Lai See
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 April, 2013, 5:16am

New cultural district to inflate interest with bouncy Stonehenge


Howard Winn has been with the South China Morning Post for two and half years after previous stints as business editor and deputy editor of The Standard, and business editor of Asia Times. His writing has also been published in the Far Eastern Economic Review, the Wall Street Journal, and the International Herald Tribune. He writes the Lai See column which focuses on the lighter side of business.

After several years of waiting we are pleased to see there are signs of movement at the West Kowloon Cultural District. The great awakening will take the form of a full-size inflatable replica of Stonehenge.

"The installation, with inflatable moss-covered slabs at over 7 metres high and a 35 metre-wide fake green grass base, will offer a stark contrast to Hong Kong's heavily urbanised environment," the press release says. People will be able to bounce on it.

Sacrilege, as the work is known, was created by Turner Prize-wining British artist Jeremy Deller. It is to be placed alongside five other giant inflatable sculptures by local and international artists. The show is being organised by M+, which is described in the release as "a centrepiece of Hong Kong's future West Kowloon Cultural District … the new museum for visual culture, encompassing 20th and 21st century art, design, architecture and the moving image from Hong Kong, China, Asia and beyond" - if you get the picture. "I am delighted that the M+ team has been able to secure this incredibly important piece of contemporary art for Hong Kong residents to enjoy," M+ executive director Lars Nittve said. And, in a further taste of what's in store, we are told: "By exploring the ever-shifting notions of a nature and artifice, intimacy and monumentality, temporariness and permanence, as well as beauty and the grotesque that characterise these exhibits, Mobile M+: Inflation! will create a diverse experience that probes the role of public art in the context of an evolving and endlessly mutating constructed landscape." Isn't this just what we have been waiting for? That said, it sounds uncannily like those bouncy castles loved by kids.


Smoke and mirrors

Thumbing through China Rongsheng Heavy Industries' 2012 annual report we noticed the mainland's largest listed but privately controlled shipbuilder finally came clean on how much government subsidies it received last year. The loss-making firm did not disclose the level of subsidies in its annual results issued at the end of March and we can hardly blame them. The firm posted a full-year net loss of 572.58 million yuan (HK$712 million) last year after receiving subsidies totalling 1.27 billion yuan, higher than the subsidies received in 2011. Without this financial help the net loss would have ballooned to 1.84 billion yuan. We were also intrigued to see the subsidies were given by "various government authorities" to compensate for costs related to research and development, design investment in heavy industries and "people development". But the subsidies were allocated by the company against a raft of overheads, including the cost of sales, general expenses, finance costs and selling and marketing expenses.

For non-shipping types, Rongsheng is best known for contracts to build 12 ultra large ore carriers for Brazilian commodities giant Vale. The massive ships, which can carry up to 400,000 tonnes of the red steel-making material, were intended to haul iron ore from Brazil to China but are officially banned, on safety grounds, from mainland ports after the China Shipowner's Association kicked up a fuss. Despite the ban, two of the vessels have managed to slip into mainland ports - including one last week.


Is high frequency a threat?

What threat does high-frequency trading (HFT) pose to a market? Proponents say it provides liquidity to markets and narrows the spreads and therefore the cost of trading. One member of the US Congress reportedly described it as "a clear and present danger to the stability and safety of our markets". But for Alex Frino, dean of the Macquarie Graduate School of Management, such talk borders on hyperbole, the website reports. "The debate on HFT has become almost hysterical in some regions, yet it's characterised by an excess of opinion and deficit of proof," he says. The debate as to whether it is good or bad appears unresolved.

For now, the biggest constraint in Asia seems to be relatively high stamp duties and fees for exchanges such as Hong Kong and Singapore. HFT accounts for 27 per cent of total market volume in Australia and about 70 per cent in Japan, while in Singapore it's 30 per cent of the derivatives market turnover. In Hong Kong HFT is estimated to account for about 20 per cent of turnover on the equity-linked warrant market.


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