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Hang Seng grabs sixth slot in world markets

Hong Kong's stock market capitalisation has increased by 58 per cent in the past year - more than any other market - according to figures released yesterday by the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong.

This leaves Hong Kong as the world's sixth-largest market, up from the eighth place it occupied a year ago. At the end of June, capitalisation stood at HK$347.9bn (pounds 27.6bn).

The rankings of the first five largest markets remained unchanged with New York leading the way, followed by Tokyo, London, Frankfurt and Paris. Although the London market was the fastest-growing of the top five, registering a 36 per cent rise in market capitalisation, its rate of growth was below the increase seen in Hong Kong.

The growth in market listings is matched by something of a bull run in the territory. Yet again yesterday the Hong Kong market hit a new high with the Hang Seng Index closing at 16,365, a one day gain of 2.4 per cent in record trade with turnover soaring to HK$28bn.

Much of the excitement in the Hong Kong market is a reflection of Wall Street's seemingly unstoppable gains. The property sector, one of the most influential, has also shaken off the blues generated by expectations of tough government measures to deflate property prices.

Alongside these developments the market has been fuelled by the popularity of so-called red chip stocks, meaning companies with China connections. Much of Hong Kong's market capitalisation growth has come from new listings of mainland Chinese-owned and China-related stocks.

Anthony Miller, president of the merchant bank Asian Investment Partners, reckons that talk about red chips showed "there are some definite signs that a mania is afoot". He sees this sector as an almighty bubble waiting to burst.

Alec Tsui, the chief executive of the Hong Kong exchange, was sensitive to suggestions that the market's growth was mainly attributable to speculative activity. He produced figures which, he said, showed that Hong Kong's market volatility "was similar to other major markets in the world".

Volatility is generally measured by what is known as annualised standard derivation of daily return, the higher the percentage of derivation, the higher the volatility and level of short-term speculative activity. Hong Kong's percentage rose from 1.06 per cent in 1996 to 1.21 per cent in June 1997 against London's 0.68 per cent.