With rallies banned, opposition primaries declared “illegal,” and elections postponed, Hong Kongers are finding it ever more difficult to protest in a city that is falling deeper into trenches of authoritarianism by the day.
As a result, after yesterday’s arrest of media tycoon Jimmy Lai and the subsequent raid on the offices of his fiercely independent newspaper, Apple Daily, Hong Kongers found a new way to protest: snapping up shares of Lai’s media company.
Between yesterday morning, when news broke of the arrest, and at market close today, the shares of Next Digital—which owns Apple Daily and other publications—soared more than 1,100%, pushing the stock to a seven-year high. At its highest point, the stock had surged nearly 2,200%. The rally has boosted the company’s market value from around HK$238 million ($30.5 million) to $2.9 billion.
Lai, a vocal critic of the Chinese government, was arrested for allegedly colluding with foreign forces, a crime under the sweeping new national security law punishable by up to life imprisonment. His detention, and the newsroom raid, were widely condemned as brazen assaults on the city’s press freedoms.
One woman told local outlet Citizen News that she had piled in yesterday morning (link in Chinese) and sold part of her holdings today to take a handsome profit of HK$35,000 ($4,500). She said she’s taking a third of her earnings to pay for a VIP annual subscription to Apple Daily, and will pay for subscriptions to other outlets as well. The sudden surge of interest in Next Digital shares is also notable as the stock had, until yesterday, been extremely thinly traded.
Across the city today, people also snapped up copies of Apple Daily, which printed five times as many copies overnight to meet an expected upsurge in demand. By morning, there were reports of newsstands and corner stores being swept clean of the paper. Some people had even lined up in the wee hours to make sure they could get a copy.
There’s a risk to investing in Next Digital stock, however: the government could suspend its trading, and even confiscate shares under the national security law. Though Lai could sell shares or borrow against holdings to raise funds, buying subscriptions to the publication would likely be a more direct way of supporting the company, which reported a loss of $53 million last fiscal year amid the pandemic’s economic impact and a years-long boycott by advertisers wary of the paper’s politics.
At least two other companies regarded as part of the “yellow economy”—a term used to describe businesses that support the pro-democracy movement—have also seen their stocks surge this week. Shares in Most Kwai Chung, which publishes a satirical magazine and website that mock the Hong Kong and Chinese governments, have shot up nearly 200% since yesterday morning. MI Ming Mart, which sells cosmetics and is owned by a former politician and prominent supporter of the democracy movement, is up 150% this week.