Utility makes light work of customer deposits

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 August, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 August, 1994, 12:00am

MAYBE the electricity companies are going into the banking business.

That's one explanation for the substantial deposits they took from one small business we know which already had enough problems with rapacious landlords and the usual folks trying to squeeze small operators.

Operating out of an 800 square feet office with seven staff on Hong Kong island, its bills were about $300 a month. Yet Hongkong Electric asked for a $3,000 deposit.

Pretty obviously, this means Hongkong Electric wanted 10 months in advance.

When the business moved to Tsim Sha Tsui they thought things would be better, particularly as their new office had central air-conditioning - paid for in the rates - which should knock the bill down.

But, in fact, China Light and Power wanted a deposit of $5,300, which is more than 17 months' in advance.

Admittedly, they're a greenish low energy outfit. An industry estimate for an office this size with no air-conditioners would be about $700.

China Light and Power explained that they cut people off if they didn't pay the bill after two months, so they normally wanted two months' deposit based on an estimated load.

They review the size of the deposit after 12 months, after which our friend should get quite a big cheque.

The good news is that they give interest on the deposit at normal banking rates. The bad news, of course, is that normal banking rates are pitifully low.

Digit-mania STILL with utilities, there's an optimistic message hidden in Hongkong Telecom's new bills.

The old seven-digit reference number has been stretched to 14, easily enough to cope with everyone in China with a phone from Hongkong Telecom, without the utility having to change its computer program.

The payment receipt is 28 digits, enough for everyone in China to pay a bill to Hongkong Telecom for 1,000 billion years without re-using reference numbers.

And the bill reference number is 40 digits. It could easily produce enough bills to cover the earth's surface so thickly that Everest would be invisible, and not repeat numbers.

It's nice to see a company that's making some long-term plans for a change.

Pizza luck ANYONE heading off for a bit of gambling this weekend may notice that at the side of the Hotel Lisboa there's a Pizza Hut which opened a little while ago.

Apparently, the folks at Pizza Hut thought it was a smart location. The name in chinese characters is pit sing hat which translates as ''sure win customer''.

They hoped everyone would think that a pizza before gambling would help their chances.

No market yeti EVER eager to go boldly where no stockbroker has gone before, the folks at Smith New Court have produced a report on Bhutan, the country squeezed between India and Tibet, which is the supposed home of the yeti.

It's a total monarchy ruled by His Majesty King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, with a capital called Thimphu, a language called Dzongkha, a people who call themselves the Drukpas, and a unit of currency called the Ngultrum. Wonderful.

Once the market opens to foreigners ''it could provide a good opportunity'', is the verdict of Smith New Court's Aditya Samant.

The stock market only trades once a week, on a Friday. Don't laugh - for decades our own exchange used to shut on Wednesday so all the brokers could go yachting.

Another improvement on Hong Kong: in Bhutan, watching TV is banned.

Timewarp AT Thursday's Yaohan International Holdings annual general meeting, chairman Kazuo Wada sat in a room at the top of Convention Plaza while underlings read the AGM from a script.

Yesterday, at the Yaohan International Caterers AGM, chairman Kazuo Wada sat in a room at the top of Convention Plaza while underlings read the AGM from a pretty similar script.

Later in the afternoon, it was the turn of Yaohan Food Processing and Trading. We were halfway through a similar script in the same room with Kazuo Wada and no doubt quite a few people were wondering, as we did, whether they'd slipped into a wormhole in the space-time continuum.

For those not into science fiction, these wormholes are places where time repeats over and over and the future never arrives - like the airport talks, but not quite so bad.