Blue-chip book-keepers ain't catching the easter bunny As if February were not depressing enough. Like summer into winter, the Lunar New Year period has given way to the corporate reporting season. Oh, joy. That means analysts are back from the beaches and in the firing line, as blue-chip firms - most notably HSBC on February 28 - report their annual numbers, and in so doing prove Hong Kong's number-crunching prognosticators to be either geniuses or rank idiots. This year, many blue-chip companies have postponed their moments of truth until after the Easter holiday, which falls earlier than usual on March 25. Lai See understands that heavyweights Cheung Kong (Holdings) and Hutchison Whampoa, which usually report on the second-to-last Thursday in March, will reveal their results on March 31. An early Easter aside, Hutchison needs more time to prepare after last year's spin-off of HTIL. Looks like a lot of executives will spend Easter burning the midnight oil. French fries et croissants mon ami Despite the passage of the Year of the Monkey this month, it remains the official 'Year of France in China' until July. In the interests of cultural exchange, Lai See readers are encouraged to drink copious amounts of Bordeaux, struggle through a copy of Emile Zola's L'Assommoir (in translation, bien sur) and limit their work schedule to a civilised 35 hours per week. Lai See also recommends attending this evening's soiree organised by the French Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Hong Kong at the China Tee Club in Central. Entitled 'Chinese Antique Furniture: How to differentiate good from bad', the event will feature furniture expert Chiang Oi-ling. Even if you don't buy her line about how 'all things are created spiritually before they are created physically', be sure to engage the unlimited (chamber's emphasis) drinks and hors d'oevres with gallic enthusiasm. Vive la France! Slow start to new year's first ipo Just how long can an IPO press conference drag on? New Focus Auto Tech, a Taiwanese car parts firm which hopes to raise as much as $94 million, conducted a record three-hour session yesterday. The marathon meet, which started at 3pm, included a 21/2-hour interval wherein company executives scrambled to get clearance for the presentation from the Company Registry. 'Perhaps because we are the first IPO in the Year of Rooster, things tended to start slower,' an executive explained to the handful of disgruntled reporters that bothered to hang around. Fashion chain gets emergency number Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing has awarded the stock code '999' to IT, the soon-to-be-listed retail fashion chain. Rather presumptive, in Lai See's view, to assume that the Hong Kong Police Force has no plans for its own stock-market listing in the future. Generous gifts from birthday boy Tuesday was ren ri, or everyone's birthday, according to Chinese lore. It was also a day of happiness for shipping firm Titan Petrochemicals, which reported that net profit tripled last year. 'Welcome to my birthday party,' said the company's smiling chairman, Barry Cheung Chun-yuen. But it was Mr Cheung giving out the gifts. Every bemused reporter in attendance was presented a lai see (red packet) containing a crisp new $100 note. Alas, ethics are ethics, and the South China Morning Post nobly declined the cash. Not to be deterred by this display of integrity, Titan's well-coiffed PR agent duly placed the packet on to the reporter's seat while the latter was 'powdering his nose'. Upon his return, our hero indignantly sat on the offending envelop, leaving it forlorn and slightly crushed when the press conference concluded. Ringing up the company's expenses A colleague, in Seattle for the launch of Boeing's new 777-200, had a fright when she received a US$123 telephone bill for making three two-minute international calls from her hotel. That's her story, anyway. 'I am going to stay away from the phone ... scary!' she informed her editors before filing.