ANYONE still furious about Mrs Thatcher and her useless British National (Overseas) (BNO) passports now has at least some cause for celebration: every time someone applies for one, the British Government loses money on the exchange rate. To be precise, every standard 32-page BNO passport issued at the moment is costing the British Government about $3.30 - not so trivial considering that an average of 2,700 a day have been issued this year. A sharp-eyed applicant pointed out to us last week that the small print on the application form says that 'fees are levied in pounds sterling under the Consular Fees Act 1980, but collected in Hong Kong dollars at an exchange rate quoted by the Treasury'. These regs say a 32-page BNO should cost GBP18, and the treasury is currently using the rate of GBP1 to HK$11.883, and asking applicants for $214. Thanks to the appreciating pound, however, real cost should be more than $217. The treasury hasn't changed the official rate since the pound collapsed on Black Wednesday in September 1992, even though it has since regained more than 10 per cent. Back in February 1993, when the pound was really weak, each BNO applicant was being diddled out of $15 thanks to the exchange rate. But now the pound has rallied and the boot is on the other foot. Late offer MANY thanks to United Parcel Service for sending us details of its 'special discount price for trying our reliable service'. Anyone who is a big user of these companies will not be surprised to know that although the bumf arrived yesterday afternoon, although was sent on December 12. It had to travel all the way from Tsim Sha Tsui to Quarry Bay, mind. Held up by customs, no doubt. Legal note: this excuse has been copyrighted by all major courier firms and is not to be used without their permission. Offshore breeze THE rather unfortunate incident involving Emperor Group's Albert Yeung Sau-shing, the tycoon pictured on our front page yesterday with a constable's hand firmly on his shoulder, hasn't come at a good time. Albert's Emperor International forex business is awaiting a licence from the Securities and Futures Commission, but the SFC is only going to hand them out to people who pass a test of being 'fit and proper'. Unfortunately, despite the epic exercise of drafting the forex ordinance and getting it through Legco last summer, it controls businesses only in Hong Kong. Incidentally, Emperor has a branch in Macau. And another major forex businesses has also just set up an office up there. No doubt they're attracted by the fine food rather than the fact than they can happily sit over there and ring clients over here without a licence, making a mockery of the whole licensing procedure. Landslide SCENE at the depressed Land Auction yesterday: Property agent A: 'What's this site?' Property agent B: 'It's the godown site.' Agent A (thinking of prices): 'They're all go-down sites at the moment.' Self-raising ONE of the easiest windfalls at the moment is being enjoyed by Tricom Holdings, the phone firm which is buying back its shares on the market. Share buy-backs are quite common these days, and there's nothing naughty about them - they just buy 'em and cancel 'em if they reckon they're undervalued on the exchange. Unusually, though, these shares being bought at 73 cents are the very same shares Tricom sold to the public in October at $1.20 each. So far, the difference between the two figures has made the firm a profit of about $250,000. It has, in effect, borrowed money at an interest rate of minus 240 per cent from mug shareholders who have lost 40 per cent of their money in two months. Hair-raising PRICE Waterhouse has been sending its accountants to Wellcome in Beijing and Shanghai to see how expensive the Vidal Sassoon hair conditioner is. The company is studying the cost of sending staff to China, so we've added to its survey by popping into a Hong Kong Wellcome and comparing the prices. A typical specimen is a 1.5 litre bottle of Evian: US$2.80 in Beijing, $2.60 in Shanghai and $1.60 here. One exception: milk, which is only $1 a litre in Shanghai against $1.85 here - pretty baffling bearing in mind the different dietary habits of mainlanders and Hong Kongers. Normally when international price comparisons are made, they use McDonald's hamburgers, but that's a bit of a sore point at the moment. Tailspin CHATTING with Standard Chartered Bank after reading the management document which talks about 'reducing total headcount', it's interesting to note that no one is being made redundant. When they clear their desks, they'll be able to say: 'I've been re-engineered,' or : 'My business has been designated a 'tail'.' And as for the fact that only top managers received notice of the cuts, this is part of a 'cascade process'.