The good, the bad and the ugly in 2013 business scene
While HKMEx failure is top scandal, progress made in commodities, bond and fund arenas
The new year is upon us and that means it's time for White Collar to wish readers well for the next 12 months - and to look back at the good, the bad and the ugly that came our way in 2013.
At the bad end of the ledger for the city's business scene, the collapse of the Hong Kong Mercantile Exchange provides us with the top scandal of the year.
The home-grown exchange, which traded gold and silver contracts, was founded and chaired by former Executive Council member Barry Cheung Chun-yuen, a key adviser to Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.
The two-year-old exchange did not generate sufficient income and handed back its licence to the Securities and Futures Commission in May. HKMEx, which had a set-up cost of HK$500 million, failed to attract much turnover on its last day later that month, with only 181 contracts settled.
Not only did the exchange's failure mark a setback to the city's efforts to promote commodity trading, it also led to Cheung's resignation as an Exco member. Just days after HKMEx gave back its licence, the commission alerted the Commercial Crime Bureau to suspected serious financial irregularities at the exchange. Police subsequently arrested a number of people in connection with the matter.
But it was not all bad news on commodities. The London Metal Exchange, a subsidiary of Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing, held its first LME Week in the city in June, which attracted thousands of commodity traders. The LME is now considering membership applications from some Hong Kong firms and plans to introduce trading of yuan commodity products in the city this year.
In a further boost for the city, the Bohai Commodity Exchange last month introduced an online platform for Hong Kong companies to trade the yuan and some commodity products as part of Tianjin's first steps towards global expansion.
Also on the good side for the ledger was a seeming breakthrough in Hong Kong's ambitions to become a key centre for global finance. The city has tried to promote Islamic finance since 2007, but with nothing to show for it in terms of Islamic bond issuance.
However, a law change in July may prove to be the turning point as it will see Islamic bonds given the same tax treatment as conventional bonds. Previously, Islamic bonds structured under sharia principles were subject to higher stamp duty and profit tax.
In the first quarter of this year, the authorities will seek a further change to the law that will enable Islamic sovereign bonds to be issued as part of the government's bond programme.
For the fund industry, a major breakthrough is expected to arrive soon in the form of a cross-border agreement that will allow Hong Kong-domiciled funds to be sold in the mainland and funds across the border to be sold in the city.
The mutual recognition deal, to be signed by the Hong Kong and mainland authorities, will expand the market for Hong Kong-based fund houses to the mainland's 1.3 billion people. Many fund houses have been gearing up for this game-changer in the new year.
On the regulatory front, the new year is looming as a busy one for a number of government agencies. In the first quarter, the government will consult on the regulation of auditors while seeking a change in the law to enable the establishment of the Insurance Authority.
In other realms, the SFC has vowed to step up efforts as a corporate regulator, while the stock exchange will review its regime for new listings after the controversy surrounding the mainland's e-commerce giant Alibaba, which was denied its wish last year to have its partnership structure recognised under a Hong Kong listing.
It looks like it's going to be a busy year ahead.