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Jimmy Lai says don't buy his stock; investors buy it anyway

[HONG KONG] Jimmy Lai, the media mogul who owns the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper, warned investors not to buy his Next Digital media empire's stock because the company's fundamentals don't justify its recent rally. Moments later, the shares resumed their climb in Hong Kong.

"People with very little money just want to express their anger and express their support for our company," Mr Lai said in an interview with Bloomberg Television on Friday. "Everybody bought a little bit. That became a lot of it and jacked up the price. I was telling people ‘don't do it, don't do it, because you're going to lose money.'"

The warning from Mr Lai, who was released on bail Wednesday after becoming the most prominent pro-democracy activist to be arrested under Hong Kong's new national security law, fell on deaf ears. Next Digital shares climbed as much as 42 per cent Friday morning, resuming the roller-coaster ride the holding company's been on this week. 

The shares still jumped more than 300 per cent for the week and closed at 40 HK cents on Friday, up 5.3 per cent for the day.

The rally was largely a result of a campaign by pro-democracy supporters to buy up the company's shares as a way to push back against his arrest. Some Hongkongers and businesses that support the democracy cause have also been buying up advertisements in Lai's Apple Daily to show their support.

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Hong Kong's Securities and Futures Commission has requested brokers to submit client information and recent transaction records related to Next Digital's shares, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reported, citing unidentified brokers. On Tuesday, the regulator warned investors to exercise "extreme caution" with the stock and that it would closely monitor trading activity in Next Digital.

In response to the report, Mr Lai said he doesn't know what the SFC might be trying to do but said the people who recently bought the shares were just expressing support for the company, which owns Apple Daily. The paper's offices were searched this week by police.

Separately, Mr Lai ruled out taking advantage of Next Digital's share surge by issuing new stock at inflated prices, saying that would be a "very dishonest way" for the company to raise money. Mr Lai also said he has no plans to divest his shares in his media empire, whose business "will go on without me" should he be convicted.

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