment in Hong Kong, said the GDP data was "important" because of expectations that growth in Asia's largest economy fell below 6.5% in the fourth quarter, although the pace for the full year was likely above that figure. He noted that the People's Bank of China has been injecting liquidity into the financial system ahead of the Chinese New Year holiday in February amid concerns about a slowdown.
"The data might signal that China needs to lower its 2019 economic growth targets, which could affect sentiment and weigh on market performance," he said. The liquidity injection by the PBOC "reflects that the central government is worried over the economy outlook. So the data release on Monday will give investors the full picture and give out a clearer direction."
The PBOC pumped in a net 1.14 trillion yuan ($169 billion) through its open-market operations so far this week, with Wednesday's operation the biggest one-day addition on record, according to Bloomberg News.
China plans to set an economic growth target of 6% to 6.5% for 2019, compared with last year's goal of around 6.5%, Reuters reported this month, citing policy sources.
The Shanghai Composite Index dropped 0.4% on Thursday, while the yuan traded onshore weakened 0.2% to 6.7694.
U.S.-China tensions remained in focus after The Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter, that American prosecutors were pursuing a criminal investigation against mainland telecommunications-equipment maker Huawei Technologies for allegedly stealing trade secrets from its U.S. business partners.
Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday survived a no-confidence vote in her administration, leaving her room to look for options after lawmakers defeated her proposed deal for Brexit earlier in the week. The pound was down 0.1% at 1.2870 against the U.S. dollar in Asian afternoon trading.
Some property developers plummeted in afternoon trading in Hong Kong, with Jiayuan International Group crashing 80.6% by the day's end and Sunshine 100 China Holdings plunging 64.6%. Jiayuan has $350 million in debt due to mature on Thursday, Bloomberg reported. Email requests sent to the two companies seeking a comment were not immediately answered.
Ping An Insurance Group climbed 0.3% in Hong Kong after the company reported a 21.4% jump in accumulated gross premium income for its life insurance business in 2018.
Sany Heavy Equipment International jumped 8% after saying it expects its 2018 net profit to have increased "significantly" from the previous year.
CWT International, which has business interests in commodities, financial services and property, slid 1.4% after warning it expects to have posted a loss in 2018, compared with a profit the year before.
Longfor Group slumped 9.1% to HK$22.45 after Junson Development International, a substantial shareholder, cut its stake in the property developer by placing 150 million shares at that price level.
-- Carrie Chen