When a family that has owned and run a business for decades looks to sell up and get out, it pays to ask what they see that others don't.
So, when two controlling families propose to exit the same business sector at the same time, you have to wonder whether that's really such a great sector to be buying into.
Yet there is no shortage of eager buyers lining up to acquire two of Hong Kong's remaining family-owned banks.
Both state-owned behemoth Agricultural Bank of China and Singapore's Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp are reported to be sniffing around Wing Hang Bank, which is 45 per cent owned by the controlling Fung family and Bank of New York Mellon.
At the same time, the Yue Xiu Group, a trading company owned by the Guangzhou city government, is close to clinching a deal to buy Chong Hing Bank, which is 60 per cent owned by its founding Liu family.
The two banks are minnows. Wing Hang has just 2 per cent of the local loan market; Chong Hing 1 per cent. Still, the interest has propelled both companies' shares sharply higher on the Hong Kong stock exchange, pushing Wing Hang's price up to 1.8 times the book value of its assets, and Chong Hing to a multiple of 2.2 times (see the first chart). In comparison, both HSBC and Bank of East Asia are trading at 1.2 times book value.
Clearly, investors believe that both Wing Hang and Chong Hing can command a considerable scarcity premium. But whether either bank is really such a desirable takeover target is doubtful.
In recent years, Hong Kong's smaller banks have found their traditional business lines uncomfortably squeezed. As Hong Kong's interest rates have fallen nearly to zero in line with US rates, their net interest margins have been severely compressed.
At the same time, they have lost market share in what was once a lucrative niche in small company lending, as the Hong Kong government's loan guarantee scheme has encouraged the city's big banks to move into the sector.
In response, Hong Kong's small banks stepped up their lending to the city's property market - both mortgages and loans to investment companies - and they ramped up the amounts they lent outside Hong Kong, principally to mainland borrowers.
As a result, at the end of last year, 40 per cent of Wing Hang's loan book was extended to the Hong Kong property market, and another 40 per cent was committed outside Hong Kong, mostly to the mainland and Macau (see the second chart).
Chong Hing's mainland exposure is smaller, but it too has about 40 per cent of its total loan book exposed to Hong Kong real estate.
So long as the city's property market was booming and the mainland economy was growing at double-digit rates, the banks' strategy paid off. Non-performing loan ratios fell to their lowest level in more than 20 years, and profits grew at a handsome clip.
Now, however, their prospects are looking less rosy. With the US Federal Reserve moving towards tightening, analysts are forecasting a deep correction in the Hong Kong property market, with prices falling 20 per cent or more.
At the same time, China's growth is slowing and fears of a mainland debt crisis are mounting. That means bad-loan ratios at Hong Kong's small banks are only going to rise from current levels.
That will hurt profits and could badly erode their capital buffers. As a result, this looks like an excellent time for controlling families to quit the business, especially if they can command a steep premium from buyers.
Conversely, it looks like a lousy time to buy. That's unlikely to bother mainland giants like Agricultural Bank, however. As one analyst commented recently, Wing Hang would amount to nothing more than a rounding error on its income statement.