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Hong Kong Stock Exchange bids farewell to first woman chair

By AFP - Apr 25,2024 - Last updated at Apr 25,2024

HONG KONG — "Iron Lady" Laura Cha concluded on Wednesday her six-year chairmanship as the first helmswoman of Hong Kong's ailing stock exchange, which has suffered a plunge in overall trading under her leadership.

Cha, 74, has reached the two-term limit but will remain an independent director of Chinese fintech giant Ant Group and a top trading policy advisor for Hong Kong and Beijing.

"It's been a privilege and an honour to have presided over this great organisation over the past six years," Cha said at the Hong Kong Exchange annual shareholder meeting Wednesday.

The exchange also named Carlson Tong, a former chair of Hong Kong's securities watchdog,

as its next chair, with Cha to remain a senior advisor to the board.

Cha, who is known as an "iron lady" among Chinese and Hong Kong finance regulators for her bold manner, lauded a slew of "milestone initiatives" launched under her leadership, including the enhancement of cross-border trading schemes, listing franchises, and product diversification.

But the city's stock exchange has experienced a decline in initial public offerings (IPOs) since 2020, after Beijing's regulatory crackdown led some Chinese mega-companies to put their listing plans on hold.

The exchange reported a 22 per cent year-on-year drop in average daily trading in the first quarter of 2024, pushing revenue down 12 per cent year-on-year.

The HK$4.8 billion ($613 million) raised by 12 new listings in the first quarter was also down 28 per cent compared to last year. Cha's successor Tong lead a task force last year on enhancing stock market liquidity. His 12 recommendations, including lowering stamp duty on stock transactions, were fully adopted by the city's government.

Cha has long pushed for Hong Kong's integration with the mainland Chinese market.

Under her leadership from 2018, market share of Chinese companies in Hong Kong's stock exchange increased by nearly 10 per cent to more than 77 per cent.

Cha said in an interview with state-owned newspaper Ta Kung Pao published on Wednesday that Hong Kong should be more active in international events to counter negative views under the "influence of some Western media".

Hong Kong has been trying to resuscitate its financial hub status with campaigns wooing global investors deterred by recent years' political turmoils.

The city has undergone profound legal changes under two sweeping national security laws enacted after huge and sometimes violent democracy protests in 2019 were quashed.

While critics say the laws have eviscerated the city's civil society and damaged its business environment, authorities say the laws will ensure stability for investors.

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