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Nikkei Markets

Insurers help Hong Kong shares rise amid Brexit uncertainty

Evergrande Health climbs following deal to buy Swedish electric vehicle maker

HONG KONG (Nikkei Markets) -- Hong Kong shares weathered early losses to end higher on Wednesday, led by gains for Chinese insurers and drugmakers, even as investors watched political uncertainty related to Britain's exit from the European Union.

The Hang Seng Index added 0.3% to 26,902.10, a fresh six-week high, after falling as much as 1% earlier. China Life Insurance jumped 4.8%, extending Tuesday's 4.3% climb following an increase in accumulated premium income for 2018, while Ping An Insurance Group advanced 0.9%. Ping An shares had risen 2% on Tuesday. Drugmakers Sino Biopharmaceutical and CSPC Pharmaceutical added 7.1% and 5.4%, respectively. The four stocks contributed most to the gauge's gains by points.

Wednesday's choppy moves came as investors watched developments in the U.K. after lawmakers on Tuesday voted against Prime Minister Theresa May's proposed deal to take Britain out of the EU. Negotiations for Brexit, which is scheduled for March 29, have been going on for several months. Britain voted to leave the EU in June 2016. The pound sterling climbed 0.2% against the U.S. dollar after falling as much as 1.5% in intraday moves on Tuesday. The Japanese yen, considered to be a safe-haven asset, added 0.1% against the dollar.

"We can see financial markets have been quite immune to bad news recently," said Will Leung, head of investment strategy for Hong Kong and greater China wealth management at Standard Chartered Bank. He attributed weakness in Hong Kong shares "more to a natural correction after Tuesday's gains rather than Brexit."

The Hang Seng Index has risen more than 7% over the last nine trading days amid optimism over Sino-American trade relations and hopes for more state support for the Chinese economy. Chinese Vice Premier Liu He is scheduled to visit Washington on Jan. 30-31 for further trade talks, according to media reports.

"It is hard to guess whether a quick deal can happen, but I believe the market will treat it as good news as long as trade frictions do not escalate. A complete resolution would be the best scenario, but it probably won't happen so soon," Leung said.

In the mainland, the Shanghai Composite Index ended little changed, while the yuan edged 0.1% higher to 6.7557 against the U.S. dollar.

Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi declined 2.6% in Hong Kong. An unidentified investor in the company offered to sell shares worth up to $282 million at a discount, according to two people familiar with the matter. The investor has offered 231 million shares, around 1% of the outstanding, in a range of HK$9.28 to HK$9.60 apiece, a 6.8% to 3.6% discount to Xiaomi's closing price on Tuesday.

Healthcare services provider Evergrande Health Industry Group rose 5.3% after saying it will acquire a 51% stake in National Electric Vehicle Sweden for $930 million.

China Resources Land fell 1.9% following a 23.3% decline in December contracted sales.

Luye Pharma Group advanced 5.9% after saying it has given British drugmaker AstraZeneca the right to exclusively promote its high cholesterol drug based on traditional Chinese medicine in mainland China.

Personal-computer maker Lenovo Group dropped 3.3% after saying it plans to issue convertible bonds worth $675 million.

Legend Holdings, Lenovo's largest shareholder, declined 4.1% to HK$21.20. The company said its shareholder Lian Heng Yong Xin agreed to sell 54.1 million shares in the company, or about 2.29% of total issued shares, to ENN Group International Investment at HK$21.56 each.

China Coal Energy climbed 2.2% following a 6.7% increase in December commercial coal sales volume.

Camera-modules maker Q Technology (Group) slid 6.4% after forecasting a 95% decrease in net profit for the year ended Dec. 31.

Apparel company Bossini International Holdings slumped 8.5% after saying it expects losses for the six months ended Dec. 31 to widen.

-- Amy Lam

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