China's stocks, yuan tumble as COVID protests rattle nerves



(Updates to market close)

SHANGHAI, Nov 28 (Reuters) - Chinese stocks on Monday saw the worst day in a month, as recent monetary-easing measures failed to offset investor worries about protests against strict COVID-19 curbs in the world's second-largest economy, while the yuan weakened versus the dollar.

A U.S. crackdown on Chinese tech giants citing national security concerns also weighed on shares of technology firms.

Nevertheless, the social unrest and rising coronavirus cases had fuelled expectations of an earlier end to China's zero-COVID policy, putting a floor under stocks and boosting tourism and consumer shares.

China's blue-chip CSI 300 Index .CSI300 closed down 1.1%, after slumping as much as 2.7% earlier in the day, logging the biggest daily decline since Oct. 28. Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index .HSI lost 1.6%.

Amid the worries, stock investors took little cheer from a central bank decision on Friday to cut banks' required reserve ratio (RRR) in a bid to aid the struggling economy. The widely expected RRR cut did however add downward pressure on the Chinese currency.

The onshore yuan CNY=CFXS weakened as much as 1.1% to 7.2435 per dollar at one point, the softest level since Nov. 10, and ended its domestic session trading at 7.1999.

"The market does not like uncertainties that are difficult to price and the China protests clearly fall into this category. It means investors will become more risk-averse," said Gary Ng, economist at Natixis.

The wave of civil disobedience is unprecedented in mainland China since President Xi Jinping assumed power a decade ago and comes amid mounting frustration over his signature zero-COVID policy as well as record high daily infections.

While state media has not reported the protests, photos and videos of the protests circulated on social media.

Meanwhile, daily new COVID cases in China reached a record high, with more than 40,000 new infections reported for Sunday, prompting widespread lockdowns and other curbs on movement and business across the country.

In fresh evidence of the hit to China's economy from COVID, data on Sunday showed Chinese industrial firms' overall profits declined further in the January-October period.

Most sectors in mainland markets dropped, with shares in financials .CSIFN , real estate .CSI000952 and energy .CSIEN down between 1.5% and 2%.

Shares in Chinese surveillance equipment maker Dahua Technology Co 002236.SZ , video surveillance firm Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co Ltd 002415.SZ and telecoms firm Hytera Communications Corp Ltd 002583.SZ dropped, following a sales ban by the Biden Administration.

RISING REOPENING BETS

Bucking the trend, consumer and tourism-related companies rose, as some investors bet recent COVID flare-ups and social unrest might push China to end its zero-COVID policy earlier.

"The demonstrations ... mean the current COVID policy mix is no longer politically sustainable. As cases surge, the beginning of some sort of de facto reopening now appears at hand," said Christopher Beddor, deputy China research director at Gavekal Dragonomics in a note.

A tourism sub-index .CSI930633 jumped 4.2%, while stocks in Spring Airlines 601021.SS surged 4.7%, and UTour Group 002707.SZ jumped more than 7%.

Casino stocks .CSICESG10 jumped 7.6% as Macau government said its six incumbent casino operators would be given new licences to operate in the world's biggest gambling hub from January. Wynn Macau 1128.HK soared more than 15% to lead the rally.

Goldman Sachs chief China economist Hui Shan forecast a 30% probability of China reopening before the second quarter next year, including some chance of a forced and disorderly exit.

"The central government may soon need to choose between more lockdowns and more COVID outbreaks," she wrote in a late Sunday note.

Gavekal's Beddor expects China would make concessions to address the underlying concerns, which would mean the center clarifies its instructions to local governments to discourage the use of the harshest COVID-19 containment measures.

Hong Kong-listed tech giants and real estate developers led the decline in the city's market, with the Hang Seng Tech Index .HSTECH down nearly 2% and the Hang Seng Mainland Properties Index .HSI slumping 4.8%.
Reporting by Shanghai Newsroom; Editing by Himani Sarkar, Sam Holmes and Sherry Jacob-Phillips

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