Thursday, October 28, 2010

SGX-ASX tie-up should concern 'pampered' HK

Oct 28, 2010

Below is an edited excerpt of an editorial that appeared in Hong Kong's Ming Pao Daily News on Tuesday.

EVEN if the Singapore Exchange (SGX) succeeds in acquiring its Australian counterpart ASX, its total size would still be nowhere compared to the Hong Kong stock exchange's. Hong Kong is reaping all the benefits of the gradual internationalisation of the yuan, and in this area Singapore is unable to compete with the territory.

Singapore has many inherent disadvantages in the financial sector, but its spirit of fighting for survival against all difficulties is worthy of our respect.

Compared to Singapore, Hong Kong enjoys advantages in many areas, but it continues to indulge in pleasure and lacks a sense of crisis. Its mindset of waiting for the central government in Beijing is a cause for worry.

Hong Kong managed to hitch a ride on China's rapid growth. With many mainland enterprises moving towards listing, Hong Kong benefited.

The Chinese government has directly ordered mainland firms to be listed in Hong Kong. Foreign firms that have operations in China or are planning to expand their business there have also come to Hong Kong to be listed.

These are two huge business opportunities that Singapore is unable to enjoy. Several years ago, Singapore's Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew said he was envious of Hong Kong's geographical position.

But a commentary in the Wall Street Journal noted that although Singapore does not have the advantage that Hong Kong has, if the SGX-ASX merger is successful, it will give the Republic a new attractiveness.

In the past two months, the average total daily trading volume of the SGX and ASX combined was around US$6.7 billion (S$8.7 billion), quite close to Hong Kong's US$9.49 billion.

Major investors prefer higher mobility, and so do companies seeking to raise capital. Analysts say that although the SGX-ASX joint exchange may not be able to attract firms like the Agricultural Bank of China, it may be able to attract companies like AIA.

Besides, once the two exchanges are merged, their trading hours will reach a total of 10 hours, as Sydney will start at 7am local time, while Singapore will end at 5pm. Analysts say this is very attractive compared to the Hong Kong exchange which operates for only four hours daily.

In addition, although the trading systems of both SGX and the Hong Kong exchange will be upgraded next year, SGX's new system will allow it to handle transactions at a speed 100 times faster than its Hong Kong counterpart. In the financial world, time is money.

Constantly squeezed by Hong Kong, Singapore has to think of ways to break out or resign itself to extinction. Besides acquiring ASX, SGX has also embarked on several other moves, including signing a deal with Nasdaq and arranging for companies to be listed on both exchanges.

Although the results of the hard work that Singapore is putting in may be nowhere compared to what Hong Kong will gain after it becomes the offshore centre for the yuan, Singapore will never sit by and do nothing and allow itself to become extinct.

Its hard work in innovation and opening up new opportunities has left a deep impression. The SGX-ASX joint exchange will become the 'super alliance' of the South Pacific. What sort of threat it will pose to the Hong Kong exchange will depend on whether Hong Kong chooses to continue living a pampered lifestyle.

In Hong Kong, shares make up the bulk of the financial market, and the volumes of bonds and foreign exchange traded are less than those in Singapore. Yet plans by the Hong Kong exchange to synchronise its hours with its mainland counterparts and cut short its current two-hour lunch break faces strong opposition from traders.

By contrast, SGX has proposed no rest period during the daytime and cancelling the lunch hour altogether. Compared to Singapore, Hong Kong traders are really like pampered children who do not know the difficulty of sowing and reaping.

When we praise Singapore for its spirit, we do not mean to boost the morale of others and dampen our own. If Hong Kong was rich enough, it would not have to struggle hard to earn a living. But can it remain safe by always depending on the central government?

The fight between Hong Kong and Singapore in the financial world has only just begun. We have witnessed Singapore's strategic mindset. We have also seen how Hong Kong is still waiting for help from Beijing - how it has been waiting for the central government's announcement to turn Hong Kong into an offshore centre for the yuan.

We are making no predictions as to who will triumph in the end. But in this Tale of Two Cities, we should reflect and wake up in time.

Translated by Terence Tan.

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