Lawmaker takes the sting out of chance

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 October, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 October, 2008, 12:00am

'God of Gambling' lays his cards on the table

Nicknamed the 'Golden Banker', Chim Pui-chung - a former stockbroker and now a legislator - has earned a fortune in stocks and property. But he's also a regular at the casinos. In the past two months, he has spent 40 hours at Macau's baccarat tables winning HK$150 million. Now he doesn't mind adding another nickname - the 'God of Gambling'.

'People should not take gambling as entertainment, because they will lose a lot of money if they go to the casino for pleasure,' he said. 'I take gambling as a serious investment, and I measure how much I can lose. I stop when my limit is reached.'

The 62-year-old is a functional constituency legislator representing stockbrokers, futures traders and gold dealers. Born in Chiu Chow in 1946, he moved to Hong Kong when he was 13. He became a floor trader in 1970 and later opened his own brokerage firm.

By 1982, he was nicknamed the 'Golden Banker' because he was a major shareholder in 25 listed companies.

He served as a legislator from 1991 until he was disqualified in 1998 after being sentenced to a year in jail for conspiring to forge share documents. His outspoken style has won him another nickname: 'Angry Man Chiu Chow'.

He reclaimed his Legco seat in 2004 and contested the chief executive election against Donald Tsang Yam-kuen in 2005 - a race he admitted having little hope of winning, but ran for fun and to make it a genuine election.

He had to miss four Legco meetings last year to receive treatment for cancer. After fully recovering, he won the Legco seat uncontested last month.

He said he was prepared to spend another four years fighting for the rights of local brokers and investors, who face the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

A soccer lover, he is married with two sons and five grandchildren.

Can you tell us what your first investment was and how it fared?

I started to invest about 40 years ago, when I first became a stockbroker. I purchased mainly the stocks of big corporations such as Jardine Matheson. I did not have much money, so I only purchased 1,000 or 2,000 shares. They went well and I earned money from it.

How do you compare the market of the 1960s to today's market?

The Hong Kong stock market was small and immature at that time. HSBC was not yet very popular. The most popular stocks were those related to the Jardine Group and Hongkong Land.

The Hang Seng Index reached 1,774 in 1973. It later crashed more than 90 per cent. That was the first stock market crash and a big lesson for Hong Kong's brokers and investors. After that, you will find the market crashes of 1987 or 1998 not as serious.

What was the best investment decision you ever made?

I won HK$150 million in 40 hours in the casinos of Macau.

I went to Macau about 20 times by helicopter since August 2.

I started to enjoy my summer break in the casino when I knew I had won my Legco seat uncontested, so I would not need to do any lobbying for voters. I set my target to win HK$150 million in the summer break and now that I have achieved it, I will stop. I do not mind people calling me 'God of Gambling'.

What are the keys to winning money at the casino?

I do not want to encourage others to gamble, but I do not mind sharing my thoughts.

Some people go to casinos for entertainment, but I warn them to change such thinking. If you go to a casino for pleasure, it is likely you will lose money. That's because you usually will stay to have fun until you lose the sum of money you have in your pocket.

If you want to gamble, be more serious and have a strategy like making an investment.

I only play baccarat and I will stay only one or two hours in the casino. I bet according to my instinct. If I feel good, I will bet a large sum; but if I lose, I will stop immediately and go. I will set a sum that I can lose and also set the target sum to win. This time, I set HK$5 million as the maximum loss and HK$150 million as the maximum gain.

Now that I have reached my target for gains, I will stop. It is most important to stop at a time when you are satisfied and not to be too greedy. Many people do not stop after winning, and eventually they lose what they earned from the gaming table.

I find gambling and investing have some similarities. In stocks, investors also need to know how much they can afford to lose, and they should sell when the share price reaches a pre-set target.

What was your worst investment decision?

I've lost at the gaming table sometimes. In the past 20 times I went to Macau, I lost money about three times. That is normal.

What is important is that you need to know your ability to lose and never bet or invest more than you can afford to lose.

This is why I always oppose derivatives and structured products. They are so complicated and investors simply do not know how much they could lose. They are worse than gambling. The government should ban these products until it can revamp their regulation.

What is your portfolio composed of?

I have some properties and about 10 stocks. I like resources stocks, as commodity prices are likely to continue to go up.

What tips do you want to give investors?

When everyone worries about the market, like what we are seeing right now, it may be the right time to consider buying.

But I would like to remind investors not to rush in. I believe the current bear market will be prolonged and that market sentiment is unlikely to turn for the better until 2010 or 2011. As such, investors better keep cash on hand to prepare for when the market goes up again.

Retail investors can easily become the dim sum of professional investors. Professional investors can use short selling or other derivatives to enhance their investment returns, but small investors can seldom do that. This is why small investors can only earn money in a rising market and had better avoid investing in a falling market.

There are many investor complaints about the Lehman Brothers minibonds. People claim their banks misled them about the risk level of the products. What lessons do you think we learned from the incident?

This showed there are far too many structured products and derivatives in the market. I will call for a review of the regulations in Legco. Banks have been spoiled by the Hong Kong Monetary Authority - allowed to sell the products without proper monitoring by their staff. The government must carry out a reform on that to enhance investor protection.

How do you see the current market? Do you think the market has reached the bottom or do you think the Hang Seng Index may go down further?

The record for the local stock market was 31,638.22 on October 30 last year. It has dropped by almost half now. I think it will stay at the current level for some time.

As a result, I think small investors had better save their money in bank accounts instead of making big investments in the market.

Do you think you are rich or poor?

I am a happy man, which is more important than being a rich man. I am poorer than many Hong Kong tycoons, but I do not need to borrow money from anyone. I can live the way I like, and that is good enough.