Hong Kong confirms economy fell into recession amid protests

Police in riot gear arrive at the scene of a protest in the financial district in Hong Kong on Friday. Violent anti-government protests and the escalating US-China trade war have hit the financial hub. (AP)
Updated 15 November 2019

Hong Kong confirms economy fell into recession amid protests

  • Financial center potentially faces longer and deeper slump than during 2008-2009 global crisis

HONG KONG: Hong Kong sank into recession for the first time in a decade in the third quarter, government data confirmed on Friday, weighed down by increasingly violent anti-government protests and the escalating US-China trade war.

The economy shrank by 3.2 percent in July-September from the previous quarter on a seasonally adjusted basis, revised government data showed, in line with a preliminary reading.

Gross domestic product (GDP) contracted for the second consecutive quarter, meeting the technical definition of a recession.

With no end to the protests in sight, analysts warn that the financial and trading center potentially faces a longer and deeper slump than during the global financial crisis in 2008/2009 and the SARS epidemic in 2003.

From a year earlier, the economy contracted 2.9 percent, also in line with the preliminary reading. The readings were the weakest since the global crisis.

“Domestic demand worsened significantly in the third quarter, as the local social incidents took a heavy toll on consumption-related activities and subdued economic prospects weighed on consumption and investment sentiment,” the government said in a statement.

It revised down its forecast for full-year growth to a contraction of 1.3 percent versus an earlier estimate of 0-1 percent growth. That would mark the first annual decline since 2009. “Ending violence and restoring calm are pivotal to the recovery of the economy. The government will continue to closely monitor the situation and introduce measures as necessary to support enterprises and safeguard,” the government said.

More than five months of political protests have plunged the city into its worst crisis since it reverted from British to Chinese rule in 1997.

Tourists are canceling bookings, retailers are reeling from a sharp drop in sales and the stock market is faltering, adding to pressure the city is feeling from China’s economic slowdown and the prolonged Sino-US trade dispute.

August retail sales were the worst on record — down 23 percent from a year earlier — while September’s plunged 18.3 percent.

Parts of the city were paralyzed for a fifth day on Friday. Transportation disruptions have become common and some shopping malls and other businesses are shuttering early as the unrest escalates.

Hong Kong is one of the world’s most important financial hubs with total banking, fund and wealth management assets worth more than $6 trillion.

Many businesses with ambitions to expand in China still consider it as a gateway into the mainland, while Chinese firms use it to access international capital, as well as a testing ground and springboard for their global ambitions.

Business activity in the private sector fell to its weakest in 21 years in October, according to IHS Markit, while demand from mainland China declined at the sharpest pace in the survey’s history, which started in July 1998.

The government has rolled out stimulus measures since August, but since it is forced to keep a high level of reserves to back the Hong Kong dollar peg to the US dollar, the packages have been relatively small. Analysts also doubt the effectiveness of handouts, since the uncertainty prevents businesses and consumers from spending and investing, and store closures will lead to job losses. 


India opens vast railway network to private players

Updated 02 July 2020

India opens vast railway network to private players

  • The 167-year-old train network carries 20 million passengers daily
  • India’s railway ministry said it would now permit businesses to run trains along 109 routes
MUMBAI: India has opened up its vast railway sector to private companies, allowing firms to operate trains on certain routes, in a bid to boost its stuttering, virus-hit economy.
The 167-year-old train network carries 20 million passengers daily but is plagued by deadly accidents, rickety infrastructure, lack of modern amenities and poor investment.
In an announcement late Wednesday, the railway ministry said it would now permit businesses to run trains along 109 routes, inviting bids from firms weeks after New Delhi opened up coal mining to the private sector.
“This is the first initiative of private investment for running passenger trains over Indian Railways network,” the ministry said in a statement.
“The objective of this initiative is to introduce modern technology rolling stock with reduced maintenance, reduced transit time, boost job creation, provide enhanced safety, provide world class travel experience to passengers,” it added.
The project will require an investment of $39.8 million and private players will have to pay the government fixed haul charges and a percentage of profits determined during the bidding process.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sought to privatize a range of industries that have been under state control for decades, sparking criticism from the opposition Congress party.
“Now the government is in a desperate mood to sell a great chunk of one of our largest national asset #IndianRailways,” Congress politician Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury tweeted.
“Privatization cannot be construed as a panacea of railways malady,” he added.
The tottering network is notorious for accidents, with 15,000 passengers killed every year according to a 2012 government report that described the deaths as a “massacre.”
Asia’s third-largest economy has been clobbered by the pandemic and a months-long lockdown, growing at its slowest pace in at least two decades last quarter.
The shutdown, which put millions out of work overnight, is widely expected to plunge the country into recession.
Fears for the economy prompted the government to allow many businesses to resume operations starting last month despite an ongoing increase in infections, which have now crossed 600,000.
Even before Modi announced the lockdown in late March, the economy was struggling to gain traction with sluggish growth, record unemployment and a flurry of bad loans making banks reluctant to lend.