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China shares subdued as markets await Fed outcome

SHANGHAI, March 17 (Reuters) - China stocks were subdued on Wednesday, as investors await the U.S. Federal Reserve policy meet outcome for cues on whether the central bank could start raising interest rates in 2023, earlier than it had previously said.

** Fed policymakers are expected this week to forecast that the U.S. economy will grow in 2021 at the fastest rate in decades, with unemployment falling and inflation rising, as the COVID-19 vaccination campaign gathers pace and a $1.9 trillion relief package washes through to households.

** At the midday break, the Shanghai Composite index edged down 0.31% to 3,435.96 points, while China’s blue-chip CSI300 index traded flat at 5,083.57.

** By midday, the financial sector sub-index was lower by 1.34%, the consumer staples sector gained 1.27%, the real estate index fell 1.03% and the healthcare sub-index lost 0.19%.

** The smaller Shenzhen index was up 0.59%, the start-up board ChiNext Composite index was higher by 0.91% and Shanghai’s tech-focused STAR50 index climbed 1%.

** Gains in the index were lifted by agricultural shares after the government unveiled measures to support the development of Taiwan-funded companies in agriculture and forestry in mainland China.

** Meanwhile, the sector also gained support after the central Henan province said it would strictly prevent illegal genetically modified seeds from entering the market this year.

** As of midday, Winall Hi-tech Seed Co Ltd jumped 6.5%, Hefei Fengle Seed Co Ltd rose 4.5%, and Zhongnongfa Seed Industry Co Ltd gained 4.7%.

** Chinese H-shares listed in Hong Kong rose 0.15% to 11,346.34, while the Hang Seng Index was down 0.09% at 29,000.18.

** Around the region, MSCI’s Asia ex-Japan stock index was weaker by 0.41% while Japan’s Nikkei index was down 0.20%.

** Some investors said they would closely watch the first high-level in-person contact between Beijing and Washington since U.S. President Joe Biden took office. Sino-U.S. relations have been one of the key factors influencing Chinese financial markets over the past few years.

** Chinese diplomats will meet U.S. officials in Alaska on March 18 and 19, and the tone of any comments coming out of that meeting could help market participants judge the likely path that Sino-U.S. relations could take under the new U.S. administration.

Reporting by Winni Zhou and Andrew Galbraith, Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips

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