Weakdollar

This week the latest edition of the Great Communist Bake Off featured two titans of the ovens going head to head.

Vladimir ‘Pork Pies’ Putin and Xi ‘Cup Cake’ Jinping both chose to demonstrate their pancake skills.

Sadly the TV coverage cut out before the tossing competition. Judge Mary Belly declared the result a draw. Donald ‘Sausage Muffin’ Trump declined to take part.

Stock Market Ratatouille

Cooking does not appear to be a strong point for restaurant chain Xiabu Xiabu, whose market cap fell about £150m after it was revealed that it had served up a (dead) rat in a hotpot.

I have scanned all the recipes for Lancashire Hotpot I can find and none includes rat, dead or alive.

Clearly culinary standards in Lancashire are higher and more conservative.

When I first arrived in Hong Kong, before the great Chinese takeaway of July 1st 1997, I was told “the Chinese eat everything with four legs except tables, and everything that flies except airplanes.”

This sadly extends to endangered species.

Hu still prefers a good roast followed by bread and butter pudding.  Siberian Hamster has never appealed to me.

The Apple in Buffett’s “i”

Highlight of anybody’s week has to be a new Apple iPhone launch.

I have already confessed to being a cult member but I will not be adding to my collection of iPhones. The slightly larger screen won’t tempt me to upgrade.

However a Mr. W. Buffett of Omaha phoned in to promote the launch saying he would willingly pay far more for an Apple phone. He reminds me of the old poet, Omar Khayyam, who once claimed he liked a product so much he bought the company. Perhaps WB will do just that.

The Apple watch has also been upgraded and will now send out an emergency signal if it detects you have fallen over and remained immobile for more than a minute.

How, I wonder, does the watch know whether you have fallen whilst out climbing another Munro or ‘lost your balance’ after a session with ‘Dominic’ Raab C Nesbitt.

I don’t think Mary Doll will be buying this as a Christmas gift for her man.

Lehman Lessons

It is the tenth anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers.

I well remember those halcyon days when each day started with a 7am global conference call to determine who we thought was most likely to fail that day.

Many of today’s financial services sector employees will only have read about the crisis in their history books. They will have had little or no experience of markets going down.

They will not have had the fun of wondering whether any bank was safe to take your money, whether to place overnight or, racy stuff, for a week.

There was no market beyond a week that I can recall. Those of us who had worked through the Asian crisis in 97/98 had a head start.

Where are all those older heads now?

Dining out on the memories of SIVs? Those ‘off balance sheet (but not really)’ structured investment vehicles funded long term assets with short term CP.

Ah, the joys of arbitrage. Will the good old days return? What better time to rattle the skeletons than the tenth anniversary?

Take my advice; find an advisor with at least 40 years experience, ideally Scottish, and with integrity writ large on the shop door. Don’t give your daughter’s money to the algorithms Mrs. Worthington.

And I’ll Huff, And I’ll Puff…

More good news for Hong Kong this week as it joins Australia, Canada and Sweden as one of the world’s four riskiest housing markets.  

There is little doubt that Hong Kong needs a serious correction to restore some level of affordability of both sales and rental costs. Ideally this should be a managed correction to avoid panic.

Banks lend relatively conservatively here, being subject to macro prudential guidelines from the HKMA, Hong Kong’s de facto central bank. Mortgage repayment capacity is stress-tested rigorously.

Much of the lending today though is from the developers themselves. They lend much more aggressively. Factor in the fact that a deposit is probably also borrowed money for many buyers and you have a recipe for potential disaster.

I mean, what could possibly go wrong?

Taking Ownership

And finally, spare a thought for the John Lewis Partnership.

A 99% fall in profits wipes out the profit sharing. Now it has rebranded its stores as John Lewis & Partners and its supermarkets as Waitrose & Partners to underscore its employee-owned model.

That should bring the punters flocking back in. Is it, I muse, a true partnership?

Are the employee-owners responsible for losses as well as profits? If so and if I were a partner I would be checking out PDQ.

Do you really want to be the next addition to the Mike Ashley empire?  Last time Mrs. Hu and I ventured into a Waitrose most of the checkouts had been converted to self-service and checking out required a PhD in Applied Materials Packaging.

The new Waitrose corporate song may well go something like this:

“Relax' said Charlie Mayfield,
We are programmed to receive.
You can check out any time you like,
But you can never leave!”

Author
Hu Ziss in Hong Kong
This letter is the personal view of Mr Hu, and is not necessarily the view of Alan Steel Asset Management.