with Neil Gough
Hong Kong stock market always worth a gamble for short sellers
Short selling of stocks, as all who saw the latest James Bond movie are aware, is how really bad guys raise money to do really bad things. But the news that Hong Kong regulators are considering relaxing our relatively strict limits on short selling should not be cause for concern.
Witness the film. After agent 007 blocks a terrorist banker's attempt to make millions by shorting a stock, the baddie has no choice but to try to win the money gambling against Bond in a high-stakes poker game at the Casino Royale.
But back to real life: while it is doubtful the Hong Kong stock market has lost would-be short sellers to the casinos in Macau, there is an interesting connection here.
The gambling scene in Casino Royale was inspired by a visit that author Ian Fleming once paid to Portugal's Casino Estoril, Europe's largest casino.
As luck would have it, the Estoril is majority-owned by a certain local businessman known for his broad investments in gaming-related concerns.
The name is Ho. Stanley Ho.
A new shade of black
Paint maker Wing Shing International will try out a new shade of colour: black gold. The small chemicals firm said yesterday it would pay a modest HK$50 million - mainly in shares - for a majority stake in an oil exploration business in northeast China.
Despite a 16 per cent drop in the share price after the announcement, the company remains upbeat and has high hopes for a product it refers to as 'High Efficient Viscosity Depressor for Oil Exploitation.'
The plan is to use the 'viscosity depressor' to help tap new reserves in the Shengli oilfield, a top-producing site for mainland petro-giant Sinopec. According to chairman Poon Sum, Wing Shing has already sold 700 tonnes of the 'viscosity depressor' to the Shengli field.
But the company was unsure how it would put new discoveries into production, focusing instead on yesterday's deal. 'We'll come up with a plan later, after we complete this acquisition,' Mr Poon said.
Apparently, Wing Shing aims to re-fashion itself as an 'integrated energy and chemical group.' Be warned, BP.
Secret meetings in Malaysia
Speaking of spreading one's wings, reports from Singapore say Richard Li Tzar-kai held a secret meeting in Malaysia last year with Ming Pao owner Tiong Hiew King.
The meeting took place well before Mr Tiong announced the mega merger of his Hong Kong and Malaysian media outlets, which will be consolidated in a single group and dually listed in Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur. Could a larger alliance be in the works?
'You know, Mr Li has a vision for the media industry,' said one industry watcher. '[His] acquisition of the Economic Journal last summer should be his first step.'
Another source close to Ming Pao said any collaboration between Prince Richard and the Malaysian media maven would have to wait until the current merger was completed.
'We can't rule out any possibilities in the future,' said the source. 'We do want to build up a global Chinese media platform, and it would be good news for Ming Pao to have a partner.'
Keep on trucking
The billions of investment flowing into the other SAR have created a fair number of both bulls and bears in Macau. The bulls say 'build it and they will come', while the bears simply say 'bull'.
Still, no one disputes that they are building it. And salaries are booming as a result.
Lai See read with relish the latest figures from the local census and statistics department yesterday, regarding the wages of construction workers in the territory.
On the whole, the average wage of a construction worker in Macau has nearly doubled in the past six years. Surprisingly, the biggest increase has been for truck drivers, who now make 2.7 times what they did in 2000.
The average trucker who had to make do with HK$204 a day six years ago is now pulling in HK$529 per day - about twice the average salary in Macau.