"The Spirit stood among the graves, and pointed down to one. 'Before I draw nearer to that stone to which you point,' said Scrooge, 'answer me one question. Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only?' Still the Ghost pointed downward to the grave by which it stood." A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens.
Nobody wants to be in a coffin-sized cubicle. It is all so easy in an investment bank. You have a multi-aspect corner office if you have played the game honourably (never forgetting to be a 'team player'). If something goes wrong in there -- say, the temperature gets a quarter of a degree too cool -- a small man in blue overalls (about whose interruption you tut-tut loudly) comes in with a screwdriver.
When you start a hedge fund, you rely on your own 'man skills', often lifting up the floor panels, cussing like a sailor as the wiring pours out.
"When you go looking for office space, take your designer with you," said Kurt Baker of Cranmore Capital during an AsianInvestor cocktail evening last Wednesday. "He'll be able to tell you if you can install the cables and air conditioners where you want them."
By design, he means the nuts and bolts, not the decoration. Whether you want oak panels, modern minimalist décor or Thomas the Tank Engine posters is less important than what lies beneath.
"Hong Kong office rents are down 40%-plus from highs, with no upturn [in sight] yet, but [purchase] prices are up 30-40% from the market low," says Peter Churchouse, chairman of Portwood Capital. "Rentals will follow, but will take time -- rents being a lagging indicator."
Someone looking for office property needs to be very diligent, he added. Yes, there are cheaper buildings, but don't forget you might want the flexibility to run cables through raised floors and have air conditioning in the right place (for staff as well as for the room with the serious computer hardware).
So what are the tip-top, ultra-grade-A buildings in Hong Kong? Churchouse tags International Finance Centre (IFC) and the new AIG Building. Beyond that, you get what you pay for.
Simon Smith of property agent Savills sent us prices of some possible locations in Hong Kong.
Chater House, 11 Chater Road
Cost HK$120 per square foot.
Advantages: Convenient for lunching journalists cultivating their angles at the Armani Café.
Cheung Kong Centre
Cost HK$105 per square foot
Advantage: Goldman Sachs is there. (Hurrah!)
Disadvantage: Goldman Sachs is there. (Pantomime 'boo'!)
Cost: HK$81 per square foot
Advantage: Spitting distance from the jolly, fecund Santa of prime broking, Deutsche Bank's Harvey Twomey, whose firm scooped best prime broker at AsianInvestor's service provider awards bash in October.
Cost: HK$110 per square foot
Advantage: Strutting around like you own the place.
Alternatively, come to The Centrium on Wyndham Street, which costs less than $40 per square foot.
You'll see AsianInvestor staff in the elevators. Advantage or disadvantage?
"He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge."