Hang Seng Bank

Wine duty cut on budget wish list but chances are slim

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 February, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 February, 2007, 12:00am

A nice cut in the wine duty is on the wish list of financial professionals as they contemplate Financial Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen's budget announcement tomorrow.

Besides urging Mr Tang to cut salaries tax, profit tax and stamp duty, many accountants, brokers and investment bankers said they would like to see the 80 per cent wine duty cut.

'Academic studies have proven that red wine is good for health,' PricewaterhouseCoopers senior partner Tim Lui Tim-leung said.

'Many professionals face a lot of pressure at work and wine helps reduce their stress.

'A reduction of the wine duty will benefit professionals, the catering industry and the tourism industry.

'It will help improve the economy and the quality of life in Hong Kong.'

Paul Chan Mo-po, the immediate past president of the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants, shares the view.

'A reduction of the wine duty would save me a lot of money,' Mr Chan said.

But wishes are just that, and both Mr Lui and Mr Chan recognise that despite expectations that the government's surplus will be HK$30 billion or more because of strong investment and stamp duty income, Mr Tang may be willing to cut salaries tax or profit tax but not the wine duty.

For one thing, Mr Tang himself is a wine lover and he may fear that if he cut the wine duty, he would be accused of acting in his own interests. In addition, the widening gap between the rich and the poor will increase pressure on the government to keep taxes high on luxury items.

snake soup tradition ends

Besides the budget, tomorrow also marks the last time Hang Seng Bank will serve snake soup at its traditional winter banquets. For 45 years, the bank has been inviting guests to its corporate dining room during the snake season from November to February.

With Hong Kong's winter drawing to a close, almost 9,000 people have partaken of the bank's hospitality, compared with 8,000 last year. The bank used 2,500 pounds of farmed snake meat during the latest period, ranking it one of the largest snake meat consumers in the city.

Hang Seng started serving snake soup to customers in 1962 when its old headquarters building at 77 Des Voeux Road in Central opened. The tradition was started by Ho Tim, who was then general manager. He was vice-chairman at the time of his retirement in 1979.

The snake soup tradition was a victim of Sars - though not in the way you might expect. During the epidemic in 2003, the bank took snake off the menu until it could be established that the reptiles were not spreading the disease.

Instead, it served fotiaoqiang, which figuratively means 'Buddha jumping over the wall', implying the dish is so delicious that even the Buddha would jump over a wall to try it. (The dish contains abalone, dried scallop and other seafood, though not shark's fin.)

Snake soup came back on the menu two years ago but never regained its former popularity. Of late, guests have preferred fotiaoqiang to snake soup by 60 per cent to 40 per cent.

target: to double sales

MassMutual Asia's newly appointed chief executive Kenneth Yu Yuk-wing aims to double the firm's sales in four to five years.

'I would say that organic growth is our bread and butter. On the other hand, we always keep an eye on possible acquisition targets,' said Mr Yu, our podcast guest this week.

Mr Yu is an all-rounder with more than 20 years of experience in the actuarial, business development and operational areas of the insurance industry. He joined MassMutual in 1994 and became chief executive at the end of last year.

MassMutual is the Hong Kong life insurance unit of MassMutual Financial Group of the United States.

money games

The 17th China-Hong Kong Investment Simulation Competition, sponsored by Taifook Securities Group and the Hong Kong stock exchange, runs from tomorrow to April 20.

The competition among 1,300 students from more than 10 universities in Hong Kong and the mainland aims to encourage undergraduates to apply their investment knowledge in the real world.

Each participant will make a simulated investment of HK$1 million in Hong Kong stocks and one million yuan in the Shenzhen and Shanghai A shares. The winner will be the one with the richest portfolio on closing day.

This year, participants will not be allowed to trade warrants to discourage the high-risk mindset. This sounds strange since 20 per cent of local stock market turnover comes from warrant trading. The rules of the game do not seem to reflect the realities of life.