Bonus attacks may put some bankers on edge
There are likely to be some very nervous bankers around town this weekend after United States President Barack Obama's withering attack on the billions paid out in bonuses as the US government rescued Wall Street.
And now there is talk that New York Attorney-General Andrew Cuomo (left) will be let off the leash to recoup the US$4 billion Merrill Lynch paid in bonuses just before it was acquired by Bank of America Corp.
Merrill staff, including those here, received their money last month, while Bank of America is expected to defer its 2008 bonuses of US$50,000 or more to employees in the capital markets and investment banking units. Bank of America normally pays them in February, but is now arranging to hand over the first third in February 2010 with the remaining thirds paid in 2011 and 2012.
A Lai See straw poll has revealed that other US finance houses such as Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Citi and JP Morgan have already received, or are about to receive their bonuses, courtesy of the American taxpayer. Most are said to be down by between 50 and 55 per cent, compared to a 44 per cent drop on Wall Street.
All eyes are now on Credit Suisse which next week will pay a portion of its bonuses using toxic assets left over from before the financial crisis in a move to link pay to the long-term performance of credit markets and limit the bank's exposure to the securities.
Time to blow the candles
It's time to go on our annual fishing exercise, looking for companies who will be celebrating a significant anniversary in the Lunar New Year and so be working extra hard to not loose face, achieve memorable earnings and produce a jackpot of special dividends.
Last year, Bank of Communications celebrated its 100th anniversary and Hang Seng Bank its 75th and although both saw their share prices plummet, they still fared better than their blue chip counterparts.
The Year of the Ox sees Standard Chartered celebrate its 150th birthday anniversary in Hong Kong on July 19. The bank is one of the few global financial companies to decline any government assistance and successfully completed a rights issue to recapitalise in the wake of the financial crisis.
To celebrate the anniversary, the bank has announced an extra day off for its 4,000 Hong Kong staff to be taken on or near their birthdays.
Readers, take a bow
Talking of birthdays. Happy birthday to you! Yes, you are having a birthday tomorrow.
The Chinese like to celebrate 'everyone's birthday' on the seventh day of the Lunar New Year. It is a tradition dating back 1,700 years when the Jin Dynasty emperor named the Lunar New Year's first day as a birthday for the chicken, the second day for the dog, third day for the pig, fourth day for the sheep, fifth day for the cow, sixth day for horse and finally the seventh day for mankind.
The custom is still partially observed in Hong Kong and the mainland, although it is more religiously followed in Singapore and Malaysia where they like to celebrate by eating a colourful tossed fish salad.
Spreading charity habit
Bill Gates, the world's richest full-time philanthropist, says he is heading for China to persuade some of the country's wealthiest people to take up the worthy practice.
'I'm certainly going to spend some time there to spread the word about how I enjoy the work we do. We'll sit down with people thinking about philanthropy,' he said in Davos this week.
We wish him luck, but reckon his timing could be a bit off.