Money travels in Hong Kong even if people can’t

A pedestrian walks past an advertisement by HSBC at the financial Central district in Hong Kong, China August 4, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu – RC2Z6I9Q465X

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HONG KONG, Dec 10 (Reuters Breakingviews) – Does it matter if you can’t visit a place so long as your cash can get there? Asking for Hong Kong friends.

The Hong Kong Monetary Authority, in conjunction with the People’s Bank of China, wheeled out a roster of grandees on Thursday to extol the city’s position as a financial hub. Frustration about strict pandemic restrictions dominate business lunch conversations and fuels speculation about alternative Asian bases. Unsentimental financiers can’t ignore the hard numbers, however.

The seminar on Hong Kong’s future as a financial centre was the first to be organised jointly by the two central banks. A parade of representatives from the International Monetary Fund, Bank of International Settlements, HSBC (HSBA.L), (0005.HK) and beyond touted well-known advantages of the local stock market, enthusiasm for green finance and developing the offshore yuan market. One new addition to the pitch was Hong Kong’s beaches and hiking trails.

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Even if the discussion was anodyne, its timing was not. JPMorgan (JPM.N) and Goldman Sachs (GS.N) are among the big companies offering $5,000 to help cover employee quarantine costs. Hong Kong has banned visitors from more than 50 countries with the new Covid-19 Omicron variant and requires a three-week hotel isolation for returning residents.

Financial services account for a fifth of Hong Kong’s economy, per government figures, and 8% of its jobs, so unhappy workers are an issue. Yet the industry itself is booming in many ways. Stock trading volume has risen by a third this year to a daily average of $22 billion even as the number of big new listings fell. Flows through the system linking the city’s securities trading with bourses in Shanghai and Shenzhen also have surged.

Most notable about the conference was that authorities felt the need to hold it at all, and in English. Featuring Yi Gang, head of the PBOC, also was telling. It suggests a degree of concern about Hong Kong’s image overseas, which also has been battered by geopolitical tensions and the sweeping national security law Beijing imposed last year. The financial case presented at the gabfest, however, was right on the money.

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– The Hong Kong Monetary Authority and the People’s Bank of China jointly held a half-day seminar on Dec. 9 to discuss Hong Kong’s future as a financial centre.

– Speakers, many by video, included the two central bank chiefs and the head of the Bank for International Settlements as well as senior regulators from Hong Kong and Beijing and bankers from ICBC, HSBC and Standard Chartered.

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Editing by Jeffrey Goldfarb and Katrina Hamlin

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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