Government's tracker attracts good response The initial public offering (IPO) of the Government-backed Tracker Fund of Hong Kong (TraHK) got under way on Monday to greater-than-expected interest from retail investors, who queued for hours to get application forms. At about HK$10 billion, the investment trust's float is one of the largest IPOs to be carried out in Hong Kong and was partly blamed for drawing liquidity out of the stock exchange last week. Short-term interest rates came under pressure as foreign investors bought Hong Kong dollars to apply for TraHK units. Details of TraHK's launch terms were announced on October 24. Units will sell at a discount of at least 5 per cent to the reference market price, with the maximum unit price set at HK$13.80. Small investors must apply for at least 1,000 units but no more than 300,000. Retail investors will receive a loyalty bonus of one unit for every 20 units held for one year and a further one unit for every 15 units held for two years. That works out to a 5 per cent bonus after one year and an additional 6.7 per cent bonus after two years. The final size of the offering will be announced on November 11, and the launch price of units will be announced the next day, the same day they start trading on the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong. Bank fraud increases sharply this year Bank fraud is up sharply this year, despite a decline in the overall number of corruption cases, according to the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). Helen Lee Ching Po-han, the ICAC's regional officer, said the Asian financial crisis had made banks more alert to fraud that might go unnoticed in better times. The ICAC received 76 complaints involving banks in the first nine months of this year, up by 15 per cent from the same period last year. The total number of complaints dropped by 7 per cent to 2,500. Bank fraud represented 6 per cent of the 1,267 corruption complaints related to the private sector. Ivers Riley back in charge at exchange The Futures Exchange has reappointed Ivers Riley as its chief executive, replacing Randy Gilmore, who resigned two months ago after the exchange's efforts to switch to electronic trading ran into difficulties. Mr Riley's reappointment to the position, from which he resigned in 1997 to be replaced by Mr Gilmore, came as a surprise to market participants, many of whom had expected the new chief executive to be appointed after the Futures Exchange merges with the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong in January or February. Under the special terms of his new contract, Mr Riley will hold the post for no more than 12 months. Stanley Ho buys stake in phone firm Casino magnate Stanley Ho Hung-sun is buying a controlling interest in China Online (Bermuda), a mobile-phone distributor with plans to expand into Internet services, but he denies that he intends to launch an on-line gambling venture. Mr Ho is making the acquisition through China Sci-Tech Holdings, a maker of two-way radio-communication equipment in which he is the controlling shareholder. China Sci-Tech has conditionally agreed to pay HK$840 million for a 33 per cent stake in China Online, formerly called Star Telecom International Holdings. The deal is due to be completed by the end of the year. WTO talks pick up after meeting Negotiations on admitting the mainland to the World Trade Organisation have picked up ahead of the trade group's ministerial meeting in Seattle late next month. Speaking last week at the end of a four-day visit to the mainland, United States Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers said it was 'not impossible' to reach a bilateral agreement before the Seattle meeting but that time was running out. The mainland's chief WTO negotiator, Long Yongtu, undertook fresh bilateral talks with the European Union (EU) in Geneva. He said agreement was 85 per cent to 90 per cent complete but little progress had been made on the ground rules for foreign investment in the mainland's strategic insurance and telecommunications sectors. Ping An considers public share sale Ping An Insurance, the mainland's second-largest insurer, is considering selling shares to the public for the first time, company officials say. The move would represent a landmark along the path to opening the mainland's US$30 billion insurance market to foreign investors. Shenzhen-based Ping An, in which investment banks Goldman Sachs Group and Morgan Stanley Dean Witter each hold strategic stakes of 5 per cent, is understood to favour Hong Kong as its listing venue. Warm response to China Telecom offer China Telecom (Hong Kong)'s global stock and bond offerings have received a warm reception, breaking with the poor performance of recent public offerings by other mainland companies. The company, which controls mobile-networks in three of the mainland's most affluent provinces, increased the size of its equity in response to strong investor demand. Its share placement, oversubscribed by 106 per cent, was increased to US$2 billion from US$1.65 billion, and its bond offering, four times oversubscribed, was increased to US$600 million from US$500 million. Pacific Century gets low investment rating Pacific Century Insurance, the SAR's sixth-largest life insurer, has received a below-investment-grade rating of 'Bpi' from Standard & Poor's credit-rating agency. The 'pi'-type rating is based on publicly available information and does not involve discussions with the company's management. The rating, five levels below investment grade, would prevent many institutional investors and banks from buying any debt securities Pacific Century might want to sell in future. Michael Gross, the rating agency's associate director, said Pacific Century's weak financial position was due to its extensive use of reinsurance arrangements and its modest capital strength. Under a reinsurance arrangement, a company sells some of its policies to other insurers, gaining commission income in the short term but surrendering premium income in the long term. Microsoft unveils key SAR alliances Microsoft president Steve Ballmer visited Hong Kong on Thursday and announced key alliances with Sun Hung Kai Properties and Cable & Wireless HKT. The first, Digital Dashboard, is information-management software that will provide integrated computer services for the small and medium-sized enterprises who will occupy a new generation of 'intelligent' buildings to be built by Sun Hung Kai, Hong Kong's second-largest real-estate developer. The second, iZene, is a new Web portal that provides video e-mail, multi-point video-conferencing, e-commerce services and video news, among other things. Users of Cable & Wireless HKT's broadband service, called Netvigator 1.5M Ultra Line, will have free access to the portal. Those who are not Ultra Line subscribers will be charged HK$30 per month. iZene was originally called Zoom when it was first announced in March. Positive US news gives boost to Asia Positive economic news from the United States helped drive markets across Asia higher on Friday, with the Hang Seng Index gaining 3.9 per cent. Hong Kong was the region's strongest performer on a day that saw benchmark indices leap 3.4 per cent in Manila, 3.03 per cent in Japan, 2.19 per cent in Singapore and 1.53 per cent in South Korea. The Dow Jones Industrial Average on Thursday closed 2.19 per cent up at 10,622.53 on the back of tame third-quarter inflation data and buoyant economic growth figures. Following the close of markets in the United States on Thursday, Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan said the country's economy was likely to stay on a 'sustainable, non-inflationary' path. The comments were seen by some as less cautious than his usual stance - Mr Greenspan has regularly warned of a stock market bubble in the past two years - and combined with the inflation figures raised hopes the Fed would not raise interest rates on November 16.