Li Ka-shing is still sulking about his treatment by the press
Li Ka-shing has let it be known that he won't be holding his usual après interim results chat with the press on Thursday. This is a tradition of at least 10, if not more, years. It's an occasion when the press gets to rap with Hong Kong's, and one of the region's, leading businessmen, and his utterances on these occasions frequently make newspaper headlines.
The decision not to make himself available follows on from his refusal to meet the press in May after the Cheung Kong and Hutchison AGMs. The speculation as to why he has decided on this course of action is that he was teed off with the press for its coverage of the dock strike at Hutchison's container terminals earlier this year.
Could it be that he is still sulking over that?
Let them eat popcorn
One of our readers was not in the best of moods last week having spent some time outside HSBC's Queen's Road Central building waiting in line in front of what he thought was the one cheque deposit machine of the two that was working.
However, when his turn came it spat out his cheque, so he was forced into the banking hall where to his amazement he noticed staff preparing and distributing popcorn. His immediate thought was that this was not the best use of bank resources given the number of complaints it has received lately about its services. And having tried it, his view was that, "like their service the popcorn was substandard, a large percentage of it hadn't popped".
Explaining this, an HSBC spokesman said: "As a token of appreciation for customer support, our frontline staff hold customer activities at branches from time to time, particularly around festive periods. The popcorn event was to mark the summer holiday season."
The bank seeks to endear itself to its long-suffering clientele by offering them Lai See envelopes before the Lunar New Year, handing out roses to female customers on Mother's Day and heart-shaped chocolates on Valentine's Day.
Bank fines the new 'normal'
Global banks paid out record fines last year - well in excess of US$10 billion. But 2013 looks like being an even bigger year for fines. Bank of America and nine other lenders were fined a total of US$20 billion earlier this year in the US for misdeeds connected to mortgage-backed securities.
Since then a string of banks have continued to receive fines. JP Morgan International Bank was fined US$4.7 million by Britain's Financial Conduct Authority for systems and controls failings relating to its provision of retail investment advice and portfolio investment services. It also fined EFG Private Bank US$6.5 million for ineffective anti-money-laundering controls.
Meanwhile, Barclays, which was last year fined US$460 million for its role in the Libor scandal, faces a similar fine along with four traders for allegedly manipulating electricity prices in the US, a claim it says it will pursue in court. JP Morgan faces a fine of US$410 million for the same alleged offence. And UBS last week said it will pay US$885 million to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to settle claims that it improperly sold them mortgage-backed securities during the housing bubble. It has almost become "normal" for a bank to pay some whopping fine to a regulator for some sort of financial misbehavior and in some cases fraud. It's a deeply flawed industry.
Another Indonesian taxi company
We notice that Indonesian taxi company Blue Bird is planning an IPO. It recalls fond memories of Peregrine Investments, which went spectacularly bust in 1998 after making what was supposed to be a US$260 million bridging loan to the taxi company ironically called Steady Safe. The idea was to recoup the loan by selling bonds but the headwinds of the Asian financial crisis proved too much - the deal collapsed and so did Peregrine.
It proved to be the last buccaneering exploit of chairman and co-founder Philip Tose. The joke in the market in those heady days of the early 90s was that Peregrine couldn't go round corners. This related to Tose's penchant for motor racing and to the time that he broke his leg when he didn't quite make it round a corner. For some, Peregrine was an accident waiting to happen, and so it proved. Not that any of this should reflect on Blue Bird, reportedly one of Indonesia's finest taxi companies.
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