Transforming losers into tools for Net profit

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 September, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 September, 1999, 12:00am

Surely the two words in finance circles most guaranteed to set pulses racing these days are 'dot' and 'com'.

Not a day goes past when some spotty smartypants goes on-line with the obligatory Internet suffix attached to a name suggesting some marginally innovative information-related concept and hey presto, a new Net stock with market value through the roof.

Soon enough, the nice people from Microsoft or Netscape are cyberknocking and writing out cheques with lots of zeros on the end and another geek is a millionaire; another flannelette shirt-wearing Porsche driver is launched on his way.

It's usually greeted with a blend of envy and amazement, followed by a silent chorus of 'wish I'd thought of that' or 'where's the prospectus'.

Slow off the mark initially, Hong Kongers are now getting in on the act.

With the world's hippest property development Cyber-Port fuelling the hype, local investors are rushing faster than a posse of 17-year-olds to a Hello Kitty shopping mall appearance to get on board.

Before you could say 'fair value', local technology and Internet stocks were starting to reach for the same stratospheric heights that their US trail-blazing forebears have already done.

Now everyone wants a bit of the action. Hitherto sensible, conservative Hong Kong companies involved in property and manufacturing have seemingly overnight acquired enough IT acumen to sink a ship and transform their business into a Net operation.

The fact that it's all a bit silly and that few of the firms are making a cent out of their on-line operations appears to be no obstacle.

Querying the trend is not de rigeur although there is the odd heretic among the devotees of the new faith.

One party-pooper likened the Net stock craze to the red-chip boom - and bust - in 1997. But we fear he is in the minority.

The important thing is to be in on the next big site.

So inevitably there are all sorts of bizarre outcomes and statements spewing forth from the Netlords in town.

Take the example of Ocean-Land Group, a property and investment group which is to start an on-line bookshop, an initiative it promised would be more profitable than Amazon.com.

Such grandiose ambition. It ignores the fact that Amazon has not managed a profit in four years of existence.

Then there was Companion Marble (Holdings), which this week suddenly became Companion Dynamic Holdings, metamorphosing from a marble and granite trader into an e-commerce outfit.

All this unbridled enthusiasm for new technology is most encouraging and inevitably Hong Kong will benefit. Who knows, we may even get to beat rotten old Singapore in the tech-race after all.

Ever keen to jump on the bandwagon and take off at warp speed on the Information superhighway, Lai See has been giving this tech-stock business some thought.

We've been particularly channelling our energies into finding ways in which such IPOs could be used to transform troubled companies into corporate masters of the universe - well at least of Nasdaq or GEM.

Not for the first time, Lai See has conceived a cunning plan, one sure to interest our friends across the border.

We all remember the Itics - those rather troubled mainland international investment vehicles whose creditors are baying for blood.

They were miffed to discover what they considered to be investments quasi-backed by the government were in fact nothing of the sort.

Instead, Beijing decided to sound a warning to the other Itics by declaring Gitic and Gzitic bankrupt and most people ended up with nothing.

The conventional liquidation process is clearly failing, yet all around everyone from tile sellers to builders are transforming themselves into new millennium vanguards and going on-line, hoping they will be the next Yahoo! or Excite.

Now here's the clever part.

Why don't the wise men in Beijing transform their once-prized assets into Net stocks? First, the government creates Internet companies from the ashes of the Itics.

Who knows what they sell or do, that's for them to work out. Maybe they could create links to the home-pages of other still solvent Itics.

Then it announces initial public offerings in these bold new generation tech stocks and issues prospectuses.

The fun part is when they offer free shares appropriately valued (i.e. someone gets a whole lot of plastic numbers and throws them in the air and comes up with a figure) to Itic debtors, equivalent to the money owed them.

A bit of savvy marketing, a few nice lunches at the China Club and karaoke nights with the analysts and then they hit Nasdaq.

Problem solved.

The Itics are part of the brave new world, the debtors get their money back - and some - everyone goes out and buys a new BMW sports car and the whole mad world of Net commerce gets another member or two.

Ladies and gentlemen of the investment world, we give you Itic.com.