CLSA, an institutional broker and investment group, has proposed moving its flagship investors’ forum from Hong Kong to Singapore this year as pandemic restrictions in the territory disrupt international travel, according to two people familiar with the matter.
They said the brokerage had suggested to its Chinese owner Citic Securities the relocation of what is Hong Kong’s best-known business conference. The star-studded annual event has run for almost three decades with attendees including representatives from the world’s biggest funds and celebrity guests such as Bill Clinton, Desmond Tutu and Kylie Minogue.
CLSA’s proposal to move the event, typically attended by 1,500 institutional investors from around the world, highlights the disruption caused by Hong Kong’s strict pandemic control measures.
It also comes as some international companies have relocated teams of staff to Singapore, which is seeking to bolster its reputation as a financial hub in Asia.
Plans to move the forum have been stalled because it would require sign-off from the chair of Citic Securities, CLSA’s parent company and the largest state-owned investment bank in China, according to people familiar with the matter.
Citic Securities chair Zhang Youjun has not given the green light to the relocation because of logistical and political challenges, according to one of the people.
Relocating the conference “makes commercial sense”, the person said, “but it’s in Beijing’s hands. It is not a straightforward political decision”.
CLSA did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
CLSA was founded in 1986 by journalists in Hong Kong. It was acquired by Citic Securities for $1.2bn in 2013, the first time a Chinese brokerage acquired a global financial institution. The deal was part of a push by China to create a global investment banking powerhouse, but has suffered a series of senior exits.
The CLSA annual party has been considered one of the best launch pads for international investors to form relationships with fast-growing Chinese companies and access opportunities in Asia. This year’s conference — the 29th — was scheduled to be held at the Rosewood Hong Kong in September.
CLSA’s Tokyo forum will be held online for the third year in a row next month and its Asean conference was held virtually in March. However, some company executives had pushed for the flagship event in Hong Kong to go ahead in order to compete with other conferences in Europe and the US that have returned this year, said one of the people familiar with the discussions.
Relocating the conference comes with its own challenges, including whether it would be possible for executives from Chinese corporations to travel to Singapore and back because of China’s own zero-Covid restrictions.
“How do you structure an event when China is on hold?” said one of the people familiar with the matter. “It is getting more difficult for Chinese companies to connect with foreign clients. The exchange of information and ideas is at a standstill.”
The Asia head of a global hedge fund in Hong Kong said he thought the financial services industry would benefit from the conference happening in person.
“I know that it’s not straightforward, but I really hope they do go ahead in Singapore,” the person said. “The whole industry is just waiting for someone to break the deadlock . . . it doesn’t matter if it’s not in Hong Kong.”
Unhedged — Markets, finance and strong opinion
Robert Armstrong dissects the most important market trends and discusses how Wall Street’s best minds respond to them. Sign up here to get the newsletter sent straight to your inbox every weekday