Money Matters

Vultures circling ATV’s mainland China landing right

If broadcaster goes into liquidation, its right to broadcast in the Pearl River Delta will vanish

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 March, 2016, 8:49pm
UPDATED : Friday, 11 March, 2016, 8:49pm

Wherever there is a carcass, the vultures will gather. There is no better line to describe the happenings at the defunct Asia Television (ATV).

With less than three weeks to go before the end of its free TV licence in Hong Kong, the broadcaster saw companies “scrambling” for its remains.

As the provisional liquidator applied to the court to pull the plug, the original white knight, China Culture Media (CCM), showed journalists a suitcase claimed to be full of HK$1,000 banknotes to prove its clout.

A listed fibre producer, Co-Prosperity Holdings, pledged to lend CCM HK$300 million for the rescue.

Another listed company, China Trend, said it would not only fund ATV’s much-delayed staff pay but also lend it HK$500 million for a 9 per cent annual return.

Most found this puzzling but the vultures have a different taste.

The trio have all been blaring about turning ATV’s rusty mainland channels into gold pots with their own programmes

The survival of ATV’s free TV service is none of their concern. Their target, at least officially, is its right to broadcast in the Pearl River Delta. In mainland China’s heavily regulated TV market, a landing right is scarce and therefore valuable.

If ATV goes into liquidation, the landing right will vanish. A change in control would, however, have a better chance of keeping the rights intact.

The trio have all been blaring about turning ATV’s rusty mainland channels into gold pots with their own programmes. China Trend and Co-Prosperity in particular have been signing all kinds of informal accords with big names in the industry for months.

Keeping ATV as a going concern appears to be vital here. The big question: is the trio for real?

To answer this, one at least needs to know who they are.

Despite its name, CCM is in fact owned by property developer Si Rongbin. The place to find most information on CCM is a website of the mainland judiciary that lists its judgements.

There are 71 judgements on claims of loans and service payment against CCM in the past five years. Among the plantiffs is the Bank of East Asia, which has been trying to recoup a 7 million yuan loan to Si since 2010.

One would expect more substance from the listed pair. Not really, other than the fact that they both had a new and secretive major shareholder before proposing to ATV.

China Trends is a listed shell, with only HK$12.6 million of cash last June. Its largest shareholder is a secretive mainlander, Xiang Xin, who is not known to be deep-pocketed.

His two listed assets are 22 per cent ownership in China Trend, worth HK$297 million, and 19 per cent in China Innovation which was disposed of for HK$110 million earlier.

Nevertheless, he signed a “consensus letter” to lend China Trends HK$500 million a month before the company proposed to ATV. Whether Xiang’s loan ever materialised is not known.

A little known company named Guotai Investment brought 1,200 million shares from Xiang plus three board seats in February. The share sale was not in a company announcement but in a shareholding disclosure that was filed. No percentage of holding was revealed.

No one knows who owns Guotai other than that it has a 29-year-old chairman, is based in the most expensive tower in Shanghai and is busy hiring to sell financial products at 10 per cent return.

Similarly, the control of Co-Prosperity was quietly sold to Honghu Capital without the company making any announcement.

Honghu didn’t even have a website but its boss Deng Junjie is well-known in the industry for his ownership of several listed shells and their volatility.

It had only HK$35 million of cash by June. Its shareholders meeting this week endorsed a plan to raise HK$300 million from the sale of shares and convertible bonds to Deng and others to fund the loan to ATV.

However, no share sale plan is real until money is in the bank.

It would be fair to say that none of the proposals look very comforting to the provisional liquidator so far.

Yet the listed pair have already been enjoying a side benefit. The shares of Co-prosperity and China Trends have gained 48 per cent and 65 per cent respectively since they proposed to ATV.

Read investors’ chat rooms up north and you will see why.

“This is a marriage of some maestro in the stock game, a mainland media empire, a well-known TV brand among Hong Kong and overseas Chinese, as well as the giants in the film industry. It is a jackpot if it succeeds,” said one.

Details and facts do not matter, headlines do. What better way to make yourself known than the ATV fiasco?