In Hong Kong, a city obsessed with money and stocks, a good number is all that matters — whether it’s a car plate or a mobile number or a share code.
Everyone wants a lucky number, but not everyone could have one. So sometimes you have to settle for the second best – a number that is easy to remember.
Listing candidate Hang Fat Ginseng definitely stands out from the rest of the 16 IPO stocks seeking to raise a combined HK$20 billion (US$2.58 billion) before summer, not just because of its ginseng business but also for its easy-to-remember stock code – 911.
The company, Hong Kong’s largest wholesaler of unprocessed American ginseng, defied traditional wisdom by picking for its ticker symbol a number that most people would associate with the tragedy resulting from the terror attack on New York’s World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
Scary number? Not necessarily. It is also the emergency hotline number in North America, which is the equivalent of Hong Kong’s 999.
Company owner Yeung Wing-yan, nicknamed “King of American Ginseng”, did not find anything wrong with the number, saying it was easy to remember.
If you have a choice, most people would rather pick “8” (which means prosperity) than “4” (which sounds like “die” in Cantonese). That is why Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing has “388”, Macau casino operator SJM Holdings has “880” and almost all major mainland financial companies have stock codes ending with “8”, not “4”.
Of course, if you are a shareholder, you would rather have a “4”, the stock code of Wharf Holdings, than an “8” for PCCW, although for a change, PCCW has a year-to-date gain of over 20 percent.
Because of its morbid connotation, four is a number you won’t find in most housing estates in Hong Kong, although the chairman of one of the biggest property developers, Lee Shau-kee of Henderson Land (00012.HK), is affectionately called “Uncle Four”, being one of the few fourth-born children who became a billionaire.
If four is bad, 14 is worse, because its pronunciation in Cantonese is similar to “surely die”. But it has no bearing on the fortunes of Hysan Holdings (00014.HK) and China Merchants Holdings (International) (00144.HK).
One can probably say Sincere Watch (00444.HK) lived up to its name because its trading has been inactive since its IPO in 2005. Last year, one of the hottest stocks was Fu Shou Yuan (01448.HK), a cemetery operator in mainland China which debuted at HK$3.33 and hit HK$4.44 this morning.
Talking about living up to its name, SHK Industries, which bears the “demon” stock code 666, once put up, but lost, a HK$1 hostile takeover attempt at China Motion Bus.
Likewise, Hutchison Whampoa makes an interesting case just like its code 13, which can be either lucky or not lucky. It all depends on the timing – it is better to be a Hutchison Whampoa shareholder this past year than in the past 10 years.
The biggest exception to the unlucky number was China Mobile, whose stock code 941 literally means “nine deaths and one (survival)”. Hong Kong’s second largest company debuted on Oct. 23, 1997 when the Hang Seng Index fell over 1,000 points, but is now up six times its humble start.
So it’s OK to bet on a seemingly unlucky number, more so if it’s easy to remember.
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