Chinese property developers sank on Wednesday, limiting A-share gains, after a plan Beijing announced late on Tuesday to tackle inequality included an expansion of a property tax pilot programme to more cities.
The Hang Seng Index climbed 0.5 per cent on Wednesday to 23,256.9 points, with technical resistance seen at 23,407, the bottom end of a gap that opened up on the chart after Tuesday's 2.3 percent fall - the biggest drop in three months.
The China Enterprises Index of the top Chinese listings in Hong Kong rose 0.3 percent. Turnover slipped below its 20-day moving average for only the seventh time this year.
In the mainland, the CSI300 of the top Shanghai and Shenzhen A-share listings gained 0.2 per cent to its highest close since September 2011.
The Shanghai Composite Index stretched its winning streak into an eighth day, inching up 0.1 percent to its highest since May 2012. Volume was the second-lowest this year.
"There's been some pressure to take profit on the rally, people are concerned whether we ran up too quickly," said Peter So, co-head of research for China Construction Bank International Securities.
But So said buying interest remains quite healthy despite signs that inflows into Hong Kong are slowing. In a Monday report, So's team said last week's real-time liquidity indicators confirm fund flows into Hong Kong have decelerated, although there were no significant outflows.
He added that shares of listed state-owned enterprises may see more muted performance in the second half, when more details emerge on Beijing's plan to make wealthy state-owned firms pay more to narrow a yawning gap between an urban elite and hundreds of millions of rural poor.
Beijing reiterated its commitment to push market-oriented interest rate reforms, which spurred an outperformance by the non-banking financial sector and smaller Chinese banks.
Insurers were boosted by a Chinese news report saying mainland regulators plan to raise the minimum registered capital requirement for firms to improve performance of the insurance market.
Ping An Insurance climbed 4.2 percent in Shanghai and 0.4 percent in Hong Kong. Citic Securities rose 1.4 percent in Shanghai and 2.2 percent in Hong Kong.
Popular defensive plays, which lagged behind as more growth-sensitive stocks powered the rally from lows last year, were broadly higher. Hong Kong utilities provider Power Assets gained 1.6 per cent, while China Mobile rose 1 percent.
Asian insurance giant AIA Group rose 2.7 percent on Wednesday. Before Wednesday, AIA's Hong Kong shares were down 0.7 percent in 2013 after rising nearly 25 per cent in 2012. This compares to the Hang Seng Index's 2.2 per cent gain and 23 percent jump, respectively.
Most Hong Kong developers rebounded from a fall on Tuesday rooted in comments by the territory's de facto central bank chief, which sparked fears of more property market curbs. Wharf Holdings was up 2.1 per cent.
The Chinese property sector, roiled in the past few weeks on conflicting signs on whether property taxes will be expanded in the mainland, was a key source of weakness in both onshore and offshore markets.
China Vanke shed 1.4 per cent in Shenzhen and Poly Real Estate slid 2.1 per cent in Shanghai while China Overseas Land fell 2.8 per cent in Hong Kong.
Bad day for China luxury
Beijing's much-delayed release of its income distribution plan (IDP) also weighed down luxury-related sectors with a big exposure to China, such as Macau casinos, premium alcohol producers and luxury watch retailers.
The Macau gambling sector was hit by a report in The Times of London that Beijing is planning a crackdown after the Lunar New Year holiday on triad-linked "junket" operators who bring high-rollers from mainland China.
Shares of Wynn Macau and SJM Holdings dove more than 6 per cent, while Sands China posted its biggest single-day drop since end-June 2012, sliding 5.2 percent.
Wuliangye fell 1 per cent in Shenzhen after the Xinhua state news agency said that Chinese radio and television stations are to ban advertisements for expensive gifts such as watches as part of a government push to crack down on extravagance and waste.
Shares of luxury watch distributor Hengdeli declined 2.2 per cent in Hong Kong.
Despite several buyback programmes, shares of Hengdeli have tumbled to a more than two-month low following a January Hong Kong magazine report that questioned the company's operations. Hengdeli said there had been no material change in its operations. — Reuters