A flick through The Standard

You can’t really complain about something that’s free, especially when women – as cheerful as they are no doubt financially desperate – jostle every morning to thrust it into your hands. I refer, of course, to The Standard, Hong Kong’s number-two English-language newspaper, which after years of commercial failure in one guise or another suddenly found a new lease of life as a giveaway.

As a low-budget tabloid aimed at middle-brow commuters must, it offers bite-size world news reports from AFP along with condensed, translated and rehashed local coverage from its owner, the unashamedly pro-establishment Sing Tao group. Much of this leans towards tawdry and prurient stories about celebrities, scandals and suicides, though the best they can manage today is the rather lame ‘Elderly man sleeps in bed with dead wife’, which we must have read a hundred times over the years. Not being behind a paywall, The Standard enjoys a far higher Google News and Internet profile than the ‘real-newspaper’ South China Morning Post, so this is English-speaking overseas surfers’ main insight into life in the Big Lychee.

Where The Standard gets truly distasteful is in its slobbering, pandering shoe-shining of (presumably – how else would they decide?) whoever Sing Tao owner and Hong Kong Tobacco heir Charles Ho sees fit. Thus in today’s gossip column we get a fawning account of how HK$150,000-a-month political assistant Jeremy Young’s actress wife has had a baby. Because the photocopy boy works hard, we are told, “Young’s boss, Secretary for Education Michael Suen Ming-yeung, must … be happy to have an employee like him.” It is unlikely that Ho specifically wants Young to be buttered up (he is the son of Howard, the Liberal ex-tourism representative in the Legislative Council). The idea here is to talk up the unpopular political appointee system, flatter the officials who introduced it and, ultimately, display loyalty to the government in China that appointed them.

The Standard’s redeeming feature, in the total absence of analysis or serious editorials, is its advertorials and space-filling columns, which can be downright funny if you’re in the right mood. Today, readers are blessed with the offerings of three quasi-investment gurus, of the sort that Hong Kong’s middle class appreciate.

Frank Wong of Barclays is pushing a CNOOC call warrant (brought to the market by, surprise, Barclays). The oil company’s stock has risen some 8% in the last week, so this derivative has naturally done well. Therefore it might again. Or it might not. In most places, warrants are used as hedging devices by institutions; in Hong Kong, they are a popular alternative to horse-racing among the retail-level of what Frank Wong euphemistically calls ‘investors’. There are tight restrictions on gambling in Hong Kong. And then you have warrants.

Then we have Dr Check. This anonymous stock tipster exemplifies the Big Lychee investment philosophy for people who find derivatives too scary. You aim for short-term gains, probably have a stop-loss order to automatically sell if your tipped stock dips, cash in quickly if it rises and stay on the sidelines when the technical analysis suggests the market might do this or then again might not. Dr Check’s genius is to dredge up the most obscure, rat-infested Mainland companies to recommend to people who just can’t stop trading. Today’s alternative to being prudent and doing nothing is to buy COFCO Packaging. Which I look up and find was listed in Hong Kong less than a year ago, basically churns out drinks cans, is part of a big food giant and has a P/E of 26 and a dividend yield of 1%. This is possibly not as dismal as some of Dr Check’s other tips, but you still have to wonder what is so special about it.

Finally we have my favourite: Welly Wu, Currency Strategist. (As in ‘Tex Wade, Frontier Accountant’.) Everyone can understand forex. It’s like the ‘big-small’ game in the Macau casinos: if it goes up, you win; if it goes down, you lose – but not much, courtesy of our friend the stop-loss order. To make it interesting, and meaningful, Hong Kong people like to trade currencies on margin, which is how the company Welly works for makes its money: they lend the housewives and taxi drivers the bulk of their stake. (The default leverage at his company is 50:1, which they consider dull, unadventurous and safe.) Welly Wu, Currency Strategist bears a certain resemblance to the brochure-wielding real estate agents who mob innocent bystanders when the latest half-built luxury apartment complex goes on sale. It’s the hair. I think Welly has done well. Thousands of secretaries must recognize him in the street.

All this, and it doesn’t cost you a penny!

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10 Responses to A flick through The Standard

  1. Norbert Dentressangle Jr says:

    Re the Standard, does that irritating little git Nutty Vitachi still write for them? He has to be one of the most slappable people in the whole of Hong Kong.

  2. SCMP Editor says:

    More slappable than Mary Ma or Regina Ip ?

    The sub-standard really comes into its own after you read it as a wrapping for a fish supper or lining the budgie cage.

  3. henry says:

    at least the standard is a better size for picking up your dog’s faeces after it defiles the pavement during the morning walk…the SCUMP is too big.

    I can see it now, the SCUMP’s new tagline..”not even fit for picking up dog shit!”

  4. Stephen says:

    I enjoy reading the school girl who writes with a passion and lives in hope (or whatever) She’s not slappable but unintentionally hilarious …

  5. bk says:

    Slow news day… summarized by: “Welly Wu sleeps in bed with man’s dead wife and now the father of Jeremy Young’s young girls, by Dr Check”

  6. Kelvin says:

    I still remember TVB dramas where trading on margin would be considered risky and ultimately foolish. Nowadays housewives would trade on margin before taking a crap on their own toilets, lest they get infected with plumbing SARS.

  7. Paul says:

    The Standard has never been the same since they cut DIlbert.

    Impossible to enter a stop-loss order into Hong Kongs homegrown antiquated trading platform.

    Warrants for hedging? institutions have rarely hedged. That’s why they’re called hedge funds.

  8. Donald Tsang says:

    I resent the implication that The Standard is a propoganda paper, and that editor Mary Ma is a fictitious person whose name is put to government-sponsored editorials. I can indeed provide this is not the case, as Mary has registered as one of my friends on Facebook. Friend me and I will introduce you. Please friend me. Please. Soon.

    I also resent the disparaging comments made about student Gloria Yu, who “lives life with passion and writes about it with hope”. It is so nice to see a young cage-dweller with something positive to say about Hong Kong society, unlike so many of the post-80s degeneration. Sure, some of her columns may be trite, a tad happy-clappy, and reek of input from her parents and 11th grade English teacher, but at least she is passionate. And not about trifling things like democracy or human rights – she writes about real issues important to people’s lives like rainbows, and camping, and fluffy kittens. If only more women were so passionately submissive, and perhaps also looked like Chrissie Chau. Mmm. Chrissie. Where was I?

  9. Blue Skies says:

    The best thing about the Standard is the Telegraph crossword – easier than the SUMP’s Times xword

  10. Jing says:

    Welly Wu should set up shop with Buggle Lau – property analyst.

    Mary Ma …reveal yourself!

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