July 13, 2018 / 2:00 AM / 7 months ago

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* For data, click on * HSI seen at 17,500 at mid-2012; 21,000 by end-2012 * Mainland property, Europe debt crisis seen key risks * Chinese monetary policy easing could help in H2 By Clement Tan HONG KONG, Dec 1 (Reuters) - Hong Kong shares are expected to post a decline in the first half of 2012, with gains weighted towards the second half as the European debt crisis keeps risk aversion high against a murky growth outlook, a Reuters poll showed. The territory's benchmark Hang Seng Index will likely finish at 17,500 at the end of June 2012, which is down almost 8 percent from Thursday's close around 19,000, according to the 12 equity market analysts and strategists surveyed over the past week. Europe's lingering debt crisis has kept investors on the back foot despite low valuations for Chinese stocks. "The crisis we are seeing could get much worse and I don't think markets have priced that in yet," said Hong Hao, a global equity strategist with China International Capital Corporation in Beijing. Closer to home, concerns about the Chinese real estate market are taking their toll on property and financial stocks while fears of a global slowdown have hurt cyclical sectors. But market watchers expect Beijing's gradual easing of monetary policy in the new year to combat slowing growth in the world's second-largest economy as inflation ebbs, pushing the Hang Seng Index to around 21,000 by the end of 2012.

Global indexes rallied on Wednesday after top central banks around the world announced co-ordinated steps to prevent a credit crunch among banks in Europe that are struggling with the region's debt crisis. But, the Hang Seng Index is still down 17.5 percent in 2011 to date after rising over 5 percent in 2010, which ranks the Hong Kong benchmark among the worst performers in the Asia-Pacific region. According to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S data, the benchmark is currently trading at 9.4 times its forward 12-month earnings, a 31 percent discount to its 10-year average forward valuation. With Chinese companies accounting for about 60 percent of market capitalization in Hong Kong, widely seen as the most popular way for foreign investors to invest in China, the performance of Hong Kong stock markets is tied to the mainland's economic fortunes to a large extent. China's economic growth is likely to slow to 8.5 percent in 2012 from 9.3 percent this year, but the global headwinds the country faces could be partly offset by supportive policy steps, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said on Monday. Echoing a similar warning from the International Monetary Fund earlier in November, the Paris-based body said the world's second-largest economy also faces risks from a property sector downturn that could lead to a resurgence in bad bank loans. Slowing global growth, largely driven by European leaders dithering on a satisfactory resolution to the region's debt debacle, have raised expectations that Beijing would cut rates or increase money supply. After markets closed on Wednesday, Beijing responded by cutting the reserve requirement ratio for its commercial lenders for the first time in nearly three years, signaling a policy shift. But home purchasing restrictions and other curbs imposed on the property sector look set to continue after a central bank adviser said earlier on Wednesday that property curbs will remain a key part of Beijing's "prudent" monetary policy. PROPERTY SECTOR SEEN AS KEY RISK The risks posed by the property market were reiterated by HSBC China equity strategists in their outlook note for 2012 as one of three potential forces driving Chinese markets. "The trajectory of price correction would make a difference to financial system stability, private consumption and stocks," HSBC strategists, led by Steven Sun, wrote in the note. Beijing's latest move should ease fears, but it remains unclear whether the measures it undertook since late 2009 to curb overheating home prices could in fact now cripple the property sector, which accounts for about 10 percent of China's GDP. Declining home prices and sales numbers are putting so much pressure on liquidity and margins at Chinese property developers that smaller companies could be pushed to the brink of collapse. Bigger developers such as China Overseas Land & Investment are down more than 20 percent in the second half of this year to date. The Hang Seng property Index is down 22.3 percent over the same period.

(For other stories from the poll click on ) (Additional reporting by Vikram Subhedar; Additional polling by Ashrith Doddi and Sumanta Dey in Bangalore; Editing by Jon Loades-Carter) Keywords: MARKETS STOCKS HONGKONG/POLL

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