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Hong Kong Government Offers Retail Bond - 2004-07-12

Hong Kong has kicked off a multi-billion dollar global bond offering, while Singapore Petroleum looks to step up its oil output.

The Hong Kong government is marketing the $2.6 billion bond through dozens of banks and securities brokerages. The distribution is the widest ever for Hong Kong's retail bond market.

Hong Kong Financial Secretary Henry Tang Yin-yen says the offering will reinforce the city's position as an international financial center. The offer includes close to $1 billion in 10-year U.S. dollar bonds. The rest will be in Hong Kong with maturities of two, four, five and 15 years.

Howard Gorges, vice chairman of South China Brokerage in Hong Kong, says the government has huge reserves and does not really need to raise money. He says, however, the bond will help expand Hong Kong's financial sector.

"We're not talking about a very developed bond market in Hong Kong," he says. "It's all part of the development of a bond market in Hong Kong. And potentially for China."

Mr. Gorges expects the bond offering, which ends this Friday, July 16, to go well.

A new report by the credit-rating agency Standard and Poor's says China's banks are among the world's most vulnerable to possible problems. The report says what it terms a "breakneck pace" of lending to industries in China has led to a huge volume of unpaid loans.

China's banks are struggling with hundreds of billions of dollars of bad loans. The government has been trying to gradually reduce the bad debt, to keep the banks stable.

The Standard and Poor's report, however, says a bailout is not urgently needed, because China's banks have large deposits and effective controls of how capital is moved.

Singapore Petroleum will spend up to $300 million over the next two years to buy oil and gas fields around Southeast Asia.

Singapore Petroleum aims to raise it oil output by buying into production-sharing contracts, which enables companies to buy stakes in oil or gas fields.

The company already has a 15 percent interest in the Kakap Production Sharing Contract in Indonesian waters, which has been producing crude oil and gas since 2000. Next month, the company will start drilling wells in waters off Vietnam with three partners.

Singapore Petroleum also recently bought the retail network and gas supply business of BP Singapore, a subsidiary of British Petroleum, for $70 million. It is discussing other possible deals with several oil and gas companies around the region.