For more examples of cross-leasing, check out the police force
Like many people in Hong Kong, we've been more than a little surprised at the fall of Secretary for Development Mak Chai-kwong for abusing his housing allowance. One of the startling aspects of the case was that Mak said the practice of cross-leasing was 'normal' among civil servants. We wonder how far the Independent Commission Against Corruption is going to extend its enquiries with respect to these newly revealed scams. Of course it was not just civil servants per se who were given these housing allowances. Members of the disciplined services were also recipients of housing allowance. We hear that cross-leasing was not unknown to occur among police officers. We gather that the advent of the housing allowance gave rise to a number of strange liaisons with couples getting divorced and remarrying, or living together and having children, but not getting married until much later. Much of this was apparently connected to collecting double housing allowance. But housing has caused all manner of problems for policemen as it has for other people in Hong Kong. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, a number of officers of all ranks were plunged into negative equity. For some this was quite serious, resulting in a situation known as 'unmanageable debt', a situation that the police take seriously since it can impair the judgment of their officers. The police commissioner at the time, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's brother Tsang Yam-pui, was particularly concerned about the matter and a number of mainly junior officers were dismissed from the service. Not everyone received such draconian treatment. Other officers had their promotions delayed, and there were some who appear to have escaped untouched. How could this be?
Porsche packs a punch
Store openings, it has to be said, are not always our cup of tea. But the opening of the Porsche Design Group's new retail outlet in Central last week turned out to be a fun event. It was packed, which wasn't hard, given that the floor area was only 1,500 square feet. There were plenty of photographers, a smattering of celebs, and of course slinky models. But for us the star of the show was Michael Wong Man-tak and his band. Wong is mainly known as an actor, although in 2006 he fronted a 'big band'. He and his hard-driving band really gave the event some punch.
Never say die
We see that Hong Kong Airlines - which has featured in this column before, in a not altogether positive light - announced yesterday that it was raising the frequency of its flights to Shanghai. From August 3, the carrier will increase its Shanghai flights to four flights a day on three days of the week. It has also inaugurated a code-sharing service with China Eastern Airlines and Shanghai Airlines effective yesterday. Wayne Wong, commercial director for both Hong Kong Airlines and Hong Kong Express, said the number of passengers it carried to Shanghai rose 30 per cent in the first half of the year compared with the same period last year. This is encouraging for an airline whose flights to London are said to be flying at least half empty. Let's hope the new arrangements don't turn out to be another opportunity to delay and annoy its passengers.
Heed the Biggs warnings
We are sorry to hear of the death of Barton Biggs at 79. He rose to fame in the industry as chief strategist at Morgan Stanley for many years, predicting the bull market in US stocks that began in 1982, according to Bloomberg. He also warned in 1989 of the coming collapse in Japanese stocks and warned people to sell tech stocks in the late 1990s, a call that earned him derision from the industry until the dotcom bubble burst. After leaving Morgan Stanley at the age of 70, he founded the hedge fund Traxis. Biggs leaves behind him a plethora of investment bon mots, among which is this one. 'As investors, we always have to be aware of our innate and very human tendency to be fighting the last war. We forget that Mr Market is an ingenious sadist and that he delights in torturing us in different ways.'
Just bank on Citi
Elation was seen at Citi on winning the award from the magazine Euromoney for 'Best Bank in Asia'. Indeed, there was double joy as it was also named best cash management bank in Asia, along with best investment bank in Indonesia and best equity house in India. Investment banks take these awards very seriously.
Explaining why Citi received these awards, Euromoney said: 'Citi's leading place comes thanks to the contribution of Asia to overall bank revenues and Citi's Asia business contributed to an eye-catching 37 per cent to global net profits.'