Saturday, March 19, 2011

HK exports up as jobless rate slips

(The Standard, March 18, 2011)

Hong Kong's economy is on a roll, spurred by declining jobless rates and growing exports, but the crisis in Japan could act as a damper and disrupt the strong momentum, and economist warns.

The SAR's jobless rate dropped to 3.6 percent for the three months ending February, as compared to 3.8 percent in the quarter ending January. Beating a forecast of 3.7 percent, the rate was the lowest since the Lehman Brothers' collapse in September 2008.

But BWC Capital chief economist Daniel Chan Po-ming expects the SAR to see more challenges. New graduates will join the labor force in May when the minimum wage comes into force.

And the disaster in Japan may affect Hong Kong. "Since many high-end electronics products come from Japan, this sector will see the most impact," Chan said.

Total employment decreased by around 6,600 to 3.57 million in the three-month period ending February, with the labor force shrinking to 3.7 million.

The underemployment rate declined to 1.7 percent from 1.8 percent.

"In the near term, employers are positive about hiring staff ," said Secretary for Labor and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, adding that the government will remain vigilant.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong's export volumes increased 20.7 percent, while imports rose 12.5percent.

Exports to the mainland grew 22.3 percent, followed by a 20.6 percent growth to the United States. Imports from the mainland increased 18 percent. Paul Tang Sai-on, chief economist at Bank of East Asia (0023), added that Hong Kong's re-exports will suffer as many Japanese products go to the mainland through Hong Kong.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Handout heading to bank accounts

(The Standard, March 09, 2011)

People are likely to get the HK$6,000 budget handout put into their bank accounts, sources said.

The Hong Kong Monetary Authority met with local banks over the possibility of handing out the cash through bank accounts and last week asked banks to submit statistics of individual account holders.

An HSBC banker said yesterday that giving out the cash in that way is feasible.

In an abrupt about-turn, Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah last week scrapped the plan to inject HK$6,000 into the MPF accounts of all workers and announced giving the same amount to all adult permanent residents.

He also said a scheme is being planned to encourage citizens not to withdraw the money immediately. One idea is to provide interest incentives to those who do not use the money at once.
Tsang yesterday remained tight- lipped over how the money will be handed out.

Sources have said that the authorities are unwilling to send checks through the post as letters can get lost.

Mark McCombe, chief executive of HSBC in Hong Kong, said using the banking system is one feasible option.

"I think operationally it will not be a problem because Hong Kong already has a very effective payment system and a very effective interbank system," he said.

"People in Hong Kong have bank accounts."

It is understood that more discussions will be held between banks, other stakeholders and the authorities over technical details, including how to cover those who do not have an account.

Another issue is those who have had their account frozen may have to retrieve the money directly from the government.

Those with more than one account reportedly may be able to choose into which one they wish the money to be deposited.

McCombe also said more discussions are needed with the monetary authority and the government for the option to be finalized.

"But it's down to the government and the HKMA to lead the way on this. It's not our initiative. It's an initiative of the government," he said.

Authority officials are expected to meet again with banks in the next few weeks to finalize the details.