HONG Kong firms were second only to British ones in the number of sponsored American depositary receipt (ADR) programmes they launched in New York in the first half of this year. Bank of New York figures show that Hong Kong firms accounted for 10 per cent of the new ADR programmes, while UK firms were responsible for 12 per cent. The figures reflect the growing interest of US investors in Hong Kong equities. At June 30, there were 515 sponsored ADR programmes in New York, of which Hong Kong firms accounted for 4.1 per cent. Ahead of them, UK and Australian firms were responsible for 32.8 per cent and 16.7 per cent respectively. The Bank of New York's Hong Kong spokesman, Gary Peck, said the first-half total of ADR launches by Hong Kong firms was likely to be repeated in the second half of the year. He said strong US and international investor interest was the main reason for the activity by Hong Kong companies. According to the Bank of New York, Hongkong Telecom was the only Hong Kong stock within the top 30 sponsored depositary receipts in terms of share volume. Twenty three non-US firms raised more than US$4.53 billion through depositary receipt offerings in the US public market, a substantial increase on the same period last year when 10 issuers raised US$2.8 billion. The Bank of New York achieved a market share of 58 per cent of all new public sponsored ADR programmes and acted for 61 per cent of the ADR public offerings completed in the first half of the year. Shanghai Petrochemical, with its HK$1.5 billion offer in New York last month, became the first China state-owned enterprise to launch an ADR programme. A record number of ADRs were traded on the US exchanges in the first half of the year, totalling 2.8 billion shares valued at US$84 billion. This represents a 23 per cent increase in ADR trading and a 28 per cent increase in dollar value from the corresponding period last year. However, these volume figures represent only ADRs traded on the major US exchanges, and do not include those traded in the over-the-counter market. An unprecedented number of new ADR programmes were also created in the period, with 50 established from 21 countries, a 67 per cent increase from last year's 30 new programmes. The Bank of New York expected 105 new programmes to be established by the end of the year. ADRs, also described as global depositary receipts, enable US or overseas investors to buy stocks traded in other markets. The depositary, an American bank, holds the company's shares and allows investors to trade receipts instead of the underlying stock. Peregrine Investment Holdings recently received approval from the Securities and Exchange Commission of the US to launch an ADR programme. It has a level-one programme, in which its ADRs are traded on the so-called ''pink slip'' system by US brokers, who advertise only that they are interested in trade, without quoting price.