Lai See

HSBC breaches its deeds by bringing down the shutters

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 10 May, 2013, 5:21am

Readers will have been aware that during the recent dock strike, a number of dockers were camped outside the Cheung Kong building in Central, more or less opposite the HSBC headquarters at 1 Queens Road. The bank, unnerved by the Occupy Central movement, which set up camp in the area under the bank for almost a year, promptly restricted access to this space by lowering most of the shutters. People were only able to exercise their right to pass through via the narrow entrance at the four corners of the passageway.

Although none of the dockers attempted to set up camp under the bank, HSBC says it had noticed some of the previous "occupiers" lurking near the area. However, even though the dock strike is over, HSBC is still keeping its shutters down. It is true that under the 1983 deed of dedication, the bank is deemed to own the property under its HQ, but at the same time people do have a right of passage.

The deed allows the bank to partially restrict access to the area between 2am and 6am. But it goes on to say that "through passage must be maintained … at all times." So on the face of it, HSBC has been in breach of its deed of dedication by restricting access in this way. A bank spokesman said it was "monitoring the situation".

In a city where bureaucracy frequently flies in the face of common sense and goes to absurd lengths to maintain the letter of the law, it is good to see it turn a blind eye when dealing with the rich and powerful.


The naked truth

The decision by Zhejiang Southeast Electric Power to exchange its B shares, which are listed on the Shanghai stock exchange, for A shares has not met with universal approval, as our photograph illustrates.

The woman was protesting against the terms of the exchange. The sign she was holding, along with her stripped-down attire, conveyed the message that her investment in the company "was as naked" as she was. The B shares are to be swapped at a 13 per cent discount for A shares. The B-share market has long been regarded as illiquid, and the mainland government has been encouraging companies to either buy back their B shares or move them to Hong Kong's stock exchange.


Damned if you do …

We live in a complicated world, a view no doubt shared by HSBC. It has been pilloried, along with other banks, for the "casino banking" culture that helped bring about the global financial crisis. It has been through a brutal cost-cutting exercise; and then there was the embarrassing money-laundering incident. So it may have been expecting some relief with the announcement of better-than-expected quarterly earnings. Instead, its profits were met with a blistering assault by Britain's Robin Hood Tax campaign. "HSBC's sky-high profits are a stark reminder that banks operate on a different plane to the rest of the economy," says spokesman David Hillman. So, as the London Evening Standard asks, would he prefer it if the bank piled up billions of losses, requiring a bailout from the taxpayer?


Fearing the blacked arts

Speaking to The New York Times about why he donated 1,400 artworks to Hong Kong's M+ museum rather than to a mainland institution, Uli Sigg said the decision was not taken lightly. "My first impulse was to give these artworks to a museum in Beijing or Shanghai," said Sigg, a former Swiss ambassador to China. However, he said, he was "concerned that works by artists who are blacklisted in China's state-run museums might never be exhibited in public".

That said, Sigg may have been perturbed by the recent comments of pro-Beijing lawmaker Chan Kam-lam, who warned the West Kowloon Cultural District that any artworks with indecent, insulting or political elements should not be viewed as art.


Asia rising

After a poor couple of years, Asia-focused funds are close to passing the US$100 billion threshold for the first time since 2007. Total assets in Asia-focused hedge funds increased by 7.6 per cent in the first quarter to US$95 billion, according to Hedge Fund Research. This is the highest level since Asian hedge fund capital peaked in 2007 at a record US$111.4 billion.