Fewer red packets not completely bad news It's not just because people are being careful with their money that this is likely to be a lean Lunar New Year when it comes to receiving lai see, there also seems to be a lot fewer lai see packets in circulation. For obvious reasons, corporations from big financials to small toy manufacturers are having fewer packets printed, just as they did with giveaway diaries and calendars last month. HSBC is a case in point, although its motive is also environmental. The bank printed 70 million lai see packets last year for its Hong Kong staff and clients. This year it has only handed out batches of red envelopes to its premier customers, while donating the HK$500,000 saved on printing costs to the Community Chest. Lai see packets do not just carry money, but also hope. Quite a few corporates, such as the Royal Bank of Scotland, have included images of cows on their packets, indicating the Year of the Ox and hopes for a return of the bull market. Ironically, Merrill Lynch, the company with the trademark bull logo, has stopped giving lai see packs to most of its business units but this could have something to do with rebranding under new owner Bank of America. The most novel corporate packets we have seen so far are the creamy brown coloured ones being handed out by Pacific Coffee. In keeping with Lai See's tradition, we would like to give away our favourite packets to readers. This year we have picked Harbour City, which has produced some featuring happy cartoon baby images (pictured). The Tsim Sha Tsui shopping mall is offering five complimentary lai see packages, including a small vanity case, to readers who can list the main characteristics of someone born in the Year of the Ox. E-mail us - first come, first served. Charity at a brush-stroke Raising funds for charity is also proving difficult at the moment, but Citi HK country officer Zhang Shengman has come up with a money spinner by auctioning off 30 of his new year greetings calligraphy. The fei chun are said to be over-subscribed (well, who's going to say no when the boss asks if you want to buy his work?), which is good news for the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals' Wong Chuk Hang Complex. Mr Zhang's example has also inspired other members of the management team to pitch in with their own items for auction such as vintage bottles of wine and scarves. A job convincing some Financial headhunter Robert Half International has come up with a survey that reckons 31 per cent of Hong Kong's accounting and finance firms are planning to hire in the first half. Only 11 per cent of them plan to fire, the second lowest among 14 countries surveyed. We hope they are right, but it all sounds a bit half-baked to us. HSBC on receiving end As HSBC's share price continues to head south, the bank is stirring up a lot of feeling - some good, some bad. One infuriated reader, signing himself a soon-to-be-a-former HSBC account holder, reckons he has uncovered the bank's strategy for getting out of the current crisis. He related a story about taking his 83-year-old father, visiting Hong Kong for the first time, to the HSBC Central branch to cash a traveller's cheque worth the equivalent of HK$620, only to be told there would be a HK$120 fee. 'That's a criminal 19 per cent,' he wrote. As a Power Vantage customer he then suggested his father endorse the cheque and deposit it in his account so he could give him the cash. The clerk told him that would cost HK$80, or a 13 per cent fee. All protests were met with the standard reference to the list of fees and charges. 'Is this HSBC's strategy to steer themselves away from the Lehman Brothers, Bank of America, Citigroup financial abyss?' he asked in exasperation. Meanwhile, another reader wrote in regarding the recent HSBC downgrades by US brokerages. 'What I can't understand is why anyone is taking any notice of those analysts anymore. Any pronouncements they make have to be treated as junk-bond grade after their appalling record over the past 18 months.' We don't think he's alone in feeling that way.