Bank of China

Lai See

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 September, 2007, 12:00am

PBOC head's 'unlikely' reply fuels media guessing game

Without knowing the context, when People's Bank of China governor Zhou Xiaochuan said something was 'unlikely,' what would you fancy that something could be?

Could it be the long-awaited 'through train' - Beijing's plan to allow mainland investors to buy Hong Kong stocks? What a shame, if that's the case.

After attending a forum at the Chinese University of Hong Kong yesterday, Mr Zhou uttered the word 'unlikely' after one reporter managed to beat the crowd and grab him for a quick question.

Other journalists could hear only the answer, and even then only the word 'unlikely', as Mr Zhou hurried to his next stop. But what was the question?

Wild guesses were rife as the reporter who had outwitted others in the race for quotes 'disappeared' after getting what she wanted.

The 'through train' was among the most popular of the journalists' guesses about what that something might be.

The mystery appeared to have been solved when a Bloomberg story was published with the key word 'unlikely.'

Bloomberg, claiming to know the exact quote, reported: ''Inflation is unlikely to get out of control,' Zhou said outside the Chinese University of Hong Kong in an interview today after addressing students.'

The question, deduced from this by the journalists, was: 'Would inflation get out of control?'

Perhaps investors were more relieved than the journalists - 'unlikely' does not appear to be the destiny of the Hong Kong stock 'through train'.

Goodbye HK$42m

The maker of the one-armed bandit responsible for last month's HK$42 million false jackpot at Galaxy Entertainment's StarWorld casino blamed the incident on a 'ticketing anomaly'.

On August 30, a middle-aged woman surnamed Tin inserted HK$5 into the Stargames machine, setting off blinking lights and a flash of the number $42,000,000 before the screen went blank.

Las Vegas-based Shuffle Master, which owns the Stargames brand of slot machines, said the Macau gaming regulator ordered 47 of its slots to be turned off after the incident.

Shuffle Master said yesterday it would update the 47 machines on approval of the software solution. It believed all slots affected by the potential ticketing glitch were confined to Macau, and that one other similar incident had occurred.

Talk about a ticket to nowhere.

Ports takes hard line on fakes

Counterfeit problems may be rife in the mainland, but fashion brand Ports has full confidence it can hold its own against the fakers, something confirmed by both its head and an academic.

Alfred Chan Kai-tai, Ports founder and chief executive, said in a recent interview that Ports would show no mercy towards counterfeiters and would 'make them pay'.

The company has two full-time lawyers and a team of five legal assistants to track down counterfeiters.

'We still get a lot of reports [on counterfeits] but I think counterfeiters are a lot more careful when it comes to Ports,' he said, adding that the company put two to jail last year, one in Shenzhen and one in Shanghai.

But, more importantly, Mr Chan said mainlanders were 'starting to feel ashamed of using counterfeits'.

'Chinese peers are more abrasive; they will jeer you if you buy a counterfeit, whereas Hong Kong people are more polite, so the peer pressure in Hong Kong is not as great as in the mainland.'

Fashion magazine Vogue last year ranked Ports as the third-most preferred fashion label in the mainland, after Louis Vuitton and Gucci.

Separately, Pierre Lu Xiao, an assistant professor at Shanghai's Fudan University specialising in marketing research in luxury products, found that counterfeiting problems were more an issue for foreign than domestic brands.

'People who produce counterfeits prefer foreign brands because they are more expensive,' said Professor Lu.

Wumart, Times get cosy again

On, off, on again? Like star-crossed lovers, the mainland's Wumart Stores and Times hypermarket chain just seem destined for each other, whatever the obstacles.

Only a day after shares of Wumart resumed trading after a 10-month suspension, the company and Times yesterday said they could co-operate in the future.

Wumart had to drop its plan to buy Times for 1.14 billion yuan last year because it could not raise funds for the deal, given that its former chairman Zhang Wenzhong was being investigated for commercial crimes. After the deal was put off, Times launched an initial public offering in July, raising HK$880 million.

Times chairman Kenneth Fang said yesterday on the sidelines of a post-results briefing that his company did not rule out co-operating with Wumart, but he did not elaborate.

Meanwhile, Wumart's executive director Xu Ying, told Lai See: 'Times is a good company with growth potential and quality management. Although the previous deal was terminated under the special situation, we believe co-operation can still be possible and beneficial to both parties.

'Mr Zhang has confidence in mainland retailing. We are still carrying on expansion strategies.'