Investors in FIL face anxious wait

HONG Kong investors face an anxious wait for news on whether last week's decision by First Investments Limited (FIL) to suspend trading in its $1 billion open-ended bond fund has been successful in avoiding a dramatic price drop.

First Investments took the unprecedented move of suspending subscriptions and redemptions in the Leveraged United States Government Bond Fund after a 14.3 per cent plunge in its value.

The move, backed by brokers, followed the collapse earlier this month of prominent US hedge fund manager Askin Capital, which had invested in securities similar to those held by FIL's bond fund.

FIL managing director Geoffrey Mansfield said the main reason behind the suspension was that securities on packages of home mortgages had been trading at a large discount in the US following Askin's collapse.

This widened the bid-offer spread to up to 30 per cent compared to the normal spread of two to five per cent.

First Investments will not lift the trading ban until it is possible to price the investments fairly.

There is no association between First Investments or its bond fund with the collapsed Askin Capital.

The suspension is thought to have affected about 1,000 Hong Kong investors with assets totalling about $400 million.

First Investments has held regular meetings with intermediaries since the suspension of trading on Wednesday.

Letters explaining FIL's decision to stop trading have been sent to shareholders.

A spokesman for First Investments said investors had been supportive of the decision to suspend the fund.

''Obviously, we want the market to stabilise quickly but we can't speculate when that will happen,'' the spokesman said.

Last year, the fund produced a return of 28 per cent and was one of the year's top performers.

Specialising in investments in collateralised mortgages, the fund is the only one of its kind in the territory, according to the Hong Kong Investment Funds Association.