Poor Jimmy Packer. Another bad month in Macau for all those clever folk betting on the Chinese propensity to gamble — fear of being pinged for corruption seems once again to have been a bigger deterrent than the casino gang (and its supporters) thought. Quite a few analysts and media have been claiming they have seen an improvement in gaming fortunes in Macau in the past month. Figures out yesterday show that, far from any improvement, the plunge in revenues continues apace. Macau gaming revenues fell a nasty 37.1% in May. According to Macau’s Gaming Inspection and Co-ordination Bureau gaming revenue fell to 20.35 billion patacas (US$2.6 billion). Analysts are predicting Macau’s casino revenue in 2015 could end up  between US$30 billion and US$35 billion. This compares with US$45.2 billion in 2014. One thing is certain: gaming revenues will suffer a second year in negative growth — the first time this has happened since proper figures started being compiled back in 2001.  — Glenn Dyer

Bling bling, it’s a Birkin. The Hermes Birkin is (I am told) the epitome of luxury bags, everything. It’s said to be the most desired fashion item on Earth simply because it is so hard to buy: it’s rationed; there’s a buyers’ list as big as the Ritz; and it’s impossible to jump the queue, even for savvy buyers with obscenely large bank accounts who are willing to pay “place” money for positions in that queue closer to the top. So when someone with a lot of the green wants the ultimate in bling, an auction is the next best thing. And that’s what happened in Hong Kong yesterday when a fuchsia Birkin set a record as the most expensive handbag ever sold at auction. Media reports said the bag was sold at a Christie’s afternoon handbags and accessories sale in Hong Kong. It went for 1.72 million Hong Kong dollars (US$221,846, or more than A$290,000). The identity of the phone-buyer yesterday remains unknown.

The previous record was a gold and diamond-adorned number once owned by Elizabeth Taylor that went for US$218,000 at a an auction2011.  But this record price is well out of kilter with the reality in the luxury retailing sector. Because of China’s crackdown on corruption and the sluggish economy (as we have seen with the slide in gaming revenues in Macau and the weak data for the country’s manufacturing sector), the sector is suffering as sales growth evaporate, profits fall, share price plunge. And last week luxury icons such as Chanel and Gucci stepped down into the ruck of everyday retailing and called a three-day “sale” in Hong Kong and across China, with discounts of up to, gulp, 50%. Corruption crackdown or not, the stores were rushed by eager buyers. A bargain is a bargain. — Glenn Dyer

It’s only chicken. The Chinese government has started a campaign to “clean up” online messaging platforms — which is a nice way of saying the government is censoring anti-government and anti-Communist Party commentary. But KFC is riding on the back of this campaign to try to stop critics from attacking it via some outrageous claims about the quality of its food in its 4600 outlets across the country. The Associated Press reports that some of these claims have included stories that KFC’s chickens are genetically modified to produce more meat and have six wings and eight legs (a story KFC repeated on its local website, according to AP). KFC has asked for damages against three companies, which according to AP, appear to be shells and don’t answer phones. The stories were circulated on the mobile phone app WeChat. Interestingly, AP says Shanghai Xuhui District People’s Court has accepted the case. The Chinese government launched a clean-up campaign for WeChat and other messaging platforms two years ago.

Normally Western companies find it hard to reply to these sorts of campaigns, and there’s the suspicion that the stories are spread by rival companies, disgruntled staff or government bodies at a local or provincial level. That level of sponsored commercial sabotage is common in China. For example, city government officials raided the Guangzhou office of Uber in late April on suspicion that the company was operating without a licence. It then ordered Uber to close, and a few days later started a similar service, based on an app it had developed, and licensed local cab companies it owns to run the new service. A week later, Uber’s offices in Chengdu, the capital of China’s Sichuan Province, was “visited” by authorities looking for ‘information’. The office was later relocated, according to reports in Chinese and foreign media websites. — Glenn Dyer

Peter Fray

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