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Synergy's fine reasoning produces thin excuses

Swire Group

A BUNCH of Hong Kong fund managers have been to India and were presented with one of the most audacious attempts that we've yet seen to create 'synergy' where none exists.

They saw a company called NEPC-Micon, which builds hi-tech windmills.

However, NEPC's management has also spotted the explosion of air travel in India, so it decided to start an airline too.

The razor-sharp brains of these Hong Kong fund managers immediately realised that aircraft and windmills are two different types of business and asked the firm how it justified moving into an area of business in which it had no experience.

The chief executive had a ready answer: 'They both have propellors in common.' Usually, Hong Kong companies don't try to make excuses for al fresco business ventures. They just go for them.

The medical equipment firm Ultronics made no attempt to claim synergy when it bought a Chinese cement plant a few months ago, a move, incidentally, that's had a somewhat nasty effect on its share price.


Another was the plunge by Ocean Information Systems into stockbroking, justified on the grounds that stockbroking is going to be a growth industry in the 21st century. Err, but aren't computers supposed to be a business with a future too? But our favourite is China Strategic's subsidiary in Australia, which makes and distributes medical supplies. Or it did.

Look at the cutting from its interim report published last week. It's a good job Hong Kong investors aren't leading the quest for a cure for the common cold.

We'd spend all the research grants building hotels in Shanghai.

V-sign THE board of Cable and Wireless, the British parent of Hongkong Telecom, is meeting in Shanghai today after spending the weekend in Hong Kong.


But don't feel too sorry for these upper class Brits having to travel to China's New York on China Nevercrash Airlines or whatever. They're going to be on a hired corporate jet - or two to be precise.

A Cable and Wireless manager told us that having all the directors on one plane was considered too risky.


Pity they couldn't have afforded a third. They could have flown wing-tip to wing-tip in a V-formation over the city centre - that's the sort of show that would go down very well in Shanghai.

Frozen out BEARING in mind the Governor's remarks about competition being 'the best guarantee of value for money for the consumer', there was an interesting story circulating around the drinks industry last week.

The story ran that the caterer at the Hong Kong Stadium had decided to sell Snapple, the upstart drink that has proved so successful over the summer and which is about the only big-selling soft drink not made by one of the industry's giants.


The caterer, an arm of the Holiday Inn Golden Mile, thought it polite to inform Swire Bottlers, the firm which supplies it with Coca-Cola and other such drinks.

Swire's reaction was to hit the roof and given that no Swire would mean no Coca-Cola the caterer decided that the stadium would have to remain Snapple-free.

Strangely, the Holiday Inn Golden Mile denied the story, while Swire said it was in essence true.


Swire did point out that it had paid for the fridges in the corporate boxes and the like, and it was hardly fair to use Swire's fridges to cool a rival's product.

Still, if you're a Snapple fan in the stadium don't despair.

Following the success of Snapple worldwide, one of the drinks giants has produced a product with a similar taste in remarkably similar packaging. As Swire is the local agent it will no doubt be happy to stock it in its fridges ready to sell.

Totally wasted THE International Monetary Fund (IMF) conference in Madrid was not only a venue for a million security guards.

It was also a venue for anti-establishment activists from across Europe, who were protesting against capitalism's supposedly wasteful use of the earth's resources.

Our correspondent reported that after one huge rally the ground was littered with discarded banners. Shouldn't the greenies have carefully packed them away for their demo at the next IMF conference? Double victory LOTS of companies are buying their own shares back at the moment. Nothing wrong with that, of course, and it's been legal in Hong Kong for quite a while.

But Win Win International is different. It's buying its shares back while the ink on the certificates is still wet.

The firm, a textile machinery trader, was listed only in February and last week disclosed it had nipped into the market to buy 10,000 of its shares back.

It's a nice deal. It sold its shares in February at $1.23 each, and bought them back at the market price of a much-deflated 86 cents.

Not only is this a 37 cent-a-share profit, Win Win has had the use of the full $1.23 for six months with no interest charges.

It wins both ways. Maybe that's where the firm's name comes from.