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China shares suffer 4th straight loss, sinking Hong Kong

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

* HSI -0.9 pct, H-shares -1.3 pct, CSI300 -1.4 pct

* Reported wealth product probe hits mid-sized Chinese banks

* China Life falls after clarifying chairman's comments

* New World Development up on spinoff plan

By Clement Tan

HONG KONG, March 12 (Reuters) - China shares fell for a fourth straight day, led by mid-sized banks after the official media reported that the country's banking regulator has launched a nationwide probe of wealth management products.

The reversal of Tuesday's early gains by mainland markets put Hong Kong on the defensive. The Hang Seng Index ended down 0.9 percent, slipping from a three-week high it had hovered around the past two sessions.

The China Enterprises Index of the top Chinese listings in Hong Kong fell 1.3 percent. The CSI300 of the top Shanghai and Shenzhen A-share listings shed 1.4 percent, while the Shanghai Composite Index slid 1 percent.

Trading volume in Shanghai jumped nearly 40 percent from Monday's 2013 low, while Hong Kong turnover rose almost 20 percent. Both were broadly in line with their average over the past 20 days.

"It's not a good time to be doing anything major right now, everybody's expecting the different ministries to announce specific measures from policies announced at the annual parliamentary meetings," said Zhong Hua, a Shanghai-based strategist with Guotai Junan Securities.

Chen Li, A-share strategist at UBS, told reporters in Hong Kong that it could be until May or June before there's a substantive policy rollout from China's new administration.

On Tuesday, there was a signal of a thrust in regulation. The official China Securities Journal reported that the China Banking Regulatory Commission is focusing a probe on wealth management products that channel depositors' money into a pool of assets, rather than a single account.

Such products are not transparent and could create room for illegal operations, the media report said. The article, citing unidentified sources, added that the regulator is urging banks to stop selling wealth management products that do not conform to new rules by end-April.

China Minsheng Bank dived 4.7 percent to its lowest in a week in Shanghai. In Shenzhen, Ping An Bank sank 4 percent, cutting its gains for the year to 35.6 percent, compared to the 1.3 percent gain for the CSI300.

The chairman of China Minsheng, the country's only sizable privately-controlled bank, had told reporters on Monday that China should reduce state-owned stakes in mid-sized commercial banks to less than 50 percent.

Another report in the official China Securities Journal increased jitters on the resumption of initial public offerings. The article said new rules designed to ensure the quality of listed companies so far have not led to the withdrawal of a significant number of applications ahead of an end-March deadline.

China Life Insurance tumbled 3.2 percent in Hong Kong and 1.7 percent in Shanghai after clarifying late on Monday that its chairman's comments about an improvement in profits were his opinion and should not be taken as an earnings forecast. Its Hong Kong shares were suspended on Monday.

PROPERTY BUCKS WEAKNESS

Shares of New World Development climbed 0.9 percent after the Hong Kong property developer said it is considering a possible spin-off and separate listing of some hospitality assets.

Chinese property and cement counters were buoyed by mainland media reports citing official data as showing that in the first two months of 2013, national cement production rose 10.8 percent from a year earlier.

This raised hopes that annual cement demand will increase for the first time in four years. The news reports also suggested that home-purchase controls will not adversely impact housing demand.

Anhui Conch Cement gained 1.1 percent in Shanghai, while China Vanke climbed 1 percent in Shenzhen and China Resources Land was up 0.7 percent in Hong Kong.

Investors are awaiting clarity on more curbs on the Chinese property sector that the State Council first announced March 1 as local government data showed China's home price inflation may be steeper than official data suggest.

Home sales in Beijing nearly quadrupled last week after the government unveiled tax plans to curb speculation, a sign that investors have giant gains to lock in.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/thomson-reuters/130312/china-shares-suffer-4th-straight-loss-sinking-hong-kong