David Webb (activist)

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Webb in May 2013

David Michael Webb (born 29 August 1965 in London, England), usually known as David Webb, is a well-known activist and share market analyst in Hong Kong. He is a retired investment banker, and now devotes much of his time to advocating solutions for better corporate and economic governance in Hong Kong. He is also a significant investor in smaller companies listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, and is frequently called upon by the media to comment on all matters relating to corporate and economic governance.

Biography[edit]

Webb graduated in Mathematics from Exeter College, Oxford in 1986. From 1981 to 1986 he was also an author of books and games for early home computers, particularly the Sinclair Spectrum 8-bit Zilog Z80A based device. After graduation he became an investment banker in London. He moved to Hong Kong in 1991. He retired from Investment Banking in 1998, and now lobbies extensively for increased transparency and public accountability of directors of public companies as well as for the Government of Hong Kong.[1]

Webb was appointed Deputy Chairman of the Hong Kong Securities and Futures Commission's Takeover and Mergers Panel in 2013, having commenced serving as member in 2001.

Activism[edit]

He uses his eponymous webb-site.com as his official mouthpiece on all matters commercial and political.

He has purchased shares in all the companies which form the Hang Seng Index, and demands formal votes to resolutions which he judges detrimental to the interests of minority shareholders during the annual general meeting of public listed companies. To force real votes, Webb launched "Project Poll" to push for formal votes on all proposals at annual meetings of Hang Seng Index constituent companies; he initiated Project Vampire, to block resolutions that allow for bypassing of pre-emption of rights issues and massive share dilutions.[1]

Webb is also seen as a bit of a political activist: in December 2005, he advocated widening the electorate of the functional constituencies, arguing that professionals in fields such as bankers and stockbrokers should get to elect their own representatives.[2] At present, only accountants, lawyers, doctors and teachers are able to exercise that right;[2] stockbrokers are represented by convicted fraudster Chim Pui-chung,[3] whilst the banking seat has only been contested once in 20 years.[2]

Hong Kong Stock Exchange[edit]

Webb argues that there is inherently conflict between the commercial and regulatory roles of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, and has been arguing for a super-regulatory authority to assume that role. In the meantime, he argues for improved investor representation on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. He was elected an independent non-executive director of Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Ltd. in 2003, and was re-elected by a landslide in April 2006.[4]

In early 2007, Webb spoke up against the vested interests of smaller local stockbrokers acting against investors' interests, and was the only member to vote against reversing the decision by the former board of directors to cut minimum trading spreads for equities and warrants trading at between 25 HK cents and HK$2. The reforms were to be implemented in the first quarter, but were put back on the table following protests by brokers.[5]

In September 2007, the government increased its stake in the Exchange from 4.41% to 5.88%. The Government declared the stake would be held by the Exchange Fund as a "strategic asset".[6]

Webb remarked that the government was the second-largest single investor in the Hong Kong market after Beijing, with a portfolio of local equities estimated to be worth about HK$150 billion. He said the purchase violated the government's stated principle of "big market, small government".[7] On top of already having its own appointed directors, the Government exercised its 63 million share-votes on directors' appointments as a shareholder at General Meeting in April 2008. Webb suggested that "As a 'strategic' investor, the government shouldn't have voted".[8]

In May 2008, Webb resigned one year prior to the expiry of his term as an independent non-executive director, citing backdoor politics by the Government to install a professional board that would exclude retail investors and adopt more flexible standards for new listings; he also slammed the management for withholding information,[9] which the management denies.[10]

Cyberport[edit]

The project to develop a "Cyberport" was controversially granted to PCCW, controlled by Richard Li, son of Hong Kong's wealthiest man Li Ka-Shing, without the benefit of a formal tender.[11]

In October 2004, Webb cited lack of transparency in the government's business dealings and demanded audited financial accounts and directors' reports for three companies related to the project, namely Hong Kong Cyberport Development Holdings Ltd., Hong Kong Cyberport Management Ltd. and Hong Kong Cyberport (Ancillary Development) Ltd., to be released under the non-statutory Code on Access to Information.

Disneyland[edit]

In 2005, Webb criticised the government for its lack of accountability, through its refusal to uphold a promise of independent directors on the board of Hong Kong Disneyland. The Hong Kong Government was heavily involved in the project, and is the company's 57% shareholder.[12]

Other[edit]

From 1999 to 2008, Webb made an annual Christmas share tip where he recommends a single undervalued but well-run company. His picks are believed to have strongly influenced the price of selected stocks.[13] However, The Standard[14] criticised Webb after reporting that he himself owned holdings in his own Christmas share tip (which he has always disclosed), in one case giving himself almost a 40% unrealised profit on his holdings the following day after the tip was published. In December 2009, he announced an end to the "Christmas Pick" after a 10-year run in which they returned a cumulative 1118%, compared with an 87% return in the Hang Seng Index over that period.,[15] saying that the success of the picks "has become something of a distraction" to the main goal of raising the standards of Hong Kong's corporate and economic governance.

Webb was named in CFO Magazine Global 100, as a "Gadfly" in 2002.[16]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Clifford, Mark (19 May 2003). "A Crusader in Hong Kong". Business Week. Retrieved 20 March 2007. 
  2. ^ a b c "Hong Kong Confidential", The Standard, 6 December 2005
  3. ^ Darren Schuettler, Reuters, With friends like these..., The Standard, 23 September 2004
  4. ^ Hilken, Daniel (27 April 2006). "HKEx rings changes after vote for reform". The Standard. Retrieved 19 March 2007. 
  5. ^ Cheung, Jackie (15 February 2007). "Plan for tighter spreads dropped". The Standard. Hong Kong. Retrieved 19 March 2007. 
  6. ^ Benjamin Scent, Exchange Fund boosts stake in HKEx, The Standard, 8 September 2007
  7. ^ Benjamin Scent, Exchange face-off, The Standard, 11 September 2007
  8. ^ Katherine Ng, Government role in HKEx directors voting slammed, The Standard, 25 April 2008
  9. ^ Hong Kong Standard (19 May 2008). "Webb gets out of exchanges hair". The Standard. Hong Kong. Retrieved 21 May 2008. 
  10. ^ Alfred Liu (20 May 2008). "HKEx says nothing hidden from Webb". The Standard. Hong Kong. Retrieved 21 May 2008. 
  11. ^ Ko, Eric (21 March 1999). "Cyberport critics get stake hint". The Standard. Hong Kong. Retrieved 11 January 2007. 
  12. ^ Crets, Doug (21 November 2005). "Promise on Disney directors 'broken'". The Standard. Hong Kong. Retrieved 19 March 2007. 
  13. ^ Lee, Yvonne (5 December 2006). "Sino Golf drives 36pc as Webb festive pick". The Standard. Hong Kong. Retrieved 19 March 2007. 
  14. ^ "Sino Golf drives 36pc as Webb festive pick". Hong Kong Standard. 
  15. ^ The Christmas Pick, Webb-site.com, 18 December 2009
  16. ^ Calabro, Lori (28 June 2002). "The Global 100: Gadflies". CFO Magazine. Retrieved 20 March 2007. 

External links[edit]