Hong Kong investment bank rescue falls through

Peregrine Investment Holdings, one of Asia's largest and fastest- growing investment banks, is poised to become the most high profile victim of the Asian financial crisis.

After repeated delays Peregrine, a Hong Kong company, yesterday announced that what amounted to a rescue by the Swiss-based Zurich Group had fallen through. Zurich had initially agreed to buy a 24 per cent stake in the troubled Peregrine group for $200m (pounds 120m). The First Chicago Bank National Bank had also promised to buy a smaller stake for $50m.

The absence of this cash infusion places a large question mark over the future of Peregrine, one of Asia's most aggressive and, at one time, most successful deal-makers.

Peregrine Brokerage, a wholly owned subsidiary of the company, has been suspended from membership of the Hong Kong stock exchange. Traders have been told that they need not report for work on Monday.

However, the company insists that it is looking for other partners to take a stake in Peregrine.

The exact nature of Peregrine's problems are not known.

Peregrine is also understood to be owed $265m by an Indonesian transportation company called Steady Safe which has close ties to the family of Indonesia's President Suharto. This debt is close to one-third of Peregrine's capital. It was due to be repaid by a Steady Safe share issue which failed to get approval.

Many of Hong Kong's leading businessmen, including the most influential, Li Ka-shing, have been linked with Peregrine and have helped it achieve record amounts of business in its brief nine-year history.

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