HONG KONG (Nikkei Markets) -- Hong Kong shares pulled higher in afternoon trading, sending the benchmark gauge to a 21-month high, as mainland equities rebounded and strong business growth propelled AIA Group to life-time highs.
After struggling for direction in morning trading, the Hang Seng Index crept 0.5% up in the afternoon to finish the day at 24,698.48, a level it has not seen since July 2015. AIA was the top performer among the gauge's 50 constituents as it surged 6.2% after reporting a 55% jump in the value of new business - a key metric for insurers - during the first quarter, fueled by rapid expansion in China.
The Shanghai Composite, which was plumbing three-month lows at the midday break, rebounded to close 0.4% higher, while the ChiNext Index of small-cap companies listed in Shenzhen added 1.2%. Data released earlier Thursday showed China's industrial profits climbed 23.8% last month amid an economic stabilization on the mainland.
Regional markets also edged higher after a lackluster performance earlier in the day, with the Nikkei Asia 300 Index adding 0.3% to 1,193.03. The S&P 500 Index and the Dow Jones Industrial Average had slipped overnight after the U.S. government unveiled tax proposals including a plan to cut the corporate tax rate by more than half, but did not provide details on how they would be realized without widening the nation's budget deficit. Still, some analysts treated the announcements as good news for stock investors.
"Even without too many details, the tax reforms should keep equities supported globally," said Francis Lun, chief executive officer at Geo Securities.
China Life Insurance slipped 0.2% before the nation's most valuable insurer said after the market hours that its first-quarter net income increased 17%. Ping An Insurance Group, also due to report earnings on Thursday, closed 1% higher.
Standard Chartered, which has a major presence in Asia, jumped the most in three months after its pre-tax profit nearly doubled in the first quarter. HSBC Holdings, another London-headquartered bank that earns most of its profits in Asia and also a heavyweight on the Hang Seng index, added 0.5%.
Minth Group, among the day's most traded stock, slumped 11%. The company said Thursday Chin Jong Hwa will return as chairman and CEO from Sept. 1, replacing Shi Jian Hui.
Sands China was the day's top loser on the Hang Seng index, falling 3.5% after posting a smaller-than-expected increase in first-quarter net income. Galaxy Entertainment Group shed 2.6%.
China Petroleum & Chemical (Sinopec) lost 1.4%, pacing declines in energy stocks, after Brent crude prices dipped Thursday toward a one-month low. Sinopec is also due to report earnings on Thursday.
China Telecom ended unchanged. The company reported a 4.5% increase in first-quarter net profit during Thursday's midday break.
Anhui Conch Cement fell 3.8%, paring this year's advance to 26%. The company said Wednesday it made a capital gain of 900 million yuan ($130 million) from the sale of some or all its holdings in three companies between January and April.
BBMG slipped 0.7%, paring this month's advance to just below 31%. The company said late Wednesday its net income nearly tripled in the first quarter.
China Huishan Dairy Holdings, whose shares have been under a trading halt for more than a month following a sudden 85% plunge, said Michael Chou had resigned as its company secretary to focus on his other responsibilities within the group.
-- Nimesh Vora and V. Phani Kumar
-- Nikkei Markets is a real-time financial news service for South East Asia's markets published by Nikkei NewsRise Asia Pte Ltd, a Nikkei and NewsRise joint venture company. Nikkei Markets provides wide companies coverage in the region, including the Nikkei's Asia300 companies.