Hong Kong row over stock market words a load of bull

Offending terms, such as bribery and losses, on the walls of new exhibition hall are being removed leaving the likes of prosperity and wealth – there should be statues to remind visitors of bear conditions

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 March, 2018, 2:03am
UPDATED : Friday, 02 March, 2018, 2:03am

The Hong Kong stock exchange opened its new exhibition and conference hall with fanfare. Then people started noticing that of the many Chinese written characters decorating the walls, some went beyond the usual anodyne words such as prosperity and wealth. Instead, they had negative sounding words like defeat, poverty, thief, degenerate, bribery and losses.

They were made fun of in mainstream and online media. Soon, it was declared a public relations disaster. The offending words are now covered up and soon to be removed. What’s wrong with those critics?

I don’t know whether those negative words were intentional; they probably were. Crashes, catastrophic losses, fraud and rip-offs are integral to any financial market, however well-regulated.

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“The propensities to swindle and be swindled run parallel to the propensity to speculate during a boom,” wrote Charles Kindleberger, the great historian of market manias and crashes.

We should all welcome those terrible reminders, rather than get rid of them. But people seem to prefer blind optimism, or if you prefer, greed over fear. There are two bull statues sitting outside the exchange. If someone were to put a bear sculpture alongside them, it would, no doubt, be declared a PR disaster, too. But in the immortal words of Warren Buffett, fear a bull and love a bear.

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I am a pretty lousy investor. Just about the only virtue I have is that on the odd occasions when I made a profit, I attributed it to luck, not skill. Call it my feminine quality because I read in behavioural economics studies that common sense humility is common among women, but less so among men.

That may also explain why female investors tend not to incur huge irreversible losses. Granted, they may also make fewer outsized gains, as risk and reward are directly proportional.

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But even if you are one of those Masters of the Universe, you should consider that in the ancient world when a great emperor or conquering general returned in a Roman Triumph, a slave who accompanied him was instructed to whisper continuously in his ears memento homo – remember you are but a man.

If it were up to me, I would replace those two bull sculptures at the stock exchange with bears and make outsized fonts of those negative Chinese characters so they would be the first words for visitors to see upon entering.