• Sat
  • Dec 27, 2014
  • Updated: 2:09pm
Lai See
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 August, 2014, 1:17am
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 August, 2014, 1:17am

The PetroChina proverbial elephant at the press conference


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.

The press conference on Thursday organised by mainland oil giant PetroChina to discuss its interim results was an eerily docile affair.

As most people know, PetroChina and its parent China National Petroleum Corp have over the past year or so lost a string of senior executives - at least 10 - who have been caught up in the crackdown on corruption on the mainland. But strangely, not a single question was raised by the assembled press at the conference even though the arrests appear to be affecting operations.

Analysts say, in private of course, that there has been a slowdown in spending on oil and gas exploration. Projects have been delayed, understandably, as key figures are no longer at the company, and their replacements have been cautious in what they do.

There has also been a slowdown in contracting out work since there have been allegations of corruption in this area.

Oilfield services provider Anton Oilfield Services Group has been hurt by the slowdown in project approvals by the likes of PetroChina.

At its results meeting, Anton executives would say only that its clients had "changed their strategy".

So given that the crackdown was having a material impact on PetroChina's performance, how come it was not discussed at the press conference?

This is because Thursday's press conference followed the practice of previous years and was carefully choreographed.

There was a lunch a few days before the press conference when reporters were asked what issues interested them. Having ascertained which issues they were prepared to discuss, the company chose which journalists would ask the questions. Only four questions were asked before the session was terminated.

It just so happens that the journalists who asked the questions were all from the mainland. Hong Kong reporters, it seems, cannot be trusted to stick to the script. We are not saying the questions weren't valid. It's just that the one really interesting question - the proverbial elephant in the room - was never asked. Like so much else that goes on these days, it's so much more convenient if the outcome can be controlled.


Banking on social media

We all know about WeChat and Weibo in China, and much is made about whether or not these services are monitored. But it's not just politics where social media may wield power.

According to a recent Accenture survey of 3,000 consumers in 22 cities across the mainland, 78 per cent of respondents visit social networking sites every week, and nearly half do so every day.

What banks should recognise is that Chinese consumers are extremely willing to talk about businesses online.

Accenture's survey found that 90 per cent of Chinese consumers who experienced poor banking services tell others - be it their immediate friends, family or co-workers, which should be worrying. But even more powerful is the finding in a separate study, the Accenture Global Consumer Survey, that nearly 59 per cent post negative comments online, ranking them first among all the global consumer countries surveyed.


Short men do it better

Recent research has found that height has a significant effect on our ability to earn. However, researchers at New York University, according to the website Quartz, are apparently split over whether that is because tall people are implicitly attractive or whether height is an indication of early health and good nutrition. Height also affects who we marry and for how long. In a nutshell, tall men get married earlier, but short men stay married for longer.


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


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Short men are more aggressive to compensate for their lack of stature:)


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