Two for the price of one

Two houses, both alike in dignity and confidence in their Asian technology teams. In fair Hong Kong where we lay our scene, next month two events will vie for investors'' eyes and affinity.

With the December quarter normally quite strong for technology companies the end of summer  is a good time for a technology investment conference, or so CSFB and Goldman Sachs both seem to believe. September will play host to back-to-back events from the two banks, with CSFB holding their second Asian Technology Conference from the 10th to the 14th and Goldman Sachs bringing their Fifth Annual Asia Technology Symposium (for the first time) to Hong Kong a week later, from the 17th to 19th.

Although there are 28 companies that are making an appearance at both events, often with the same speaker and, one would assume, the same presentation material, there are enough unique aspects to each schedule to attract investor attention. Indeed, a look at the number of registrants so far for each event would indicate that many investors have a two-week conference marathon marked down in their diaries.

As of the time of writing CSFB claimed over 500 registered attendees and Goldman just under 500. Both banks say that those that have registered are institutional investors who buy Asian technology. Given that this special breed of investor is unlikely to number in the thousands, one can assume that many investors are planning to attend both. A few phone calls to Hong Kong-based investment managers bore out this suspicion.

After the three days of the CSFB event, which will pack about 95 companies into three streams each day, there will be a supplementary two days in Taiwan consisting of presentations and a road-trip to various manufacturing sites. Technology group managing director Steve Foland says he expects around 100 investors will make the trip to Taiwan.

The following week, Goldman's three days, which will see presentations from 67 of the region's top companies with a combined market capitalization of almost $700 billion, will be followed by a two day media and telecoms conference to be held in Macau.

Perfect Timing?

It might seem odd to the casual observer that two highly competitive, top-tier investment banks would hold their annual technology conferences virtually on top of each other.

Goldman's spin on the timing issue is that they have held their event in September every year since its inception (in Singapore) in 1997.  CSFB held their first technology conference in Hong Kong late last August after Foland joined the bank to rejuvenate its technology presence in the region. The inaugural event drew almost 600 investors and received positive feedback for the quality of companies and innovative touches such as the webcasting of presentations  also a feature of this year's conference.

Last year Goldman experimented with a retreat-style venue and held the conference in Bali, but Rajeev Gupta, executive director of investment research, says the move to Hong Kong this year was based on one of the key themes of this event -  the emergence of China as a major force in technology, whether it be the  traditionally strong PC and components sector or the emerging semiconductor and software industries. Next year the firm is looking to hold part of the conference in Shanghai to follow up on trends identified this year.

In keeping with this theme one of the most interesting speakers in Goldman's line-up is Madame Deng Nan, vice minister of China's Ministry of Science and Technology and daughter of China's late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping. That Goldman was able to tap her as a keynote speaker is testament to the relationships that the firm has established on the mainland.

Foland says there is no dominant theme for the CSFB event and that his team has just tried to bring together the region's leading companies with emerging stars. CSFB has a few sessions dealing with the use of technology in the finance industry itself, with presentations from Chinese and Korean banks as well as Bloomberg and the Hong Kong and Singapore exchanges. These aren't the usual fare of technology investment conferences, but do promise to be quite informative.

Double up

High-profile speakers attending both events include conference stalwarts such as Infosys' Narayana Murthy and Via Technologies' Wen-chi Chen. Chen will give an interesting view of big-picture trends in the technology industry, but is unlikely to say much new about his own company as its $300-$500 million ADR offering is likely to proceed in the next few months. FinanceAsia reported in June that CSFB had been awarded the mandate, but there has been no official announcement yet to that effect. Goldman is also playing a part in the deal.

Both banks have also included the obligatory Silicon Valley connection in their line-ups, with CSFB including two keynotes from venture capitalist James Wei of Worldview Technology Partners and Goldman bringing in Guy Kawasaki from Garage Technology Ventures and Silicon Valley humourist and author, Po Bronson.

No conference these days would be complete without the extravagant party, and although we shouldn't detract from the more intellectual side of these events, it is true that afterwards investors (and journalists) talk more about the parties than the quality of presentations.

As reported last week on this site Goldman has upped the ante, bringing in pop-violinist-babe Vanessa Mae for a roof-top bash at Kowloon's Ocean Terminal. In previous years Goldman had eschewed the expensive headline entertainment at its technology conferences, but this year where the CSFB party will still be fresh on people's minds the following week, a trump card was obviously needed.

There has been no word yet on the theme for this year's CSFB party, but with no headline entertainment yet announced they may again resort to tantalising the many male investors (and journalists) with nubile lady dancers and hostesses.

Regardless of who throws the best party, next month is shaping up to offer quite a lot for technology investors based in Hong Kong and those willing to make a two week visit. With access to around 136 companies, repeat showings of some presentations if you miss the first one and the banks going all-out to boost their reputation for quality research and quality entertainment, September should be a lot of hard work and also hard play.

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