Much ado about nothingat the stock exchange
The Financial Services and the Treasury Bureau yesterday appeared to be bending over excessively backwards to boost press coverage of a stock exchange event involving mainland stock exchange officials. One of our reporters received a message at 1.30pm from an information officer at the FSTB asking her to turn up at government HQ at Tamar from where she would be taken to an undisclosed destination to discuss something she also couldn't disclose. So off she went, imagining a big story. Meanwhile, the exchange at 4pm put out a notice inviting editors to send reporters to cover an event at the exchange without saying what.
When our reporter arrived at Tamar, she was directed to a bus along with other reporters and told they were heading to the stock exchange - all of five minutes' drive away. The big news was that the exchanges of Hong Kong, Shanghai and Shenzhen were to form a joint-venture company that would develop new indices based on A-share and Hong Kong stocks that would provide the basis for equity index futures and options to be traded in Hong Kong.
This was announced last August. Yesterday's event was the signing ceremony, to be followed by a press conference, and was deemed price-sensitive information, hence couldn't be revealed until after the market closed.
Those in attendance included Finance Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah, Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing chief executive Charles Li Xiaojia, the presidents of the Shanghai and Shenzhen stock exchange, Securities and Futures Commission chief executive Ashley Alder and so on.
To the cynical, it looked as if the government was bussing in reporters to ensure the event got the coverage it felt would impress our important mainland visitors in town. But according to information officers, the government was simply trying to help the press. It is strange that this kind of help doesn't seem to be available when important mainland visitors are not in town. Another example of government intervention in stock exchange affairs. This new joint venture also explains why the stock exchange has been so insistent on shortening the lunch break and aligning the exchange's trading hours with mainland exchanges. Not that it said that at the time.
No room at the inn
Anybody who tries to book a room in either the Grand Hyatt in Wan Chai or Hyatt Regency in Tsim Sha Tsui over the next few days is in for a disappointment. Attempts at making a booking yesterday on the hotels' website for yesterday, today, tomorrow and Sunday failed and customers were directed to a service message that says, 'The hotel is not available for your requested travel dates. Go back to select alternative dates at the same hotel or enter an alternative location.'
It's not hard to work out what's going on. Our president Hu Jintao is staying at the hotel while he oversees the July 1 jollities. So naturally the president and his attendant officials need to take over two hotels. Grand Hyatt has some 549 luxury rooms and suites. There are 11 categories ranging from HK$3,200 to HK$7,700 per night while Hyatt Regency rooms range from HK$1,750 to HK$3,550. That's a chunky bill, which, by our very rough estimate, comes to around HK$3 million.
We wonder who's paying. Why this visit requires two hotels is hard to fathom, when other heads of state can make do with a hotel floor or two. But then, the whole of Hong Kong is being bent out of shape for this visit. Most of the police force is on standby and no leave can be taken during the period.
While we may be 'blown away' this weekend, it will not be due to the 'gifts' from the motherland. Tropical storm Doksuri (Korean for eagle) looks like it will arrive in Hong Kong around Friday night or Saturday morning.
How much lower can banks go?
Just when you though banking activity couldn't get any more egregious, up pops Barclays and the Libor rigging scandal. E-mail exchanges that have fallen into the hands of the authority give a flavour of what was going on. The Financial Times reports that on one occasion a former Barclays employee tells an employee involved in submitting rates to the Libor panel, 'Dude I owe you big time! Come over one day after work and I'm opening a bottle of Bollinger.' The newspaper mentions another incident where a Barclays rate submitter is thanked profusely by a trader who says, 'When I retire and write a book about this business, your name will written in golden letters'. The Barclays man responds: 'I would prefer this (to) not be in any book.'
This will run and run as some 20 other banks have been mentioned in connection with this scandal.