When greed is in the way of sense

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 June, 2015, 12:48am
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 June, 2015, 12:48am

In a city where cash is king, it is inevitable that speculation abounds. No surprise, then, that HSBC's 150th anniversary banknote would be sought less by many Hongkongers as a souvenir than an easy way to make money. But the big returns buyers had expected from the second-hand market have not eventuated, leading to disappointment and anger at the wasted time and effort. This is what can sometimes happen when greed for dollars gets in the way of sense.

HSBC produced two million of the HK$150 notes and is donating the proceeds to charity. With so many needy in society, the gesture is welcome. Those who have bought the notes after participating in a ballot and auction should be pleased that they have contributed to a worthy cause. But some were less interested in good deeds than profiteering.

Speculation is a word rife with negativity due to the damaging economic bubbles it has caused over the centuries with commodities, housing and stock markets. It does not contribute to the productive economy. But there is nothing especially bad about it when on a small scale as the only ones affected are the two people involved in a transaction. Just as with gambling or buying shares, there could be gains or losses.

Research would have shown that the last three Hong Kong commemorative banknote releases, by the Bank of China in 2012 and 2008 and Standard Chartered in 2009, mostly netted small returns. Demand and printing size determine desirability. The mainland market, which has usually driven secondary sales, is this time more focused on shares.

There are those among us with so driven a speculative streak that they will join a queue that is forming simply because an opportunity is sensed. Later, they lament the time wasted or the purchase that was made that turned out to be financially unrewarding. They only have themselves to blame. In the case of the HSBC note, though, those who made the effort to register or bid at auction and then queued for up to three hours at collection points can at least say they gave a charitable donation and in return, got a keepsake of our best-known bank.