Lai See
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 April, 2014, 5:16am
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 April, 2014, 7:00am

Anthony Bolton retires with unfond memories of China

BIO

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.
 

Star fund manager Anthony Bolton is evidently still smarting from the somewhat lacklustre performance of the fund he managed in Hong Kong. He left last year having endured a dismal couple of years managing Fidelity China Special Situations. He arrived in Hong Kong in 2010 - a China bull - having had a truly stellar experience in London where he ran the Fidelity UK Special Situations for 28 years producing annualised returns of 20 per cent.

However, despite his bullishness on China he was unable to repeat his successes with his China investments - to no great surprise from older hands here who felt he didn't have enough knowledge of the market to succeed in the short term. He retired from Fidelity at the end of March.

At a function to mark his retirement Bolton criticised standards of corporate governance on the mainland. Initially he thought corporate governance issues in China were about whether the chairman and the chief executive positions were held by the same person, or whether independent directors held a majority on the board.

"I found that corporate governance is a euphemism for 'are the figures real and is the management lying?', that is, fraud. The Chinese are great liars," the Sunday Times reported him as saying. So evidently no hard feelings there.

Bolton plans to go travelling for a year but you get the impression he will be giving the mainland a wide berth.

 

Iconic decision

The Icon bar in Wyndham Street, Central has successfully appealed two out of three conditions imposed on it by the Liquor Licensing Board. The Municipal Services Appeal Board dismissed Icon's appeal against the condition that it should close its doors and windows after 11pm but upheld its appeal against conditions ordering it to stop the sale of liquor after 2am, and stop playing music after 11pm.

Readers will recall that this has been a marathon effort which started back in November 2012. The bar appealed against three conditions imposed by the liquor board when it was granted a new liquor licence in April 2013. It appealed against these conditions before the appeal board in mid-July which dismissed the appeal more than three months later, giving its reasons on November 11. On December 20 the bar applied to the High Court for leave for a judicial review of this decision, which was granted. The review was then heard in February 2014 and granted with costs.

This latest effort by the appeal board had been ordered by Mr Justice Kevin Zervos who had observed that the liquor board and the appeal board had acted unreasonably and unfairly in their dealings with the bar. This has been a significant case for the industry which feels the liquor board has been acting in an overbearing and arbitrary manner. What has been particularly irksome for bar owners has been the significance which the liquor board places on unsubstantiated complaints. The appeals process is expensive and is only for those with deep pockets. The process for licensing bars has been in place for decades and like many similar procedures in Hong Kong, such as the processing of restaurant applications for outside seating arrangements, is badly in need of a revamp. That sadly, is unlikely to happen any time soon.

 

More Bloombergate

Ben Richardson's recent resignation over "Bloombergate" has triggered more press discussion on events surrounding the spiking of its story on corruption among leaders in China last year. Richardson was an editor on both the story that was spiked last year and on a story published in 2012 on the hidden wealth of some communist party leaders.

In a discussion with The Atlantic's James Fallows he confirms what is now generally public knowledge; despite protestations to the contrary by senior Bloomberg management, the story was spiked and is unlikely to see the light of day. He added that the investigative team had been dismantled and "at the same time the company is shifting ever more resources into the short, bullet-point end of the news spectrum".

Investigative stories into the wealth of mainland China's leaders is always going to be bad for business. It's going to take a special kind of organisation to crack that nut - one that doesn't depend on selling terminals or newspapers on the mainland.

 

Have you got any stories that Lai See should know about? E-mail them to howard.winn@scmp.com

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