Friday's news that New York Life Insurance is forming a 200 million yuan (about HK$187.44 million) joint venture with mainland home appliance maker Haier Group may have come as quite a shock. The life insurer's Asia region chief executive Dennis Pedini said the venture would develop an agency distribution system and leverage Haier's customer base. Lai See was wondering what synergies there could possibly be between a life insurer and a mainland toaster manufacturer. As we contemplated the issue, we remembered the completely unrelated incident of a Hong Kong bank having to recall a number of mainland-manufactured faulty table lamps it had distributed to credit-card customers. It was discovered that a short-circuit from the lamp's plug could give users a kick more impressive than a David Beckham corner. Anyway, we guessed the New York Life/Haier joint venture would probably be just a case of plain, old-fashioned vertical integration. Bonus break: It has been a tough old year for SAR banks. Falling interest rates, a stagnant economy and negative consumer sentiment are all doing their bit to eat into profit margins. A good example is HSBC Holdings, Hong Kong's largest bank by market capitalisation. Over the past 12 months, The Bank has announced that it will close its Indonesian and Philippine brokerage units, freeze salaries for about 14,000 local employees, scrap plans to launch an online banking and investment service with US bank Merrill Lynch, slap new fees on small depositors, cut back on branches and move back office operations to Guangzhou - all in an effort to save a few pennies. After all, every bit counts. So, can someone please explain why Lai See personally received FOUR separate envelopes each containing a pocket diary and a 2002 desk calendar? Last word: The Airport Authority has been looking through the Oxford English Dictionary's Guide To Euphemisms for its latest round of cost saving. 'As a result of internal restructuring, we regret to advise that the AA newsletter will cease to be published after its July-August 2001 issues,' a release, dated December 10, said. This is a pity. We used to look forward to reading articles about logistics and exciting new opportunities, provisional civil international air traffic statistics at Hong Kong International Airport, and the annual mandatory disaster exercise. Oh well, as long as the publishers of Walnut Farmers Monthly don't partake in a spot of 'internal restructuring', we'll still have something to read in the bath. Prickly issue: In last month's Milestone magazine, Hong Kong Estate Agents Authority chief executive officer Grace Chow Chan Man-yuen outlined how the industry had to reposition itself to survive in the present economic climate. According to Mrs Chow, estate agents should face up to the reality with a positive attitude. She also underlines - albeit unwittingly - what many home-owners think about estate agents in general. Mrs Chow, quoting writer Mao Dun, said that life was akin to a rose, to say that it does not have pricks is a meaningless self-deception, but to hate it because it is prickly to handle is also inappropriate. 'We should target the pricks and eliminate them,' she quotes. We know of few people who would disagree with that. Small change: In a move that smacks of nepotism, we can reveal that ING Barings' analyst Daragh Maher has given his daughter a high-profile job at the investment bank. According to sources, the London-based analyst gave his daughter a position guaranteed to increase her international exposure. Three-month-old Ciara Maher appears on the cover of the bank's latest economics report - Rebirth of the euro?