More than 4,000 guests, including tycoons, bankers and government officials, did their best to exude optimism last night at Bank of East Asia's 90th anniversary celebration, but most admitted the city will face a challenging economy this year. 'I hope Hong Kong can be the first [economy] to jump back to positive growth,' said David Li Kwok-po, the chairman and chief executive of BEA. Although many expect 2009 to be a difficult year for Hong Kong, Mr Li believes the city will perform well due to its close ties to the mainland. The cocktail reception at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre was officiated by government officials including Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen; Peng Qinghua, a deputy director of the liaison office of the central government in Hong Kong; and Lu Xinhua, the commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong. BEA will donate HK$300 on behalf of each guest or at least HK$1.2 million to the Community Chest and the Hong Kong committee for the United Nations Children's Fund. Shun Tak Holdings chairman Stanley Ho Hung-sun expected the US economy to take three years to recover. But Mr Ho said Hong Kong's economy would be stable owing to support from the mainland and that the city and Macau would fare better than other economies. He predicted the Hang Seng Index would return to the 20,000-point level in two years. The index closed 655.33 points higher at 15,042.81 yesterday. Cheung Kong (Holdings) chairman Li Ka-shing said Hong Kong would be full of challenges this year and that people should prepare to cope with the times. Sun Hung Kai Properties vice-chairman Thomas Kwok Ping-kwong said the economy would be worse than last year due to the global financial turmoil. However, Mr Kwok said his company would continue its plan of property sales. Also at the event were Chief Secretary for Administration Henry Tang Ying-yen, Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah, former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang, New World Development chairman Cheng Yu-tung and bankers such as Peter Wong Tung-shun, an executive director of HSBC Asia Pacific. Separately, David Li said he was confident about BEA's future development because of its solid fundamentals.