Lai See

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 March, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 March, 2010, 12:00am

Uncle Four makes video debut as pitchman for Henderson

Henderson Land Development chairman Lee Shau-kee is a great believer in the principle 'you must spend money to make money'.

Lai See has learned that the company spent about HK$6 million to produce a corporate video that for the first time features the tycoon, affectionately known as Uncle Four.

A corporate insider said Lee agreed to make his debut appearance in the promotional material because there is an increasing demand for his 'presence'.

'By doing it this way, he can be everywhere and meet with a lot of people,' the insider explained.

We hear Uncle Four is a natural in front of the camera and it took only one afternoon to shoot his segment, a three-minute introduction to the firm and its investment strategies in Hong Kong and on the mainland.

The video was shown to the media at the unveiling of the company's latest luxury residential project, Hill Paramount, in Sha Tin. At a minimum cost of HK$17,500 per sq ft, the sale of one of the project's smallest units should be enough to finance the production of at least three more corporate videos.

Heritage site to tourist trap

We hear with great dismay that the frenzy over the upcoming Shanghai World Expo is spilling into neighbouring regions, threatening to turn some heritage sites into ghastly tourist attractions.

One of the first casualties is the famed Zhouzhuang Water Town in Suzhou. The town is surrounded by water, with branching streams, stone bridges and old mansions with traditional black tiles and white walls.

Now, Western coffee shops and ice-cream parlours are springing up everywhere. Officials are even contemplating creating a coffee lane to satisfy tourist demand during the Expo from May to October. This picturesque town is encircled by fertile farmland, with many lakes, canals and paddy fields. They say it is so lush that anything grows there.

The way it's going, we're afraid they might have to start growing coffee beans soon.

Shareholders need care, too

Our inboxes have been bursting with bumf from HSBC about the bank's caring-for-the-community initiatives.

Chief executive Michael Geoghegan marked the start of his tenure in Hong Kong with a blizzard of publicity about his charitable giving. Last September, the bank gleefully informed us it would install 'Community Caring Counters' in all its branches. Lai See does not exactly know what they are, but they are staffed by 'Community Caring Ambassadors', apparently.

Some of the bank's loyal elderly investors who rely on its usually generous dividend for their income may be tempted to visit one of these cuddle corners to ask the doting diplomats a few sharp questions.

Along with its 2009 annual results, HSBC slashed the dividend to a mere US$0.34 from US$0.93 in 2008. That drop was not as sharp as it seemed, because in its rights issue the bank had issued five new shares for every 12 that investors owned.

But HSBC's total dividend payout slumped to US$5.64 billion from US$11.3 billion in 2008. That was the smallest amount of cash the bank has shared with its investors in the last five years.

To defend the policy, HSBC's top brass moaned that interest rates across the world were too low. That meant the bank, which lends a lot of its cash to other financial institutions, hauled in less for that business line last year. But hang on a minute. HSBC's investment bank's pre-tax profit soared to a US$10.5 billion record. And we believe low global interest rates played a positive role here, because when the return on cash is low, investors like to buy shares.

The bank's top six directors banked ?8 million (HK$444 million) in pay and bonuses for their work last year, although Geoghegan gave his ? million share to charity. Hopefully the good chief will extend his philanthropy to HSBC's elderly shareholders and customers one of these days.

Playboy still flirting with Macau

Should we believe what Playboy says? The world-famous entertainment empire founded by Hugh Hefner is again flirting with the idea of building a Playboy mansion in Macau.

Recent reports say Playboy Enterprises is looking at the lucrative market again, only months after cancelling its original plans. In 2007, Playboy announced a deal to build one of its (in)famous Playboy mansions inside Macau Studio City, but the project never got started.

Last week, its chief executive said it is still interested in the Macau venture. The original concept was to build an Asian version of the Playboy Mansion with a 40,000 square-foot entertainment destination providing a variety of nightlife and entertainment options such as dining, specialty retail outlets and a Hugh M. Hefner Villa.

Macau is ready, but is Playboy?