14 Mar 2007

Singapore Trails Hong Kong in Diversifying Economy

By Yoolim Lee

March 14 (Bloomberg)
-- Singapore, once so staid it banned bungee jumping, has cut taxes, opened its doors to casinos and hired fund managers to oversee billions of dollars of state funds to help attract international investment.

While the city-state has made progress toward becoming a more vibrant financial hub, it's still falling behind perennial rival Hong Kong.

Assets held by Hong Kong fund managers tripled to $579 billion from 2000 to 2005, while Singapore's assets more than doubled to $472 billion, according to regulators in the two cities. Hong Kong's stock-market value has swelled to more than five times Singapore's.

The Singapore government's grip on the economy, which extends from the city's largest companies to its newspapers, stifles the entrepreneurialism that fuels Hong Kong's success, says investor Anil Thadani. While Singapore has loosened the reins, it's not moving fast enough to match Hong Kong, he says.

``Singapore has been unnecessarily restrictive,'' says Thadani, chairman of Singapore-based Symphony Capital Partners (Asia) Pte, which invests in Asian health-care companies and luxury resorts. ``People who are told from birth what to do and say aren't likely to be self-starting entrepreneurs. We need a generation to change the mindset.''

With its government-driven economy, Singapore can't rival Hong Kong in breeding private companies, says Andy Xie, a Hong Kong-based economist. Li Ka-shing, Asia's richest man, built an empire spanning from telecommunications and property to retail after arriving in Hong Kong in 1940 as a refugee from China.

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