Lai See

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 July, 2012, 12:00am


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Absurd Hong Kong travel alert puts Philippines on par with Syria

Since we now have a new administration perhaps it would like to rethink the way the government's outbound travel alert system functions. It is supposed to provide travellers with a sense of the relative risks involved in travelling to certain countries. There are three levels of risk: black - avoid all travel; red - avoid non-essential travel; and amber - exercise caution. There are two countries carrying a black alert. One, unsurprisingly, is Syria, which was recently dubbed the most dangerous country in the world for journalists by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. The other is the Philippines, which was included following the fatal shooting of Hong Kong tourists in Manila on a hijacked bus in August 2010. To say that the same level of threat exists for travellers going to the Philippines and Syria is patently absurd and makes a mockery of what is supposed to be an indicator of real travel risk. Categorising the Philippines in this way, as we've said before, was simply vindictive and an attempt to curry favour with the Hong Kong public angry at the deaths by the hijacker. Obviously there is some risk in travelling to the Philippines but no more so than exists, say, for Thailand, where a travel agent was recently murdered, or Russia, Pakistan, India, Indonesia, or Iran, all of which are rated as an amber level of risk. Until this situation with the Philippines is rectified, the outbound travel alert is worthless, and misleading.

The Russians aren't coming

VTB Capital, a leading Russian investment bank, was in town yesterday with some of its senior management. An invitation to hear them from its corporate communications department said: 'Hong Kong is a key strategic region for VTB Capital and a major global destination for Russian issuers.' We found this a little surprising since you would have thought that to be considered 'a major destination' there would need to be more than one Russian listed stock on the Hong Kong exchange. This, as readers should know, is controversial Russian aluminium company Rusal. It was certainly an entertaining listing, with endless stories about its massive debt, its problems getting listed, and the legal troubles of its colourful founder and controlling shareholder, Oleg Deripaska. But it would be a stretch to call it a 'successful' listing given that it's languishing some 59 per cent below its IPO price of HK$10.80.

Some people refer to IRC as a Russian company, but it's a Hong Kong-based mining company with most of its assets in Russia. Its listing wasn't that sprightly, with an IPO at HK$1.80 and its current price some 50 per cent below that at 90 HK cents. Renaissance Capital similarly hoped Hong Kong would be a major destination for Russian issuers. But it closed its Hong Kong office two weeks ago, before this hope reached fruition.

Room with a view and little else

Cheung Kong has caused a bit of a stir on Weibo and Facebook. A picture of the helper's room in the firm's new project, Crown by the Sea in Tuen Mun, has attracted considerable attention on these sites on account of its diminutive proportions. Our picture below was originally captured from Cable TV's Property Outlook programme and transferred to the internet. The room according to Tsim Chai-nam, a property market veteran of some 19 years, measures about 27 square feet, about half of which is taken up by the bay window.

Tsim, who helps prospective buyers check the quality of properties, said he had seen hundreds of old and new flats but had never encountered a room of this design nor one so small. He added that it was fortunate that helpers in Hong Kong tended not to be very tall, otherwise they wouldn't be able to sleep in the room. Nice one, Cheung Kong.

Pay rises all round - maybe

We're pleased to see that business confidence among Hong Kong's business leaders has shifted from pessimistic to optimistic in the second quarter of the year, according to the latest Grant Thornton International Business Report.

It's the first upswing in the last 18 months, according to the report. While business confidence in much of the world has fluctuated on the back of the debt crisis in Europe, confidence in China and Hong Kong has been rising during the past three months. Confidence in China is up from 23 per cent to 33 per cent, and in Hong Kong from minus 2 per cent to plus 8 per cent. The report shows that the vast majority of Hong Kong employers planned to offer pay rises over the next 12 months.

However, Grant Thornton's Daniel Lin said much of the optimism could fade if worries over Spanish and Italian debt went unresolved. So we're guessing we shouldn't bet on a pay rise yet.