A GAMBLER'S INSTINCT seems bred into the local psyche. Lacking the capital to dabble in property and stocks, some of the city's youngsters try to earn a quick buck by speculating in fashionable, limited-edition items. While sneakers and action figures are common bets, hot new gadgets are also traded. Several hundred people queued outside the Gateway shopping arcade in Tsim Sha Tsui last month to snap up the 200 units of PlayStation 3 (PS3) allocated to Hong Kong during the restricted debut of the video-game console, and Ting, who declines to give his full name, was among them. The 22-year-old is one of the speculators who derive a lucrative sideline from trading in faddish, collectors' items. Ting's wager paid off: from the official price of HK$3,780, the long-awaited console was soon fetching more than HK$8,000 in the market and at auction sites such as eBay. A full set featuring the console, three games and a collection of gifts can sell for more than HK$10,000. Ting began trading trendy sneakers a couple of years ago while studying merchandising at the Hong Kong Management Association, and soon expanded his range to street fashion brands such as A Bathing Ape and Underground, as well as toys and gadgets. 'At first, I queued to get special sneakers for myself,' he says. 'But I thought, why not buy a few more pairs and sell them at a profit to cover the cost of my sneakers, and do it as a small business? 'Now I trade any trendy item that can make money.' Ting, who has since dropped out of school, now devotes his time to the business. Like many speculators, he recruits others, mostly students or jobless youngsters, to queue for popular products which are often restricted to one per customer. But he often has to line up with other consumers whenever a hot item is released. The speculators place just a fraction of their goods on online auction sites. The bulk is sold to established overseas customers, middlemen and local shops specialising in limited-edition items, such as those in the Trendy Zone arcades in Mong Kok and Causeway Bay. Fashion brands have adopted various tactics to thwart speculation. For instance, customers must draw ballots to shop at A Bathing Ape store at Queen's Road Central. Even so, that hasn't stopped long queues from forming outside the shop every Saturday. It's not always clear which items will be a hit, so speculators look for clues in youth magazines such as Hong Kong's Milk, and Smart from Japan, and websites such as www.hk-kicks.com which contains the latest news about sneaker releases. Among celebrity-obsessed youngsters, some products may be sought after simply for being associated with someone famous. One such case is Edison Chen Koon-hei. Anything worn by the actor-singer quickly gains appeal; items produced by Chen's own brand, Clot, and collaborations with fashion names such as Levi's and Lacoste are also highly prized. 'Edison Chen is influential among youngsters,' Ting says. 'Whatever he puts on, the value of those items will appreciate considerably.' According to an editor at youth magazine Touch, trends in Hong Kong are greatly influenced by Japan. 'When a product is popular in Japan, Hong Kong will follow,' he says. He cites, as an example, how trend followers in Hong Kong began clamouring for the Shark Hoody jacket from A Bathing Ape after it became a must-have item in Japan - with a five-fold increase in price. Local creations seldom have that sort of appeal unless they're associated with a star, with the few exceptions being items by action-figure designer Michael Lau Kin-man. '[Lau] is popular overseas, which is why traders love his products,' he says. Recently speculators queued for a week outside Nike's store in Central to buy skateboarding shoes that Lau designed for the sportswear giant. The woodgrain-patterned sneakers, which come with a 30cm action figure from Lau's Gardener series, are among the hottest items on today's market. The limited-edition sneakers are now traded on eBay for HK$9,000 - triple their original price. Cyrus Cheung, a second-year student at the Institute of Vocational Education, agrees. 'Lau has become well known among youngsters. His action figures are popular not just in Hong Kong, but also overseas,' says Cheung, who also speculates on the side. The student, who has been trading for a couple of years, decides which items he should stock by scouring lifestyle magazines and internet chat rooms as well as speaking with insiders. He also queued for the PS3 consoles and sold all eight that he picked up for about HK$8,000 each on the same day. 'The demand is overwhelming. If I had 20 more, I'm sure I could have sold them,' Cheung says. But he concedes earnings can swing wildly. 'There are [limited-edition] items released by different brands each month. We don't have a stable income; it all depends on the number of items released each month,' he says. 'If there is nothing special that month, we won't have much of an income.' Though there's some risk, speculators claim they rarely make losses because they clear their stock quickly. People who paid large sums for special Swatch watches at the height of the 1990s fad were collectors who hung on to the items for too long, they say. 'The worst you can do is sell them at the original price. But this seldom happens unless we buy 'rubbish',' says Ting. Despite drawing a comfortable living from speculating, Ting won't be making it his career. 'What if these items lose popularity one day? If they are not trendy anymore, there's no way we can make money. And there are too many newcomers who queue up more than a week for the items,' says the dropout, who still hopes to join friends to open a shop on the mainland specialising in trendy collectables. 'Besides, my family won't allow me to do this in the long term,' he says. 'They want me to return to school and find a full-time job after graduating. It's more secure.'