(Refiles to fix spelling in headline)
* .CSI300 +1.7; SSEC: 1.6 pct; HSI: 1.5 pct
* Infrastructure stocks surge on China’s Modern Silk Road plan
* Expectations of easing rise after Zhou’s warning on deflation
By Samuel Shen and Pete Sweeney
SHANGHAI, March 30 (Reuters) - China stocks jumped nearly 2 percent to near seven-year-highs and Hong Kong shares also rose sharply on Monday after Beijing unveiled details of an ambitious plan to construct a modern Silk Road to improve links from Asia to Europe and Africa.
Shares were also supported by weekend comments from central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan that reinforced expectations for further monetary easing to support the slowing economy.
The CSI300 index rose 1.7 percent, to 4,039.30 points at the end of the morning session, while the Shanghai Composite Index gained 1.6 percent, to 3,750.92 points.
In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index added 1.5 percent, to 24,853.37 points.
The Hong Kong China Enterprises Index, which tracks Chinese companies listed in Hong Kong in the form of so-called “H shares”, jumped 3.4 percent, after China’s securities regulator said on Friday it would let mainland mutual funds invest in Hong Kong shares via the Shanghai-Hong Kong Stock Connect.
Investor enthusiasm also got a boost from a commentary in Monday’s People’s Daily saying China’s bull market would benefit from economic restructuring. The article from the Communist Party’s mouthpiece added to signs that policymakers support the stock market’s rise.
Infrastructure-related stocks surged as investors bet train makers, power generators and port operators would benefit from China’s so-called “One Belt, One Road” initiative. The project, a network of railways, highways and other infrastructure, would create a new Silk Road that President Xi Jinping said would in a decade generate $2.5 trillion in annual trade with the countries involved.
Analysts expect investment in the project this year alone could reach 300 billion yuan to 400 billion yuan ($48-64 billion).
“The initiative is a boon to many of China’s struggling industries,” said Alex Kwok, Hong Kong-based strategist at China Investment Securities (HK).
Kwok said that stocks rose also because of rising expectations of monetary easing after People’s Bank of China Governor Zhou warned on Sunday that the country needs to be vigilant for signs of deflation. The central bank has already cut interest rates twice and banks’ reserve requirements once since November.
“China’s economy is under relatively big downward pressure, and the government is struggling to meet the 7 percent growth target this year. So Zhou’s comment sends a strong signal of more easing policies ahead.”
Referring to the plan to let China mutual funds trade Hong Kong stocks, Kwok said the move would help reduce the valuation gap between the two markets, as mainland fund managers will likely use this channel to bargain hunt for Hong Kong-listed shares, which currently trade at about a 35 percent discount to their mainland peers on average.
“I expect mainland shares to keep rising, while Hong Kong stocks will likely move closer to their China peers in terms of valuation.”
Further gains in China’s stock market could be fuelled by fresh money inflows, as many investors who long shunned shares as too risky are now piling in, snapping up newly-launched mutual funds often in days. ($1 = 6.2108 Chinese yuan renminbi) (Editing by Kim Coghill)