MARKET rumours suggesting Jardine Matheson Holdings wants to increase its 33 per cent stake in Hongkong Land have stirred memories among some of the wrinkly broker brigade in Hongkong. The speculation concerns Jardines obtaining a waiver from local takeover code rules demanding a general offer once a stake in a listed company goes above 35 per cent. This is the very code that the Jardines group agreed to abide by as part of a deal, hammered out in late 1991, that allowed its listed interests to gain a primary listing on the London Stock Exchange and secondary trading status in Hongkong. Whether or not the rumour is true, it offers a good excuse to look back at some old corporate markers put down in the past. During the 1980s it was a preoccupation of the Jardines group and the subject of stock market speculation that Hongkong Land was about to be taken over by Chinese interests. The battle for control of Hongkong Land incorporated all the racial and cultural jealousies of the day. Mr Li Ka-shing had already managed to take Hutchison into his fold in the 1970s and the late Sir Yue-kong Pao had taken over Wheelock Marden and its parent, Hongkong and Kowloon Wharf and Godown Co, now Wharf (Holdings), in the early 1980s. Wresting control of Hongkong Land from Jardines not only offered the predators a mighty prize, with the biggest investment property portfolio in Central, but it would have signalled another nail in the coffin of listed Anglo-Hongkong interests in the territory. In the early 1980s Hongkong Land had reigned supreme. This hegemony was given a severe knock in the property collapse of 1982 to 1983, in which Hongkong Land became the territory's biggest debtor. Problems piled up for the Jardine group and the Keswicks re-took control of the group in a boardroom coup in the mid-1980s. The downturn in Jardines' fortunes prompted a major group restructure that remains in place today and led, among other things, to the sale of Hongkong Electric to Mr Li. Takeover rumour grew apace in the period before the October 1987 crash - a crash that knocked out contending predators such as the Ng family of Sino Land. However, a predators' consortium had been formed, including Mr Li, New World's Mr Cheng Yu-tung, the late Mr Kwok Tak-seng of Sun Hung Kai Properties, Henderson Land's Mr Lee Shau-kee and China International Trust and Investment Corp. Hongkong and Shanghai Bank had even agreed bridging loan finance for a consortium-led general offer. Eventually a deal was struck by which Jardine Strategic increased its stake from 25 per cent of Hongkong Land to 33 per cent. The stake, bought from the consortium for $8.95 a share, cost $1.83 billion in total. The consortium players agreed in May 1988 that they would not take up stakes in Hongkong Land for another seven years. This moratorium runs out in less than two years. Jardines is a long-term player and will go to any lengths, like Beijing, to protect what it sees as its interests, even to the extent of causing temporary financial cost to itself. The group's tenacity in following what is perceived to be group interest should not be underestimated.