The number of foreign companies registered in Hong Kong rose slightly last year, the government said, citing figures from the Companies Registry. The increase may indicate that overseas firms are beginning to regain confidence in Hong Kong. By the end of 2002 the total number of overseas companies registered in Hong Kong amounted to 6,710, or 253 more than at the same time the year before. The number of foreign companies setting up shop here for the first time fell 14 per cent to 700 last year, from 812 establishing themselves here in 2001. The number of multinationals setting up in Hong Kong is important because it indicates how competitive the city is compared with other business centres in the region such as Singapore, Tokyo and Shanghai, said Dick Li, an economist at Goldman Sachs. 'It shows there is an increase in foreign companies coming to Hong Kong, so the claim that Hong Kong is losing competitiveness and its status as a middleman is wrong.' But Mr Li warned that the information given by the government was not detailed enough to warrant too much attention. 'There is a big variation in terms of whether companies are taking Hong Kong as a representative office, with a small office in a building, or taking Hong Kong as a headquarters and positioning themselves for China,' he said. The government also released details about the number of locally registered companies in Hong Kong, with 503,111 on the rolls at the end of last year, 7,269 down on a year ago. However, 46,554 new companies registered last year, compared with 38,258 the year before. Mr Li said the local numbers were not as important because it is easy and cheap to register a company - as little as $1,720, according to the registry's Web site.