Carrie trade – buy or sell?

June 19, 2019 11:28
If Chief Executive Carrie Lam were a stock, would her fundamentals stand her in good stead? Photo: Reuters

Sell in May, June is even worse, but July will rebound, according to traditional Chinese investment wisdom.

Will that work for Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor?

Well, she offered a public apology to all the people of Hong Kong on Tuesday afternoon, although she did not take a bow of remorse. Nonetheless, her appearance in front of the media this time around was full of humility, so much different from her bearing on Saturday, which led to two million people pouring on to the streets the next day.

But many people are still angry at her and refuse to accept her apology; they want her to completely scrap the hated legislation and step down.

It took one bad decision to demolish her almost 40 years of sterling government service. She must have heard the dirtiest words thrown at her in the past few days, most notably from a certain pro-establishment figure, a woman legislator who reportedly uttered some coarse words that caused her to cry.

It won't take a seer to figure out that her popularity will dip to a new historic low in the next HKU opinion poll. 

But don't expect her to step down. President Xi Jinping won't allow her to do so as it would only bring further embarrassment to Beijing. Forget about accountability.

If Carrie Lam were a stock, financial commentator David Webb suggests to investors to short her in “Carrie trade”. That is sensible given that Lam herself admitted on Tuesday that the three years ahead will be tough.

Well, not necessarily. The mood of Hong Kong people tends to overshoot, especially in this era of social media; negative sentiments can take a turn for the worse in seconds.

But the good thing is that many Hongkongers also have a short memory when it comes to transgressions, especially when the perceived transgressor says sorry and means it. After all, Hong Kong is ruled not so much by China as by cash.

Several officials who had found themselves in a similar situation were able to rebound. Former Secretary of Commerce and Economic Development Frederick Ma Si-hang was a good example until he was hit by a series of scandals at MTR Corp. Another is former Executive Council convenor Lam Woon-kwong, who was given the job years after he resigned amid reports of his extramarital affairs.

Carrie Lam may have made as many enemies as friends in her career, but her "fundamentals" – especially her distinguished track record in government service – will stand her in good stead.

But, of course, she needs to listen, not just pretend to listen. She must also learn to delegate responsibilities, not taking on everything by herself. Above all, she needs to take holidays and relax. She can't do everything in her remaining years at the helm anyway.

If she can do those things, I would suggest a buy on her dip.

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EJ Insight writer