The poster child for last year’s red-hot real estate market in Hong Kong is gone.

Henderson Land said this week that the $57m sale of a flat had been called off by the buyer, who had also failed to pay for five other transactions in the 39 Conduit Road project.

The high-profile transaction would have made the unit the world’s most expensive apartment on a per-square-foot basis.

It was seen as a sign of the buoyancy of Hong Kong’s real estate market as it emerged from the financial crisis.

Meanwhile, would-be owners of 14 other flats in the same development in the heart of the city cancelled their purchases too. In other words, only five of the 25 announced transactions were completed.

The collapse of the deals comes at an unfortunate time for Hong Kong’s housing market, which has gone tepid recently after a 30 per cent rise in prices last year.

Some analysts said hype surrounding the sale had played a part in pushing up Hong Kong property prices.

While the government has announced a range of measures to arrest further price rises, real estate agents said a bigger reason for the market’s softness was falling numbers of Chinese buyers – a key driver for the soaring market last year.

Yet, when asked whether he would drop his prices, Lee Shau-kee, Henderson’s billionaire chairman, said he wouldn’t need to do that. “Maybe we’ll make more money when we sell these apartments again,” he said. Given the state of the market, it seems to be a big “maybe.”

Quite a yarn

What a tangled web some companies weave. If Guinness Peat Group does return the thread manufacturer Coats to the London stock market, it will further embroider a corporate tale that already has all the elements: entrepreneurial vim, globalisation, overreach, retrenchment – and rebirth.

It’s not that Coats has been absent from the London market for that long – GPG took it private only in 2003 for £414m ($613m) – but until then it had notched up an unbroken 110 years as a listed company.

In the early part of the last century, it became virtually the UK’s first multinational, with thread factories from Bratislava to Buenos Aires.

Then, in 1986, it was swept up in the extraordinary 35-year expansion of Sir David Alliance’s empire, which had already knitted together some of the biggest names in British textiles, from Spirella, of corset fame, to Viyella, descendant of a venerable yarn spinner.

Coats Viyella’s purchase of Tootal in 1991, however, confirmed the group’s ill-omened status as a proxy for the declining UK and European textile industry.

Within seven years, it had slipped from the FTSE 100 and its share price had dropped to a record low.

As Coats started to cast off its earlier acquisitions, the corporate obituaries were prepared. But the painful refocusing of Coats on thread-making, one of its original businesses, kept the company alive.

If refloated, Coats will be small compared with the £2bn market capitalisation it attained in the early 1990s. But its story is invaluable.

It should be rendered in needlepoint, framed and hung above the bedsteads of the bosses of modern multinationals: a warning not to expand too far – and not to give up too soon.

Coup de coeur

The late Jean-Luc Lagardère, one of the architects of the EADS aerospace and defence group, was a rare blue-blooded entrepreneur. It was largely thanks to him that a French heart specialist, Prof Alain Carpentier, has developed an artificial heart for people suffering from advanced heart failure who cannot find a human organ to transplant.

In the 1990s, Mr Lagardère backed the project that is now about to hit the market.

The French stock market regulator this week approved the initial public offering of Carmat, the company developing the device, with the aim of raising at least €15m ($18m).

The device will be tested on humans next year and could, if successful, prove a breakthrough in curing cardiovascular disease.

Although Mr Lagardère died in 2003 from a rare disease, EADS has continued to support the venture.

The aerospace group currently owns 35 per cent of Carmat and intends to subscribe at least €5m in the flotation.

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