signs of strength leak as Hutchison plays 3g cards close to chest Hutchison Whampoa is tight lipped on its global 3G performance. Since casting light on its operating conditions three months ago the firm has remained quieter than a church mouse. Investors were pleasantly surprised by its last data release but having over-egged past forecasts, the company seems to have learned its lesson and is happy to keep the market guessing. However word has reached Lai See of some bullish internal projections being offered by group managing director Canning Fok Kin-ning that should keep his big boss happy. The Hutchison plan originally called for the service to achieve operating break-even status by the end of next year, but these targets have apparently been brought forward to before Easter due to strong subscriber take-up in its two main markets, Britain and Italy. Both countries had a total of 2.5 million 3G subscribers, making up 78 per cent of its global subscribers of 3.25 million as of August 18, and are on track to hit six million subscribers by the end of this year, and 10 million by Easter. Hutchison also seems to be benefiting from economies of scale and is apparently paying 40 per cent less to purchase handsets than in its first year of operations. As rivals roll out services this should give the firm the ammunition to slash handset prices in a bid to stem market share erosion. Hutchison chairman Li Ka-shing recently spent more than $1.4 billion buying back his stock. It was his biggest purchase for a decade and if past history is a guide a good signal of impending stock out-performance in the coming three to six months. contemporary art Shortly after Standard Chartered Greater China chief executive Peter Wong Tung-shun tendered his resignation and 200 retail staff were laid off, the bank removed one of three global advertising slogans - 'we strive, you thrive' - from a billboard outside its Central headquarters. It turns out that graffiti artists amended that particular slogan in a manner that cannot be repeated in this family column. Another Standard Chartered hoarding at Wheelock House was similarly defaced. Assuming that the culprit(s) are still at large, we can think of 201 potential suspects. ostentatious offspring Has no one told China's leadership that well-behaved children are supposed to be seen and not heard? One month after China Power International chairman Li Xiaolin, daughter of former Chinese premier Li Peng, hammed it up on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange's trading floor for her company's trading debut, it was Levin Zhu Yunlai's turn. The son of Mr Li's successor, Zhu Rongji, Zhu Junior yesterday represented China Netcom co-sponsor China International Capital Corp at the former's listing ceremony. The media-friendly CICC executive entertained reporters' requests for his name card until he ran out. In this respect, the limelight-loving princelings appear rather unlike their fathers, who both shunned it for different reasons - Mr Li because he didn't know how to deal with the spotlight and Mr Zhu because he could see through it and despised it. Netcom's debut was also something of a coming out party for Citigroup's head of China investment banking, Wei Christianson. Formerly with CSFB, Ms Christianson replaced Margaret Ren, who left Citigroup in hurried and mysterious circumstances. funding festivities Speaking of Christmas and Germans, Sun Hung Kai Properties has budgeted more than $1 million to import more than 100 German-made mechanical Santa Clauses to its Tai Po Mega Mall this winter. Over in Central, meanwhile, Lai See has learned that SHKP and Henderson Land's IFC mall will feature a 'Christmas around the world' theme, including a 7.5-metre tall Santa weighing more than 900kgs and made of 1,000 pieces of mirrored glass. How nice to see, for a change, property developers looking forward to a merry Christmas. United front Lai See was delighted to receive an invitation to a Christmas party that will be jointly hosted by the French and German chambers of commerce at the Hong Kong club. Presumably no one will mention The War. And given the one thing that French and Germans can agree on - the more recent war in Iraq and all things American - we wonder if Yankees need not attend.