The Carrian Group

The Carrian Group was a Hong Kong conglomerate founded by George Tan, a Singaporean Civil Engineer working in Hong Kong as a project manager for a land development company. The Group’s principal holding company Carrian Holdings, Ltd. was founded in 1977.

In January 1980, the group, through a 75% owned subsidiary, purchased Gammon House (a commercial Office building, now Bank of America Tower) in Central District, Hong Kong for $998 million. It grabbed the limelight in April 1980 when it announced the sale of Gammon House for a staggering HK$1.68 billion, a price that surprised Hong Kong’s Property and Financial markets and developed public interest in Carrian.

In the same year, Carrian capitalized on its notoriety by acquiring a publicly listed Hong Kong company, renaming it Carrian Investments Ltd., and using it as a vehicle to raise funds from the financial markets.

The group grew rapidly in the early 1980s to include properties in Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Philippines, Japan, and the United States. At its peak, the Carrian Group owned businesses in Real Estate, Finance, Shipping, Insurance (China Insurance Underwriters Ltd), Hotels, Catering and Transportation (A Taxi fleet that was the largest ever in Hong Kong).

Carrian Group became involved in a scandal with Bank Bumiputra Malaysia Berhad of Malaysia and Hong Kong-based Bumiputra Malaysia Finance. Following allegations of accounting fraud, a murder of a bank auditor, and the suicide of the firm’s adviser, the Carrian Group collapsed in 1983, the largest bankruptcy in Hong Kong.

SCMP: Cleaners and guards eating less as prices rise

Cleaners and guards eating less as prices rise
Adrian Wan
Sep 12, 2011

One in two cleaners and security guards – the first low-paid sectors to receive a legal wage floor – say they are eating less because of rising food prices, a survey has found.

One in five said they bought food products about to expire – which usually carry a discount – to save money, the Friends of the Earth study found.

“Food expense has weighed heavily on workers. Even with extra frugality, we may lose out to inflation,” said Law Chi-wai, head of the Cleaning Service Industry Workers Union. “The grass roots are usually manual workers. Economically-induced dieting will affect their work performance eventually.”
Continue reading SCMP: Cleaners and guards eating less as prices rise

The interview was all going well until he asked me: "How much of a pay cut are you willing to take?"

From an anonymous candidate

One of the amazing job-hunting experiences I had recently was with an investment firm. I went through the interview rounds, answering standard questions about specific sectors and proposing investment strategies on selected companies. Everything went well until my meeting with one of the fund’s partners. We had a chat about how the market was really low and how it had been impacting finance professionals.

He showed me a small stack of CVs he had received for the vacancy and congratulated me on being among the few selected for face-to-face interviews. I felt good for a moment, but in hindsight he was just preparing me for his following questions: What was your last salary? How much of a pay cut are you willing to take?

Given recent market conditions, it was obvious that the competition for any job would be fierce and that salary negotiations would be difficult. I was expecting the first question about my previous salary and I was prepared to defend my worth. However, I was definitely not prepared for the second question. I had no idea it would come to that. What answer could one possibly give?

A 10 per cent cut would appear too low. Twenty per cent could potentially be competitive enough to get me the position, although it was probably not the best offer this hiring manager had on his table. But how much further could I possibly go?

Thirty per cent would mean that I would need a 50 per cent bump to get back to where I was – that would take either a miracle, or one or two well-placed job hops within a short space of time, which would badly hurt my CV.

Cutting by 40 per cent would mean that I would pretty much need to double my salary in order to get back to pre-crisis levels. That would take years. I was at a loss.

Pain but no gain

What is so painful about salary cuts? Is it because it confronts us with our newly depreciated market value in the finance industry? Is it the fear of how we will be perceived by our family and friends? Is it because we are lose the ground we have won through years of blood sweat and tears?

My thoughts raced back through my career history to the time when I was still a struggling junior in the finance industry: the cancelled lunches and dinners, the weekends in the office, the inability to maintain a stable relationship, the physical exhaustion, the insomnia, and the addiction to burning cash for instant self-gratification. Have all those years of sacrifice really been swiped away?

But my pain did not stop with a simple reminiscence about the past. My life has moved on over the past few years – I am now thinking about a mortgage, buying big-ticket items like an engagement ring, and paying for my upcoming wedding. I’m also worried about what my future in-laws will think if my pay drops dramatically.

My thoughts finally halted at the image of Joshua Persky, the famous unemployed MIT graduate who went from mainstream New York banker to human billboard in 2008 because he needed to support his wife and five children. Apparently, he’s had one proper job since then, which lasted five months, and has been selling Iphone apps to make ends-meat.

Coming back to my interview with the buy-side firm: I left the meeting saying that the salary cut was an interesting question and that I will need to think about it.

Destroyed by mistress from hell

Destroyed by mistress from hell
Death threats, blackmail and mental torture – even Fatal Attraction couldn’t match plot that unfolded in HK court
Patsy Moy
SCMP Sep 09, 2011

It’s a case that makes Fatal Attraction look tame.

The Hollywood thriller about a mistress who turned vengeful has haunted plenty of men with cheating hearts since its 1987 release. But it has nothing on the tale that unravelled in District Court about businessman Mr X and his former lover Ki Chun-yim.

The Hong Kong version of the mistress-from-hell story ended yesterday when Ki, 38, was sent to jail for seven years – the maximum penalty within District Court jurisdiction.

Finding her guilty of all nine counts of blackmail and one count of perverting the course of justice, District Judge Kevin Browne used a string of scathing words to describe her, including “evil”, “calculative”, “manipulative”, “ruthless” and “dangerous”.

Testifying behind a screen, Mr X, 50, told of his three-year nightmare at the hands of Ki before her arrest in December last year, which even saw the kidnap of a business partner identified as Mr Y. His former mistress’ constant harassment cost him his family, damaged his health and robbed him of his peace of mind, Mr X told the court.

He revealed: “She said to me something like, `You enjoy a happy family life while I am always alone and lonely. I will make sure your family will be destroyed.’

“She asked me to buy coffins for my family members. She also said, `I will make sure your family members will die ahead of you. That will be the heaviest punishment on you.'”

According to the account told in court, diminutive Ki was a public relations manager working at the Piano Bar in Happy Valley when the couple first met in 2006.

The bar was opened by a well-known local composer Michael Lai Siu-tin but was closed five or six years ago. Lai told the South China Morning Post he had no recollection of an employee surnamed Ki. Mr X said he rented a flat for her in Sham Shui Po and paid her HK$60,000 a month. But when he tried to end the affair in July 2007, she asked for millions of dollars in recompense.

She upped that to a demand for HK$120 million as a “separation fee”.

She told him she had his child, Mr X said. But she never showed him a photo or even disclosed the child’s gender. Defence counsel Lawrence Lok SC told the court yesterday that Ki had only a 16-year-old daughter, who is studying in the UK.

Mr X said Ki made more than 1,000 harassing phone calls and also sent floods of text messages pressing him for money. She sent them to his wife and business partners, too. She once took a triad member to his office to put more pressure on him, he said.

She threatened to kill his wife and daughter. She also threatened to kill Mr Y and another business partner, Mr Z, and their innocent families, the court was told.

“Ki told me she had hired private detectives to watch me,” Mr X testified. “She was able to specify what law firms or investment banks I had visited. She was also able to tell of conversations between me and Mr Y when we were in a massage parlour.”

Mr X said he tried everything to stop her surveillance and harassment. He made complaints to the police, hired private detectives and sought legal advice. But nothing worked. The police and the lawyers told him his evidence was too weak to merit legal action against her.

After the trial was over yesterday, police denied they took Mr X’s complaint lightly.

“After we consolidated the evidence from his [Mr X’s] seven reports to us in two years, we eventually gathered enough evidence to bring Ki to court,” one of the police officers in charge told the South China Morning Post. Ki’s defence counsel argued that her fear of losing Mr X drove her to extremes and that she became emotionally unstable.

But Mr X said: “She had been very calm and cool most of the time. That was even more horrifying.”

Swire sells Festival Walk to Temasek for HK$18.8b

Sale of Festival Walk to Temasek’s Mapletree expected to show book profit of HK$1.63 billion
Sandy Li
Jul 30, 2011

Swire Pacific (SEHK: 0019) says it will sell its Festival Walk shopping and office complex in Kowloon Tong for a record-breaking HK$18.8 billion, a move analysts say is the fastest way for the company to raise capital to fund its aggressive mainland expansion.
Continue reading Swire sells Festival Walk to Temasek for HK$18.8b

History may repeat in Hong Kong, beware the bubble: analyst

PRSEA | Jun 28, 2011

A seasoned property watcher has a dire warning when he looks at the current property scene in Hong Kong.

“I see history probably repeating itself and a correction looming large for the market,” said Koh Keng-shing, who has more than 30 years under his belt as a property professional.

During that time Koh was in charge of the professional services desk of First Pacific Davies (now Savills Hong Kong), and later served as valuation manager for consultancy Jones Lang Wooton (now Jones Lang LaSalle), according to the South China Morning Post.

His experience now tells him that a repeat of the 1997 market collapse could be in the future.

“Weaker than expected land auctions, tightened government measures on mortgage lending and increased land supply. Does that sound familiar?” asked Koh, noting those events foreshadowed the 1997 market collapse.

Currently running the real estate agency Landscope Realty, which he founded in 1995, Koh has been a member of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors since 1990.

According to Koh a key turning point was the 9 June auction of the luxury residential site on Borrett Road.
The Borrett Road site sold at below market price estimates, and for Koh was a foreboding sign of things to come. The outcome recalled the trigger point for the 1997 market decline when a residential site in Wong Ma Kok, Stanley was sold on 3 June 1997 for HK$5.5 billion (US$706 million), 16 to 34 per cent below estimates and only 6 per cent above the opening bid.

Prior to the auction, sales volumes were regularly hitting record highs, but things quickly slid downwards, driven further by a government plan to increase land supply to increase the source of new homes to 85,000 per annum.

“Now, like then, we are seeing luxury home sales beginning to slow, even though prices remain high.”

On June 10, the government announced the launch of eight sites for sale, on which it expects developers to build 6,000 flats. The move coincided with an order from the Hong Kong Monetary Authority that banks should lend no more than 50 per cent on homes valued at above HK$10 million (US$1.3 million) (down from a cap of 60 per cent).

The authority for the first time also added tougher restrictions on non-resident borrowers. Momentum is also building for the government to revive its subsidised Home Ownership Scheme, suspended in 2002. Koh said the resumption of the scheme would shorten the cycle, bringing the correction forward into the second half of this year.

“Things have certainly taken a turn for the worse,” said Lee Wee Liat, head of regional research at Samsung Securities (Asia). The government’s willingness to resume building subsidised housing for sale, together with measures targeting foreign investment demand, showed a determination to cool the market down, he noted.
“A short-term correction is now possible,”

he said.

The latest data suggest a slowing in demand. Just 21 new homes were sold over last weekend — down from the 47 homes sold over the previous weekend, according to Samsung.

Secondary transaction volumes also fell to their lowest level so far this year, with just 21 flats sold at the 10 largest residential estates tracked by Midland Realty, down from 24 the previous weekend.

Developer Cheung Kong (Holdings) has lowered asking prices at its Uptown apartment block in Yuen Long by between 5 per cent and 8 per cent, putting new average selling prices in the range of HK$5,300 (US$681) to HK$5,500 (US$706) per sq ft, noted Lee in his latest research report.

But the pessimistic views are not shared by all industry players. Among the optimists is Nicholas Brooke, chairman of consultancy group Professional Property Services.

“Although the government intervention is likely to bring about some cooling in the short term, I think once this is absorbed by the market we will see renewed activity, albeit at a slower pace, in that the reality is that nothing has changed so far as the fundamentals are concerned,” Brooke said.

“I honestly do not foresee a bursting of the bubble as many describe it, but rather a gradual calming of the market as result of the combination of government intervention at both the supply and demand end of the equation, as well as a function of the likely hike in interest rates.

“The market will probably plateau by mid-2012 and there may be some downward adjustment thereafter, but I do not see this as major, given the wide international interest in Hong Kong real estate as a long-term investment medium,” he said.

Middle class feels the pinch on wages

Wealth gap widest in 20 years as rich get richer
Simpson Cheung
SCMP May 11, 2011

Hong Kong’s rich got richer over the past five years and even the poor made more. But for people in the middle, it was not so good.

Middle-income earners – shut out of the private housing market by sky-high prices but earning too much to qualify for government assistance – were squeezed even harder, government statistics show.

Their incomes rose the least of the three groups between 2006 and last year, as the wealth gap became the widest in 20 years – and worst in the world, according to an international standard.

While the highest and the lowest earners both had increases of more than a sixth, incomes in the middle rose a little more than half that, the government figures show.

People in the middle are miserable and frustrated, said Professor Paul Yip Siu-fai, of the University of Hong Kong’s department of social work and social administration and a member of the government’s Central Policy Unit. “The government always uses GDP per capita to measure average income, but that does not reveal the problem of uneven wealth distribution,” he said.

Yip said the latest figures, obtained by the South China Morning Post, further showed the city was at risk of turning into a so-called M-shaped society, with swelling numbers of rich and poor people and a diminishing middle class.

Average earnings of the bottom 10 per cent of employees rose 15.56 per cent between 2006 and last year, from HK$4,500 to HK$5,200 a month. Even after inflation, there was still a steady annual growth of 2 per cent, except in 2009 amid the global financial downturn.

The top 10 per cent brought home 15.48 per cent more in five years, from HK$57,500 to HK$66,400 a month.

Those in the middle gained just 7.84 per cent in the five years, from HK$10,200 to HK$11,000 a month.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s Gini coefficient – which measures income inequality on a scale of 0 to 1, where 0 is perfect equality and 1 is perfect inequality – rose from 0.518 in 1996 to 0.525 in 2001, and stood at 0.533 in 2006, the most recent year for which data is available. The figure showed that wealth disparity in the city was the most serious in the world.

Figures for family incomes, a different measure than for individuals, also show a widening income gap.

The median household income of the top-earning 10 per cent of the population last year was HK$77,000 a month – up HK$7,000 in five years, according to the Census and Statistics Department.

The poorest 10 per cent of families became even poorer, living on HK$3,000 a month, HK$100 less than in 2006. Families in the middleincome bracket brought home HK$500 more a month last year, from HK$15,000 in 2006 to HK$15,500.

The top household incomes averaged 25.7 times the lowest last year – the highest in 20 years.

Yip attributed the “M-shape” problem to the government’s employment policy and accused the city’s biggest employer of taking the lead in outsourcing its jobs to contractors, who paid low wages and pulled down the average employment earnings.

But Nelson Chow Wing-sun, chair professor of the university department and member of the steering committee of the government-business Community Care Fund, said there was a need to consider the statistics for a longer period before concluding Hong Kong was an M-shaped society.

He also said the widening income gap was not “as serious as we imagine”.

HK's millionaires up by 164,000, but so is number earning under HK$3,500 a month

HK’s millionaires up by 164,000, but so is number earning under HK$3,500 a month
May Chan
SCMP Mar 09, 2011

The property boom and market rebound added 164,000 new millionaires to Hong Kong last year – the biggest increase since Citibank started to analyse residents’ wealth in this way eight years ago.

In the same year, Hong Kong reported 1.26 million people making less than HK$3,500 a month.

Together, the numbers paint a stark picture of a big wealth disparity in the city of seven million.

Citibank yesterday announced the latest findings of its annual survey on the number of Hongkongers with liquid asset of more than HK$1 million.

The city had 558,000 millionaires by the end of last month, up 42 per cent on 2009. This is a record high, in terms of absolute number and the growth rate since Citibank started the survey.

These people now make up 10.8 per cent of the city’s adult population, and the millionaires are getting younger. The average age of the group went down by five years to 46, and the average age of the 164,000 new additions to the list was only 40.

The surge in personal wealth can be attributed to the city’s booming property market. Of the new millionaires, 29 per cent said they made their first million dollars through property transactions – compared with only 8 per cent in 2009.

Most of the newly rich, about 47 per cent, made their fortune last year from investments in the capital market – such as stocks, funds, currency trade and yuan-related investment products. A year ago, the figure was 55 per cent.

Simon Chow wing-charn, Citibank Global Consumer Group’s deputy country business manager, expected the number of millionaires would grow in the next few years because of a strong economy.

He noted the millionaires generally were positive about this year’s property market, with 20 per cent saying they planned to buy property this year, up 8 per cent from 2009.

“The new millionaires tend to be younger, and they are still in the workforce,” Chow said. Twentysomethings should be optimistic about the future – 4 per cent of the new millionaires were aged 21 to 29, he said.

The survey also showed a positive relationship between the level of wealth and the level of happiness. Respondents with less than HK$100,000 of liquidity averaged 5.75 on a scale from 0 to 10 in terms of happiness, while those with HK$5 million or above scored 7.83.

The survey was conducted by the Social Sciences Research Centre of the University of Hong Kong, with 4,626 adults interviewed by phone from December last year to February.

The number of millionaires in Hong Kong, according to survey data, had increased from 260,000 to 558,000 during the period of 2003 to 2010, with a sharp decline in 2008 from 414,000 to 348,000 due to the global financial crisis.

At the same time, the number of Hongkongers earning HK$3,500 or less a month grew steadily in the past decade, from 1.186 million in 2001 to 1.26 million in the first half of last year, according to a study of Census and Statistics Department figures by the Council of Social Service. The projected percentage of poor people went from 17.2 per cent in 2005 to 18.1 per cent in the first half of last year.

According to the latest statistics from the United Nations, Hong Kong’s Gini coefficient – a measurement of social inequality – stood at 0.53, the highest in Asia last year.

Chua Hoi-wai, the council’s business director for policy advocacy, said he was worried that the income gap would escalate with inflation.

“The increase in salary of the poor can hardly catch up with the inflation rate,” he said. “They can hardly manage to pay for their basic needs, so it is next to impossible that they should have spare money for investment and build up their wealth.”

HK's first organic fish sure to catch on

City’s first organic fish sure to catch on
Lo Wei
SCMP Feb 11, 2011
Organic fish will be sold for the first time in Hong Kong next month.

SCMP 10FEB11 NS ORGANIC5  SAM_8033.JPG

They come from two fish farms in Yuen Long where 18,000 fish have been bred organically in terms of their feed and breeding environment, says Jonathan Wong Woon-chung, director of the Hong Kong Organic Resource Centre.

Three types of fish farmed organically – mullet, bighead carp and grass carp – have received certification from the centre established under Hong Kong Baptist University.

They will be sold for HK$60 to HK$70 each, about double the price for non-organic fish of the same type on the market.

Each fish will be labelled with a green sticker with a tick, the word “organic” and the centre’s name to identify them as certified organic.

From next month, one of the farms will sell fish at its own retail outlets. Wong expects that more fish will soon be available in selective supermarkets.

“Organic fish are safer to eat as they are chemical-free,” he said. “Eating them also benefits the environment.”

He said the two farms had to comply with many international standards to earn their organic certification.

Apart from providing organic feed and unpolluted water, the farms had to ensure they had adequate space for the fish.

“The fish need enough room to swim,” Wong said. “If it gets too crowded, they can be injured.”

The fish were raised and killed humanely, Wong said.

He explained that methods commonly used in wet markets were acceptable, such as knocking fish unconscious with a hard blow before gutting them. But drugging fish was prohibited as this would contaminate them.

Wong is confident that organic fish farming has a future in Hong Kong. “We are now at the kick-off stage but hope more fish farmers will join the project,” he said.

The Organic Resources Centre was co-operating with the two farms, with technological support from the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department.

When the fishing operation is more well established, the farms will breed more expensive species to raise profit margins and make it more attractive to fish farmers.

“Farming organic fish should be more profitable than breeding non-organic fish,” Wong said.

For now, only freshwater fish can be cultivated organically in Hong Kong as there are no isolated bays suitable for organic mariculture. “We can’t raise organic fish with non-organic types as they will be contaminated by chemicals and pollutants,” Wong said.

Organic fish provided a safer and more environmentally friendly choice for consumers, Wong said, as organic fish farms strive to minimise water pollution.

Their carbon footprint was much lower as they did not use fertilisers and pesticides, which were petroleum by-products.

More than 70 per cent of the farms’ fish feed is organic, meaning it has been produced with no chemical fertilisers, additives and hormones.

The fish are fed mainly residue from organically raised soya bean and fishmeal.

Water quality at the farms is also strictly controlled. The pond water and mud must be free of pollution, and any waste water from the operation is treated before it is discharged.