Lai See

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

Old friends swap jokes and memories on top of the world

If Christmas means gathering of old friends and sharing of old jokes, the festive season had come three months early for Simon Murray (below) this year.

The former Hutchison Whampoa taipan and four former expatriate executives, including Sir John Bond and Simon Robertson, held a reunion three months ago - on Mount Everest, apparently to add excitement to the event.

The five senior (and not just in the corporate sense) executives went on a 12-day mountaineering excursion. They got as high as 18,000 feet up the world's most challenging mountain, just 11,029 feet short of the peak. They were hiking day and night, chatting away like boys on a scouting trip.

'We chatted about the old days. Lots of jokes. Lots of 'Do you remember' kind of stuff ... the only thing we didn't talk about really was subprime,' Mr Murray, a known adventurer, recalled, poking fun at friends, some of whom he has known for 40 years.

The five go back a long way. Sir John made his career in a bank that he transformed into the world's most profitable; he now chairs Vodafone Group. Mr Robertson made his way up investment banking, was president of Goldman Sachs in Europe and chairman of Rolls-Royce.

Mr Murray chose a somewhat different path, fighting in the Algerian war as a French Foreign Legion mercenary before engaging in some big commercial battles for tycoon Li Ka-shing. Then he founded his own private-equity capital firm General Enterprise Management Services.

When asked about the Mount Everest climb, Mr Murray, the oldest man to reach the South Pole unsupported, was philosophical.

'Jean-Jacques Rousseau once said: 'Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains.' That is not true. We are born into a box, but we must get out, find space, find ourselves and find our freedom.'

Looking down from the top, he offered us an old man's advice: 'Do not follow where the path may lead. Go where there is no path instead and leave a trail.'

Perhaps it is time to aim a bit higher and go a bit wilder in the coming year.

Corporates play Santa

Christmas is the season for sharing.

So HSBC brought in Santa Claus to its 94 branches in the past three days, dispatching 32,000 gifts to customers.

They called it 'thanks giving', although it came a month later than the Americans' Thanksgiving Day on the last Thursday of November.

Also giving thanks to tenants was Cheung Kong Centre, which in its third year, gave away a gift set of coffee and chocolate over lunch yesterday.

It's the thought that counts

Here is a Christmas offer left idle in our newsroom for three days.

We were invited by Ngong Ping 360 for 10 guest rides on Christmas Eve, ahead of its re-launch on New Year's Eve.

After the plunge of the empty gondola in June, we were told the Ngong Ping cable car system had achieved an average reliability rate of 99.3 per cent for a continuous seven-day period, considered a high international standard.

However, the invitation includes a minor catch. Guest riders would experience occasional simulated delays of three to 10 minutes.

We have tried our best to solicit some interest among colleagues, but got no takers. Perhaps one colleague summed it up: 'Hey, this is not nice. Do you want to see me back after Christmas?'

Charting the Olympics

When would be a good time to buy mainland stocks next year?

Try the second half, according to HSBC's brokerage arm.

After studying the stock market performance of Olympic host nations, the brokerage detected a similar pattern - the market tended to do well up to three months before the start of the Games but a correction could come three months ahead of the Games.

The best time to buy came after the Olympics, as the data in the past five events showed the local stock market race ahead in the rosy afterglow of hosting the Games successfully. The Greek stock market beat global counterparts 20 per cent in 2004, and the Australian market outperformed by 31 per cent in 2000.

In almost every case, HSBC noted the strongest performance came in the first six or seven months.

So, relax. There is no hurry to buy ahead of the Olympics. Wait and watch the show first.