TV series accused of dragging down Hong Kong's index

A local TV soap is seen to influence the stock market; investors demand its removal from the airways.

The switchboard at Hong Kong's television broadcaster, ATV, has been running hot in the past few days with angry callers demanding a soapie series be taken off air forthwith. The program's offence: it features an actor whom many local investors believe has for the umpteenth time caused the local stock market to crash.

Bizarre? Wait. Weeks before the program started, local entertainment pages were abuzz with tongue-in-cheek conjecture about whether history would repeat itself. Trading on the floor grew thinner as the on-air date drew near. When the nightly program went to air last Monday, the index fell 600 points from its 17,000-point level. Within six days, it dived close to 2,000 points.

FinanceAsia will not spoil the plot for its Hong Kong readers, but can reveal that the program is set in 2003, and the main character, played by actor Cheng Siu-chau, is a legendary trader who takes on nasty foreign investors intending to crush the Hong Kong market.

History repeats

The current program is seen as a sequel to another series shown in November 1994. Then, the Hang Seng crashed more than 2,000 points from the first episode to the last while the financial crisis unfolding in Mexico added spice to the jokes in offices and restaurants. Since then Cheng has starred in four other series. Each time the index has fallen. The severest one was in late 1997 when the Asian financial crisis spread, dragging the Hang Seng down by more than 5,300 points.

Local traders now have a name for the phenomenon: The Ting Yeah Effect. Ting Yeah is the lead character played by Cheng.

Are Hong Kong investors too sophisticated for such nonsense? According to a survey by Oriental Daily, the largest-selling local paper, 1.44% of respondents half-believe the phenomenon, 5.76% say it has a psychological effect on small investors, and a staggering 59.08% believe the program itself has an influence on the market.

Wesley Siu, a trader with Grand Onward Securities in Hong Kong, has not watched the program nor does he believe in the phenomenon. Nevertheless his friends in the industry say there is now a new force to be reckoned with when entering the market. And it goes by the name of the program, Divine Retribution.