My plan not to write about Hong Kong's extradition law again has been hijacked by current events. I can't control Asia's investment news, any more than my participation in Sunday's march had any impact on Hong Kong's increasingly dictatorial government.
A huge crowd assembled outside the Central Government Offices in Hong Kong on Wednesday, where the protestors successfully frightened off the pro-Beijing lawmakers from entering. That has forced the postponement of the second reading for the controversial law allowing rendition of suspects from Hong Kong to China.
The police have responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. Demonstrators have now built barricades and stockpiled supplies in Statue Square, outside HSBC headquarters in Central. My wife tells me she just ran saline solution down to help with red eyes.
The social chaos and political turmoil have claimed its first commercial casualty. So this is getting real, in the short term, for investors. Stock exchange filings are reflecting the political fighting, a lot more immediate than abstract warnings from business interests of lost appeal as a base for business in greater China.
Goldin Financial Holdings HK:0530, a Hong Kong-listed property developer based near Beijing in the northern mainland city of Tianjin, has walked away from its winning bid to develop a land plot at Hong Kong's former airport, Kai Tak. It had won the plot in a government auction in May, beating out five competing developers.
Goldin is losing a HK$25 million (US$3.2 million) deposit in the process. In a statement to the exchange, the company said the board met on Sunday, the same day as a huge protest march against the bill. Three executive directors and three independent board members voted that the "occurrence of recent social contradiction and economic instability" will have a "negative impact" on Hong Kong's commercial property market. They wanted to walk from Goldin's deal.
Chairman Pan Sutong disagreed. He voted against the decision to abandon a plot that would have added to the company's existing Kai Tak project, which is being developed for residential property.
But the majority decision of the eight-member board won out, and the company scrapped the deal. It would have had to pay the additional land-premium balance of HK$11.1 billion (US$1.4 billion) to the government to buy the property, but says it had adequate financing to do that.
There's a suspicion the company was actually struggling with financing. Pan, who Forbes says is worth US$4.9 billion, countered that he would make a personal bid if the government offers the plot again.
But whether it's an actual motive or a convenient excuse, the company is acknowledging out loud that the political and social turmoil in Hong Kong is altering the decisions of public companies.
It's true that the plot of land may have lost at least US$3.2 million in value since Goldin won the auction. My wife called it small change for a rich mainland developer, although it's still small change I'd like to have around instead of forfeiting it.
But Goldin may have set a precedent for mainland Chinese developers. Given the current enmity over Beijing's political encroachment into Hong Kong, it's a good question whether Hong Kongers would still have the same enthusiasm for enriching mainland developers by buying their apartments or buying from stores that rent their shop space.
It's a hassle for the government, which will now need to re-tender the plot. Goldin realizes it will need to shoulder any expenses or losses that the authorities make. Goldin, very active in Tianjin but relatively new to Hong Kong, continues construction on its residential development in Kai Tak and another in Hong Kong's luxury Ho Man Tin neighbourhood.
Goldin shares are down 21% so far this year. They've been on a slow slide since peaking at the end of 2015. But they're off 13% since the end of April, before it got involved in this plot.
There could be a deeper motive behind blaming everything on Hong Kong's social discord. The move to ditch Goldin's purchase was put forward to the board by Abraham Shek Lai-him, a pro-Beijing lawmaker in the Legislative Council.
Organizers say Sunday's protest brought 1.03 million people out of a city of 7.5 million onto the streets. Today on Wednesday, I've been listening to sounds of shouting in the streets all afternoon where I'm writing this, in the Admiralty district a few hundred meters from the Hong Kong government building. Other office dwellers have been donning facemasks to fend off the tear gas wafting from police grenades outside.
Since Shek supports Beijing and the Hong Kong administration, the lawmaker has an incentive to make the most out Goldin's move. It "proves" that the political turmoil is bad for business. Will other companies follow suit in ditching deals in Hong Kong?