The pop industry hype might have had you believe that the Oasis press conference on Sunday was the biggest staged media event of the week. But outgoing HSBC Holdings supreme leader Sir William Purves was intent on showing that rock stars aren't the only ones able to take charge of press gatherings. It may have been Sir William's last annual profit briefing in charge of the financial services giant - but don't imagine there was any softening of his trademark no-nonsense style. He was at his forceful best as he rasped his way through answers to a series of posers. With apparent relish, he restricted hacks to a single question in his best schoolmasterly manner. 'Will you stop right there? That is complicated enough!,' he told a scribe at one stage. But it wasn't only reporters who the HSBC patriarch was keeping on their toes. In numerous instances, he called on some of his senior financial personnel, without warning, for clarification on certain issues. Was it our imagination, or were some of the HSBC financial types looking increasingly nervous as the briefing wore on? Your correspondent braved Sir William's strict one-question rule to ask him about his impending retirement. Was he abdicating the HSBC 'throne' at the bank's hour of need, given the economic climate in Asia? 'I don't feel that I'm on a throne,' he said. He added there was still a month or two left until he retired, and there was some 'damage to do until then'. Now that does sound ominous. Perhaps we now know the real reason why the formidable Sir Willie's HSBC offsiders were appearing a tad uncomfortable during proceedings. We think we may have discovered a new sport during yesterday's HSBC jamboree that would go down well at a 'corporate Olympics'. It's called synchronised tie-wearing, and involves getting as many executives together in the one venue as possible wearing identical silken showpieces. We failed to spot a single HSBC representative not sporting startling red and white ties. It all seemed a touching display of fashion unanimity to us, the like of which we have seldom seen since our school days. It was the same thing over at Hang Seng Bank, where chairman David Eldon, who is also HongkongBank chief executive and had to attend both briefings, made a hasty change to fall into line with his fellow Hang Seng directors. What was the story, we asked an HSBC spokesman? Did everyone in the company have exactly the same taste? Not quite: 'It's the new group tie,' he said simply. In case you thought the HSBC profit release was an overnight job, think again. We are informed that those preparing the results statement have been slaving away and burning the midnight oil right from the end of HSBC's reporting period on December 31. 'It basically all started for us on January 2,' we were informed by a bank flak. What made it harder this year was that the results release was brought forward by a week - for reasons that remain a mystery. All up, there were 57 pages worth of financial thrills 'n spills just in the main release for the result - the sort of length you normally expect from an annual report. And that's not accounting for some 40 pages of figures on the various subsidiaries of the mega-group. Take a break, guys. It must be tiring counting all that cash. You can almost set your clock by Cathay Pacific's dose of monthly masochism. Other companies might be keen to talk up their financial prospects during hard times - but, alas, not Hong Kong's main international airline. Over the past seven or eight months, we've been treated to a veritable smorgasboard of gloomy quotes from the airline when it comes to its monthly review of revenue performance by senior executives. During the period, phrases such as 'worst possible situation', 'very difficult year', 'slower growth' and 'much narrower profit margins' have been routinely used by Cathay executives writing in the company's in-house newspaper. It has all been enough to drive Lai See to resort to Valium every time we go near the in-house rag. Was this all a ploy to prepare the market and staff for yet more bad news? 'No, we just state the facts. We'd like to bring some good news, but that's just not happening on the revenue front,' a spokesman told us yesterday.