Laughter still the best medicine for Reader's Digest If there's one thing Reader's Digest is known for in Hong Kong it is its generosity in paying readers for original jokes. In an internet generation where you have millions of jokes at your fingertips, the iconic monthly family magazine, a staple of doctors' surgeries, is still paying HK$780 for any jokes it prints. No kidding, that is more than getting two years of free subscription which works out at HK$720. Unfortunately, that kind of largesse has led the publisher to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the United States to reorganise its debt. But thankfully, the filing will not affect its Hong Kong and Asia business, which currently has 188,000 subscribers for its Chinese-language version in the region. Reader's Digest, founded in Pleasantville, New York in 1922, eventually launched in Hong Kong in 1965. In a few years it had cottoned on to fact that jokes were, to borrow a modern term, 'the killer application'. The Chinese-language magazine started offering HK$60 for jokes it published in 1968 (at the time my father was making HK$30 a week as a department store salesman). The price was raised to HK$200 in 1979, to HK$300 in 1989, and HK$380 in 1999. It stayed at that figure until its 40th anniversary in 2005 when the price jumped to the current HK$780. Managing editor Esther Lui told Lai See that every month the magazine still receives between 800 and 1,000 jokes submitted by Hong Kong readers. They have to compete with translations of other submissions from around the world, but on average up to eight locally written jokes are used in each edition. The jokes have to be no more than 250 words long and before one is published the reader is required to sign a document stating that it is an original. 'Our surveys have shown that 90 per cent of our readers read the jokes,' said Ms Lui. 'In fact, many of them say they turn to the jokes first.' Timing the market Timing is everything in the stock and property markets. Just ask MTR Corp executive Thomas Ho Hang-kwong (below). The MTR property director sold almost a third of his holding for HK$6.74 million last week when he offloaded 240,000 shares at HK$28.08 just after the company reported a near 43 per cent jump in interim earnings. Since then the market has slumped, leaving MTR's share price at HK$27.08. Keeping pace with Evergrande You've got to be quick to keep up with Evergrande Real Estate Group, the mainland property company that is having a second attempt at listing in Hong Kong. The Guangzhou firm lured Hopson Development finance director Tam Lai-ling as deputy chief executive prior to launching its latest fund-raising campaign but he has now decided not to join the firm after failing to agree on a pay package. Evergrande has also switched its banking team a couple of times - dropping Goldman Sachs and picking UBS as the sponsor for the share launch, then rehiring the Wall Street bank after getting involved in a tiff over staffing with the Swiss. Yesterday it changed the itinerary for the pre-listing media tour to Chongqing this weekend. Originally, it had planned to fly reporters to Chongqing from Shenzhen, but sweetened the deal somewhat by switching to flying them from Hong Kong. The trip is intended to show off the firm's new and hot property site in the city of furnaces and will be led by chief executive James Xia ... at least that's the plan at the moment. CFA goes easy on students The global pass rate from this year's Chartered Financial Analyst entry level exam rose to 46 per cent from a poor 35 per cent last year. The textbook explanation is that candidates studied harder, putting in an average of 315 hours, up 26 per cent from 250 hours last year. There is also a feeling that the financial crisis actually helped students to focus more on their books than the stock markets. But we prefer to believe that it was related to the decision to reduce the multiple choices on the exam paper questions from four to three. The CFA Institute produced research by psychometricians to show that three choices was no better than four because having more than two distractors did not prove effective. However, we keep coming back to the fact that the chances of getting the right answer improved to 33 per cent from 25 per cent.