The way to a Hong Kong man's heart is through his wallet

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 July, 2007, 12:00am

The restaurant business is usually a good barometer of market performance and judging by a recent bill rung up by a group of well-heeled diners, things are very good.

Fook Lam Moon Restaurant in Wan Chai, dubbed 'the canteen for tycoons' because of its wealthy clientele, issued a record high bill of HK$900,000 for a banquet of 10 tables last week. Each of the 100 guests at the banquet tucked into an 80-gram abalone, which if ordered separately is worth up to HK$1,500. The banquet is understood to have consumed the equivalent of almost all of the restaurant's 80-gram abalone stock for the past three years.

At a price of HK$90,000 per table, it has not yet broken Fook Lam Moon's record of HK$100,000 per table, set at the peak of the property market boom in the 1990s.

The total amount, however, is an all-time high and shows the economy is now performing at its best since the Asian financial crisis.

Some have speculated the diners were cashed-up brokers, wealthy mainland tycoons or newly appointed government ministers.

But a broker friend has told me the record was set by a tycoon from Southeast Asia who has just received government approval to develop a coal mine and the banquet was to celebrate the green light.

Some restaurant operators said they had run out of chicken last week due to the many banquets held for the 10th anniversary of the handover.

Economy back on form

If you don't believe the restaurant owners or wet market stall operators, listen to one of our leading economists, who says the economy is the best in a decade.

Nicholas Kwan, regional head of research for Asia at Standard Chartered Bank, gives a mid-year outlook and review for Hong Kong and the mainland in the second part of our video report and podcast interview on the market.

Mr Kwan said 10 years ago the city had been hard hit by the Asian financial crisis, with the economy contracting by 5 per cent. Now after weathering the dotcom bubble and Sars, Hong Kong was stronger and economic growth this year could be 5.5 per cent. The mainland is expected to post growth of 10.6 per cent.

While rising food prices may add to inflation in the mainland, Mr Kwan said he was not overly concerned. 'When food prices rise, farmers earn more and are happy to grow more or raise more pigs or chickens,' he said. 'This will drive prices down again. What we should worry about is energy prices as we cannot control the natural supply of coal or oil.'

Get well soon, Chim

Legislator for financial services Chim Pui-chung has told White Collar that he is fine despite his fight with cancer.

The legislator, who represents the brokerage industry, found a lump in his neck a few months ago, which was later diagnosed to be cancer.

He is now receiving treatment and was absent from Legco meetings last week.

'The treatment is not fun but I can cope with it. I will be back to work in Legco in October,' he said, asking White Collar to thank all those who had expressed concern about his health.

We wish Mr Chim, nicknamed 'the Angry Man from Chiu Chow' a quick recovery.

PwC takes note of expat trend

PricewaterhouseCoopers combined its expatriate tax compliance services in the mainland, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam into a new regional business from July 1. The combined unit - International Assignment Services - remains wholly owned by the PwC global network.

Rod Houng-Lee, regional tax leader of PwC and the senior partner of the new unit, said the move was because of increasing foreign direct investment in the region, particularly the mainland, which has led foreign investors to hire a lot of expatriates.