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Peregrine to be plucked?

TIME is always a great healer. Even more so in Hong Kong, which often shows the collective memory of a goldfish. The boys down at Peregrine would no doubt wish that were so, as they wait for their day before the stock exchange's disciplinary committee on that business last year of having manipulated certain initial public offerings.

The big bird has already taken the rap - and a $3.5 million fine to boot - from the Securities and Futures Commission (SFC), and there is a general feeling in the industry that the exchange will not be going out of its way for a tar-and-feather spectacle.

The SFC judgment on Peregrine was delivered last September, so it might seem odd that the stock exchange has taken so long to take up the task.

However, we hear that the wheels of justice are finally ready to turn down at the exchange and a November hearing has been set for Peregrine to appear before the committee.

It hasn't been lost on a few old cynics around town that November happens to be the time when Charles Lee Yeh-kwong relinquishes the chairman's seat at the stock exchange.

Mr Lee has always been allied to the Peregrine-Li Ka-shing camp within the exchange, so we wondered if the temperature was rising a little down in the Peregrine nest.SO those eager Americans are at it again. Yes, bankers from the United States can expect a testing time in the coming months from gloating Brits who will spare no pleasure in pointing to the brokers' dilemma: to have or not to have a securities licence. Our only advice would be to not mention World War II, lest they become intolerable.

And yet, flipping the coin, what is the state of the average British investment bank in the brave new Hong Kong market of the early 90s? The general rule is that you don't get paid as much but at least get to play cricket on the weekends, while the Americans are still working.

British finance types in Hong Kong are a quite different breed from their forbears of 20 years ago. However, the old colonial adage of being 'more British than the British' still applies in plenty of cases. What we are saying is that barrow boys and Essex girls are unlikely to be part of their common vernacular.

Take S. G. Warburg, which can legitimately claim to be the only British investment bank with a truly global punch. One of the longest-established operators in Hong Kong, the firm has been getting bigger with everybody else these last few years.

However, it has not been immune to the stresses of changing times. In recent months a large number of the firm's top brass have departed. Departed largely because the stuffy Warburg culture with its importance on 'doing your time with the firm' was at odds with the opportunities (ie money) at other firms.

Senior staff such as Colin Buchan, Colin Hall, Chris Hall, Michael Green and Ewen Cameron-Watt have all gone or are going. 'There used to be a hard-core family but that has changed,' said one analyst at the firm.

Hong Kong's finance industry is getting ever more cosmopolitan and with it corporate cultures have been dragged towards modernity. But at Warburg the starched collar values still dominate. 'There's nothing wrong with being British I suppose, but couldn't they tone it down a bit,' said one former employee.