David Webb, a Hong Kong corporate-governance advocate, has earned his gadfly reputation attacking the back-room dealings of the territory’s clubby tycoons. Less is known about his other passion: value investing.

Once an independent director on the Hong Kong Exchanges & Clearing Ltd., the operator of the city’s stock exchange, Mr. Webb splits his time between picking stocks to buy with his own money and his public-service activities.

Last year, Mr. Webb drew public attention to irregularities in the shareholder vote for a US$2.1 billion buyout of Hong Kong telecom operator PCCW Ltd. led by tycoon Richard Li. That prompted an investigation by Hong Kong regulators. An appeals court, siding with the securities regulator over Mr. Li, scotched the takeover.

Mr. Webb has also pushed (so far unsuccessfully) to force Hong Kong-listed companies to report financial results quarterly, rather than twice a year.

As an investor, Mr. Webb, 44, focuses pretty much exclusively on Hong Kong small-cap stocks. His approach can be described, he said in an interview, as ‘value with a governance overlay.’

That means meticulously combing through stock-exchange filings to evaluate a company’s business and cash flow, but also examining the political connections of its directors and shareholders. He carefully tracks the details they disclose, and those they don’t.

He says there is a lot of overlap between investing and his advocacy work: the good stocks he keeps for himself and the bad ones he flags for the public and regulators on his website, Webb-site.com.
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The site is filled with unflattering bits of information and analysis about Hong Kong-listed companies. A recent post lambastes mobile-phone company SIM Technology Group Ltd. for buying real estate in northeastern China’s Shenyang city not related to its core business and only telling shareholders four months after the deal was done. The company responded that it knows Shenyang well from having operations there and the noncore investment is a good way to deploy surplus cash, given low interest rates.

Another post points out that Yang Wenjun, chief executive of China Mengniu Dairy Co., lists a masters of business administration from a discredited mail-order diploma school. Tracking fake degrees is a favorite tool of Mr. Webb, who studied at Oxford University, to highlight misleading disclosures and intellectual insecurities. Mengniu declined to comment.

He doesn’t invest in fixed-income products and rarely buys shares overseas because he believes global markets are highly correlated. ‘I find enough to chew on in Hong Kong,’ he says. Mr. Webb holds about 30 names in his portfolio at any time and sticks to smaller stocks that aren’t tracked by researchers at the major investment banks.

Asked about his take on the market today, Mr. Webb says he believes the Hang Seng Index will end the year ‘significantly lower’ as interest rates rise, China’s property bubble deflates, and banks’ balance sheets see more bad loans. He says the three largest Chinese state banks, which make up 38.6% of the Hang Seng Index’s weighting, will face huge loan losses over the next three years because of the lending splurge during the financial crisis.

As part of Beijing’s banking reforms ahead of listings, the government ‘cleared out the bad loans, but not the bad lenders,’ Mr. Webb says.

Another stock he is down on is Internet company Tencent Holdings Ltd., which he calls the most overvalued stock in the Hang Seng Index excluding the Chinese banks, with a price-to-book ratio over 21, a trailing price-to-earnings ratio around 50 times, and a dividend yield of just 0.24%.

‘I don’t think their business model is as sustainable as the market seems to think,’ says Mr. Webb, who previously worked as an investment banker. ‘Perhaps that’s why they are hoarding cash.’

So far, Mr. Webb says he has no plans to manage other people’s money. ‘I enjoy my life as it is, with the freedom to spend as much time as I want on pro bono activities and family,’ Mr. Webb says. ‘A fiduciary duty to shareholders would change that.’

香港股市牛虻韦伯的投资经

David Webb
由于经常批评富豪圈内的暗箱交易,香港公司治理倡导者大卫•韦伯(David Webb)成了广为人知的股市牛虻。但他对另一件事的热情却没有多少人了解:价值投资。

韦伯曾担任香港交易所(Hong Kong Exchanges & Clearing Ltd.)的独立董事,他现在一边用自己的钱购买自己精选的股票,一边从事公共服务活动。

去年,由香港大亨李泽楷领导的香港电信运营商──电讯盈科有限公司(PCCW Ltd.)的股东投票赞成以21亿美元出售这家公司。韦伯将其中的违规行为公诸于众,导致香港监管者对此事进行调查。上诉法院支持了证券监管者的上诉,终止了电讯盈科的私有化计划。

韦伯一直在推动要求香港上市公司必须每季度汇报一次财务状况,而不是每半年上报一次。但至今尚未成功。

作为一名投资者,今年44岁的韦伯十分专注于香港的小盘股公司。他在接受采访时说,可把他的投资方向形容成“价值加治理”。

具体地说,就是一丝不苟地梳理公司上报给证交所的文件,对这家公司的业务和现金流进行评估,同时调查公司董事和股东的政治人脉。他认真地追踪这些公司已披露及未披露的细节。

韦伯说,他的投资和倡导活动之间有许多交集之处:好的股票都留给自己投资,而有问题的公司,他会在自己的网站Webb-site.com上向公众和监管者指出来。

网站上满是有关香港上市公司的负面信息和分析。近期的一篇文章谴责手机公司晨讯科技集团从事与核心业务无关的活动──在中国东北的沈阳市购买房地产,并且在交易完成后四个月才向股东披露此事。公司回应称曾在沈阳做过业务,对这座城市很了解,并且鉴于利率较低,进行与核心业务无关的投资是配置剩余现金的好办法。

另一篇文章指出,中国蒙牛乳业公司首席执行长杨文俊列出的工商管理硕士学历来自一所信誉不佳的函授学校。在牛津大学(Oxford University)学习过的韦伯喜欢通过追踪假学历,把误导性的信息披露和一些人的心虚都晾晒于光天化日之下。蒙牛方面对此拒绝置评。

韦伯不投资固定收益产品,也很少买海外股票,因为他相信,全球各个市场都是高度相关的。他说,香港的就够我慢慢研究了。韦伯一直是持有大约30只股票,并专注于那些没有被大投行研究人员跟踪、市值更小的股票。

在被问到如何看待今天的市场时,韦伯说,他相信,随着利率抬升、内地楼市泡沫破灭、银行坏账增加,到今年结束时香港恒生指数(Hang Seng Index)将大幅走低。他说,在恒生指数中权重达38.6%的中国三大国有银行,将在未来三年因金融危机期间放出的天量贷款而蒙受巨额贷款损失。

韦伯说,银行上市前,北京方面在对它们进行改革时清理了不良贷款,“但没有清理不良银行”。

另一只不被韦伯看好的股票是腾讯控股有限公司(Tencent Holdings Ltd.)。他说,腾讯是除了内地银行以外被高估得最严重的恒生指数成份股,市净率超过了21倍,以过去一年的收益率来计算,市盈率约为50倍,而股息收益率仅为0.24%。

曾做过投行的韦伯说,我认为他们的商业模式并不像市场认为的那样可持续,这或许是他们正在囤积现金的原因。

韦伯说,目前他还没有替别人管理财富的打算。韦伯说,我喜欢我现在的生活,在公益活动方面和家人身上想花多少时间就花多少时间,而如果对股东承担起信托责任,这一切都会发生改变。

Rick Carew

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