Filomena Scalise

Hong Kong - Hong Kong shares tumbled to a four-month low on Friday, with growth-sensitive sectors taking some of the bigger hits on rising worries a new strain of bird flu in China could hurt the local economy.

Traders said losses were exacerbated by an exit of funds from the territory following the Bank of Japan's unprecedented aggressive monetary easing announced on Thursday, a day Hong Kong markets were shut for a public holiday.

At 03h06 GMT, the Hang Seng Index was down 2.1 percent at 21,869 points, its lowest since early December. During the SARS outbreak 10 years ago, the benchmark dived 25 percent from a December 2, 2002 peak to a trough on April 25, 2003.

The China Enterprises Index of the leading Chinese listings in Hong Kong dived 2.5 percent to 10,496.1, breaking below its 200-day moving average, now at about 10,508.9, for the first time since November 21.

Mainland China stayed shut on Friday for a public holiday and will resume trading on Monday.

“Everything is combining today to hurt the market,” said Alfred Chan, chief dealer at Cheer Pearl Investment in Hong Kong. “The bird flu issue is at the top of people's minds now.”

China said it was mobilising resources nationwide to combat a new strain of bird flu that has killed six people. All of the 14 reported infections from the H7N9 bird flu strain have been in eastern China and at least four of the six dead are in the financial hub of Shanghai, a city of 20 million people.

The strain does not appear to be transmitted from human to human but authorities in Hong Kong raised a preliminary alert and said they were taking precautions at the airport. Vietnam banned imports of Chinese poultry.

Chinese airlines were among the biggest percentage losers on the day. China Southern Airlines plunged 13.5 percent, while China Eastern Airlines and Air China each dived almost 11 percent.

Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific Airways fell 4.1 percent to its lowest since September, but bounced off its Sept. 5 intra-day low at about HK$12.02.

Chinese property stocks slumped after the 21st Century Business Herald newspaper reported on Thursday that about 20 projects in Beijing have been banned from an online property registration system as authorities step up efforts to tighten restrictions on the high-end housing market.

China Resources Land slid 4.6 percent to its lowest in almost two weeks, while Country Garden tumbled five percent.

Chinese oil majors were also hit by lower oil prices, which were on course for their biggest weekly decline in a month. CNOOC slid 3.5 percent, while PetroChina fell 3.3 percent and China Petroleum and Chemical (Sinopec) declined 2.3 percent. - Reuters