More than 5,000 Hong Kong HSBC shareholders replied yesterday to the bank's offer to take part in its mammoth US$17.7 billion rights issue, signalling strong interest in the British lender's fund-raising plan. Hundreds of long-time supporters of the lender queued outside the Hopewell Centre in Wan Chai, where Computershare Hong Kong Investor Services had set up a temporary office for the first day of registration and inquiries for the rights issue in the city. The offer ends on April 3. Investors could either submit their applications for the rights issue shares or ask questions about the fund raising. The last HSBC rights issue having occurred in 1987, some investors appeared unfamiliar with the procedures. Starting yesterday morning, a long, winding queue circled the building as shareholders waited about 15 minutes to get to the 23rd floor to submit their applications. HSBC has 63,000 shareholders in Hong Kong and 210,000 in total. Shareholders have the option of either joining the offering or selling their rights on the open market. Investors who physically hold the shares and wish to participate can submit an application form to Computershare in person or by mail. Investors who bought HSBC shares through a bank or brokerage could request their representatives at those institutions to send the application form to HSBC directly. A spokesman at BEA Securities said inquiries to its office yesterday were about 50 per cent up on normal business days, with the majority of questions about the rights issue. 'It seems more customers are preparing to subscribe to the rights shares,' the spokesman said, adding that few investors asked for financing to fund their subscription to the rights issue. Mr Chan, an elderly HSBC shareholder who has held his shares for more than 20 years, said he would fully exercise his obligation to join the offering, saying he 'loved the bank so much'. 'They did very well in the past 20 years and made a mistake only with the investment in the US. I have no regrets about my investment in HSBC and will ask my family to support the bank to get through the current difficulties,' said Mr Chan. Most people said they were prepared to take up the rights shares and remained optimistic about the bank's prospects. Mrs Lee, a housewife, said she would join the offering, as HSBC had distributed tremendous returns to her investment portfolio over the past eight years. 'It is only short-term uncertainty, and I see [HSBC] as a life-long investment,' she said. HSBC shareholders who want to take up all their rights should send back their provisional allotment letters to Computershare no later than 4pm on April 3. HSBC declined to comment on how many shareholders had committed to take up the rights shares. 'There has been a very positive response from retail investors, but it is still early days,' a bank spokesman said.