Rumour mill falls silent as 'mystery' over HKET fades

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 July, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 July, 2005, 12:00am

Top executives put paid to speculation about publisher's possible mainland ties

In a town where so many leading newspaper titles are closely associated with their family proprietors - the Ma family's Oriental Daily News, Jimmy Lai Chee-ying's Apple Daily and the Kuoks' South China Morning Post - the Hong Kong Economic Times has long been a somewhat mysterious exception.

With the paper characterised by a unique blend of no-nonsense financial reporting and a pro-Beijing editorial line, industry watchers have wondered if there was an invisible owner - perhaps from the mainland - behind it, and hoped that its parent's forthcoming initial public offering would shed some light on its ownership structure. They have been disappointed.

'We do not have any support from a mainland-based company,' Hong Kong Economic Times Holdings (HKET) chairman Lawrence Fung Siu-por said in an interview at the weekend. 'We are a Hong Kong company that started with funds of only $20 million.'

HKET, which also publishes PC magazine e-zone and recruitment paper Career Times, is hoping to raise as much as $176 million for business expansion in Hong Kong and China. Its shares will start trading on August 3.

According to HKET's prospectus, its principal shareholders include Mr Fung, non-executive director Chu Yu-lun and Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing director Leong Ka-chai, who after the listing will collectively hold a 62.74 per cent stake in the business through their Golden Rooster holding company.

'Mr Chu, Mr Leong and I have been good friends for 30 years and invested in many businesses together,' Mr Fung said. The trio's first venture, launched in 1978, was trade media and exhibition organiser Adsale Group, followed by investments in local brokerage Roctec Securities and some toy manufacturing firms.

While Mr Fung concentrates on the publishing business, Mr Chu remains active in the local trade show industry and is chairman of Hong Kong Exhibition and Convention Industry Association. Mr Leong remains chairman of Roctec Securities.

Mr Fung claimed his two partners give him a free hand in HKET's management.

'They only care about how to run the company better and we do not have any financial disputes,' Mr Fung said. 'They don't care about money.'

Mr Fung had the idea of launching the Hong Kong Economic Times in the mid-1970s, while studying in Britain.

'I read the Financial Times daily and thought Hong Kong should have something similar,' Mr Fung said.

The newspaper hit the streets in January 1988 with an initial investment of $20 million.

HKET will earmark $50 million of the listing proceeds for expansion in China. Mr Fung describes himself as 'an expert with 30 years experience' of doing business in China. He denied, however, that the move would result in any major shift of focus.

'We will not rely on China business for growth,' Mr Fung said. 'We hope to strike a balance between our Hong Kong and China businesses.'