Your correspondent always liked going on roadshows when he was a stockbroker. Granted that they called for 16-hour days and the only chance for a meal was on the two or three flights a day they also required, but they were always stimulating. There is one roadshow, however, in which he would not like to take part and it is the one that the Mass Transit Railway Corp will stage sometime later this year to win investor support for its privatisation. The reason for this reluctance is one question that he never liked getting on roadshows - 'Why should I buy what you are offering when I can already get something much better and cheaper in the same business?' The people on the MTRC roadshow will hear the question often. They will, in fact, get it at every meeting they hold with professional investors. They will get it because of something called SMRT, the name under which Singapore has just launched the privatisation of its Mass Rapid Transit system, an offering deficient only in that the letter 'A' was not placed between the 'M' and 'R' of the acronym. To start with, the Singapore Government did it the right way by recognising that building and owning a railway is a different business from operating one. It is therefore retaining ownership of the railway and privatising only the operating company. Of course it may be doing so only because passenger fares could never pay for construction costs and a decision was made to write off most of those costs as a social subsidy. But the MTRC is in the same fix. Without government property injections at sweetheart prices it could never pay for itself from fares alone. Strip out the property, in fact, and the MTRC is running a loss at the moment on railway operations because of the cost of building the Airport Express. The obvious thing to do here is take a leaf out of Singapore's book, keep ownership of the railway in government hands, write off much of the capital cost as a social subsidy, and then lease the railway to an operating company that would have a chance of producing decent earnings. It is not even being considered and that's that. It is also why you are getting pre-privatisation talk about how you should not value investments by their price earnings ratio but be more sophisticated and look at discounted cash flows. Count on it that you would hear less of this talk if the MTRC had railway profits instead of railway losses against which to compare a price. But you get little of this talk with the SMRT. It is priced at about 11.2 times consensus earnings, which is mighty attractive in a market that is trading at about 17 times earnings. No need here to resort to discounted cash flows. Those SMRT earnings are growing too. After-tax profits were up 22 per cent for the year to March 31 and analysts forecast continued growth. MTRC earnings for the year to December 31 last year were down 25 per cent even after taking in property. Remember that on railway alone there was a loss. One reason for it is that the SMRT shows growth in patronage, with passenger journeys rising by 6 per cent year over year. The MTRC in contrast has steadily lost passengers to competing forms of transport for three years now. Singapore also did some other things right. The SMRT's fare structure is rigorously linked to changes in the consumer price index. Big investors will like that. It gives them some confidence in consistency of returns. In Hong Kong fares are at the discretion of MTRC management and all we have is an assurance that they have been kept below inflation in the past. Perhaps in the past but not just now. There is more that makes the SMRT look a better investment and you can be sure that fund managers do not have the limitations to finding it that this column has to available space.