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It's always interesting and sometimes surprising to see what drives policy in Hong Kong. Take the story in yesterdays' SCMP about car dealers asking the government for more time to clear their stock of green vehicles before more stringent regulations are introduced.
In 2007, the government, in an effort to encourage motorists to purchase less polluting cars, introduced a scheme whereby cars that complied with green rules were entitled to a 45 per cent reduction up to HK$75,000 of the first registration tax. However, the number of models eligible for these tax concessions has risen sharply from 21 in 2008 to 46 in 2010 and 139 at present.
You would have thought greener models were a good thing, but the law of unintended consequences has kicked in. Got Chong-key, chairman of the Motor Traders Association, says the organisation was approached by EPD officials and told that there were now too many environmentally friendly cars and this was affecting tax revenues. As a result, new, more stringent regulations are to be introduced reducing the number of eligible models to 26, not because of their impact on the environment but for their impact on government taxes.
One can only assume the Transport Department has nobbled the EPD over this, though its not as if the Hong Kong government is running out of cash.
It's banker bonus season again. However, headhunters say there could well be disappointments. Some Asian equity firms will be relieved that last year revenues were down only 20 per cent, meaning roughly that the bonus pool is down 20-30 per cent. However, the pool was down about the same, if not more, in 2011. This means the pool is roughly half that for 2010, which was not that great. Firms will undoubtedly try to spread it around, headhunters say. Most firms will want to safeguard their main people, which necessarily will mean that for many people, the old adage will apply: "Your bonus is that you still have a job."
Is Goldman right this time?
In January last year, Helen Zhu, Goldman Sach's New York-based China strategist said in an interview on Bloomberg TV that the SHSZ300 index would probably rise 36 per cent to 3,200 by year-end. Her prediction was somewhat wide of the mark since it peaked at 2,717.82 in May, ending the year at 2,464. She wasn't alone in getting it wrong, telling Bloomberg in an interesting turn of phrase that the China A-share market has seen substantially more "valuation de-rating" relative to other markets.
She says she was wrong as a result of her overly optimistic expectations for corporate earnings growth, which did not materialise. She's estimating a 9 per cent rise for the SHSZ300 this year as corporate earnings are expected to be stronger on a pick-up in exports and a kick-off of reforms. "Cyclical recovery scepticism" is gradually fading, and with domestic investors who make up 80 per cent of market turnover still harbouring low expectations, "the market is ripe for upside surprises this year", she says. Hmm.
Go Southern Weekly
In what is turning into an interesting test for the mainland authorities, public support for the stand taken by the staff at Guangzhou-based Southern Weekly magazine appears to be increasing, with some of the mainland's most high-profile users posting messages of support. These, according to the website TeaLeafNation, include actress Yao Chen, who has some 31 million followers, actor Chen Kai, with 27 million, and outspoken businessman Ren Zhiqiang, with 13 million.
Staff at Southern Weekly have gone on strike because Guangdong's propaganda chief rewrote the magazine's New Year editorial without the consent of its editors. Li Chengpeng, a prominent mainland writer, social critic and blogger, wrote: "We don't need tall buildings, but we need a newspaper that speaks the truth. We don't need the second-highest GDP in the world, but we need a newspaper that speaks the truth. We don't need a fleet of aircraft carriers, but we need a newspaper that speaks the truth."
Even web editors of internet portals showed support. The first characters of apparently unrelated web headlines on a Sina news page, when viewed vertically, read "Go Southern Weekly".
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