Most of us Hongkongers have something to remember about 1997.
Peter Woo, the majority shareholder of The Wharf (Holdings) Limited, knows this. So when his flagship conglomerate decided to spin off its signature shopping malls into a real estate investment trust, he picked a stock code that he was sure we would always remember: 1997.
The new company, Wharf Real Estate Investment Company Limited, which runs two of Hong Kong’s largest shopping malls – Harbour City and Times Square – will make its trading debut on November 23rd.
There was no significant event we could recall about Wharf, or its parent Wheelock and Company Limited, in the year Hong Kong was handed over to China from Britain.
Except that Woo, who inherited his father-in-law Y.K. Pau’s listed conglomerate, quit the board to run in the city’s first-ever chief executive election.
Woo, now retired at 71, ran a well-oiled campaign, taking inspiration from the pomp and pageantry of American elections. However, he lost to Tung Chee-hwa, who became the city’s first post-colonial leader.
Both men, incidentally, have a similar background: their families once controlled the shipping business.
It’s a mystery to me why no company wanting to go public had picked the stock code 1997 before Wharf. One explanation could be that the number is too big for a company to take on, and perhaps they are looking forward, not backward.
A listing candidate can choose its stock code from the unused numbers under the Stock Code Balloting for Charity Scheme but has to donate at least HK$1 million to the Community Chest.
Twenty-seven companies picked the stock codes between 1900 and 2000, most notably Sands China (1928), Chow Tai Fook Jewellery (1929), and Swire Properties (1972).
The wide array of available stock codes means companies have lots of choices, and they could tie their companies to a year of significance.
In the wake of China’s rapid rise in the economic and geopolitical spheres, it won’t be surprising if Chinese companies, especially those that want to pay tribute to the powers that be, choose 1921, the year the Communist Party was established, or 1949, when the Communist Party took over China, as their stock code.
Watch this space.
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