Lai See
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 October, 2013, 4:39pm

Observatory blows it again with late lifting of No 8 signal


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.

Yet again we must take the Observatory to task for its dilatoriness in lowering the No 8 signal yesterday.

It had been obvious for some hours that Usagi, the "world's worst typhoon this year", was not going "to slam" into Hong Kong as previously thought. Last month the Observatory also lowered the No 8 signal needlessly late in the day in the wake of Typhoon Utor.

Yesterday the signal could easily have been lowered at 7am, or possibly earlier, allowing everyone to go to work as normal. Looking at the wind speeds on the Observatory's website, at the different locations around the territory for 7am, the wind was at most 20 kilometres an hour, with exceptions such as Green Island, where it was 40 kilometres an hour and Ngong Ping, 50 kilometres an hour. In some cases, the wind was stronger later in the day after the storm signals had been lowered. Indeed the No 8 was lowered at just before 9.30 am, and then all signals were lowered at 10.25am, which is a rapid deceleration.

This over-caution does nobody any good and reminds us of the Aesop's fable The Boy Who Cried Wolf. There is a danger that the Observatory's caution will lull people into a false sense of security, until we all get caught out by a big one that really does some damage and is a threat to life.

As we have said before, there is no need for the city to come to a grinding halt because of 100km/h winds. We should do what everyone else does, and get on with everyday activities as best we can.


CLSA independent-minded

Twenty years ago when CLSA was not much more than a blip on Hong Kong's financial landscape, the fledgling firm held its first financial forum. It attracted 225 fund managers, compared with the 1,600 that are showing up this week.

In the intervening years CLSA has grown and cultivated an image as an independent boutique brokerage whose research was not conflicted by the prospect of big IPO deals. Coincidentally, CLSA earlier this year was acquired by state-controlled Citic Securities. So does this mean the end of the "independent tag" for CLSA? "Absolutely not," says CLSA chairman and CEO Jonathan Slone, speaking to the press yesterday.

The senior management, he says, has the same kind of ownership deal it held under its previous owners, French bank Credit Lyonnais, which was subsequently taken over by Credit Agricole.

Citic understands and values CLSA's reputation as an independent operator, though some will be wondering if it will be able to maintain it in practice. Ownership by a mainland financial institution was foretold by CLSA co-founder Gary Coull back in 2006, six months before he died.

Slone, who has been with the firm for more than 20 years, says he expects the future to be "as exciting as the past 20 years". "You ain't seen nothin' yet," he says talking about both CLSA's and the region's future. Asked how long he intends to stay, he says: "I'm not planning on leaving the firm anytime soon."


Heroic expectations for art price

The price discovery process of the art market has always been something of a mystery to Lai See . So it is with some interest that we see that Sotheby's is anticipating a price of between HK$45 million and HK$60 million for Red Flag 1 by Chen Yifei as part of the Sotheby's Hong Kong 40th Anniversary Evening Sale on October 5.

It is the first time the painting has appeared at auction, though it has been viewed at many exhibitions. It comes from the collection of Baron and Baroness Guy and Myriam Ullens de Schooten, who are well known collectors based in Switzerland.

The painting depicts soldiers of the People's Liberation Army raising a red flag inside a trench. It reflects the gritty realism of warfare and is in stark contrast to many of the paintings of the period showing worker heroes with faces flushed with revolutionary zeal. According to a commentary by the painting is "steeped in Russian Socialist Realism style, which exerted a dominating influence over the Chinese art scene at the time".

We can't help feeling there is a certain irony between the subject matter and the whopping price expected at auction for the iconic depiction of the subject. One of those quaint contradictions of capitalism and the art world.


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