Lai See

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 September, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 10 September, 2010, 12:00am

A ride on the wild side... in almost total silence

Some people may have noticed a red sports car zooming round the New Territories yesterday. Nothing odd in this, you may think, except that this one, despite its sportif appearance, was completely silent.

At the wheel was former chief executive of the Hong Stock Exchange (when Hong Kong had four exchanges) and eminence grise before retiring, of the stockbroking community, Richard Witts.

He was test driving a Tesla Roadster Sports, an electric car from the US. Witts is no stranger to fast cars, having founded The Gentlemen Racers Club in the 1980s to organise races for exotic sports cars at the annual Macau grand prix weekend.

As a proud owner of a Maserati Gran Turismo S, which goes from 0 to 100 km/h in 4.9 seconds, he was chagrined to discover that the Tesla Sports will do 0-60 miles per hour (0-97km/h) in 3.7 seconds. The price for this experience is HK$1.4 million, though the government has waived first registration tax and the annual licence fee is a few hundred dollars.

'Not only is it by far the fastest car I have ever driven, it is all done in virtual silence - awesome,' Witts observed after his test run. The silence surely must be an issue.

Those that go in for this sort of thing like the deafening roar as the foot goes down. With these electric sports cars, it's a bit like smoking and not seeing the smoke and drinking alcohol-free beer, if you see what we mean.

Limp-wristed SFC

We see that the Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) has administered another of its limp-wristed punishments to Jugurtha Harchaoui, former managing director of Merrill Lynch (Asia Pacific). The action follows an SFC investigation into mis-marking activities in a trading book in exotic options between December 2007 and December 2008.

For a year, Harchaoui had made false entries and then while he was on sick leave, instructed a junior to continue to falsify the books.

In May, the SFC fined Merrill Lynch HK$3.5 million for regulatory failings relating to this and has taken another three months to figure out how to punish Harchaoui. Yesterday it announced he had been banned from re-entering the finance industry for life. This might seem quite severe except that he left the industry almost two years ago. He didn't even get fined. We can't even call it a slap on the wrist as the wrist is no longer around to slap.

Castro sees the light

Age and illness seems to be mellowing Cuba's 84-year-old former leader Fidel Castro (pictured). Asked by Jeffrey Goldberg, a writer for the Atlantic Monthly, if Cuba's model of Soviet-style communism was still worth exporting, Castro replied, 'The Cuban model doesn't even work for us any more.' It appears that the Castros, both Fidel and his brother President Raul Castro, now acknowledge that the state has too big a role in Cuba's economy. If only other leaders were so frank.

Bosses getting bigger share

Research from the US shows that despite moans from CEOs about declining pay, after adjusting for inflation, CEO pay in 2009 more than doubled average CEO pay in the 1990s and more than quadrupled from the 1980s.

According to the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), American workers meanwhile are taking home less in real weekly wages than they did in the 1970s. In those years, CEOs rarely took home more than 30 times what their workers earned. But in 2009, according to IPS, CEOs of major US corporations averaged 263 times average workers' take-home pay.

In its 17th annual executive compensation survey, IPS also notes that there is a direct correlation between how much chief executives earn and how many staff they lay off. Chief executives of the 50 American firms that have let go the most workers since the beginning of the recession are earning, on average, 42 per cent more than their counterparts at the remaining 450 firms in the S&P 500 Index.

'Our findings illustrate the great unfairness of the Great Recession,' says Sarah Anderson, lead author on the IPS study. 'CEOs are squeezing workers to boost short-term profits and fatten their own pay cheques.' Who said life was supposed to be fair?

Trade Italian style

We were amused to receive a press release from the Italian Trade Commission in Hong Kong advising us of the International Exhibition of Perfume, Cosmetic Specialties, Body Care, which, alas, is in Florence.

It ended with an unusual request: 'Should you have any Italian trade information, please feel free to contact us at ...' Journalists are not usually invited to provide information to the country representative who is supposed to be issuing the information.