Hong Kong’s comparative benefit is a mix of substances that make it distinctive within the international financial system and monetary system. This mix can’t be replicated and has propelled its financial system for many years. Now, nevertheless, these benefits are liable to erosion. Rising coverage uncertainty, fraying social cohesion, and better competitors from mainland China are making Hong Kong much less particular. S&P International Scores believes development progress will greater than halve via 2030 to about 1.1%.
The expansion slowdown will add to the unavoidable downward pressures ensuing from its place as one of the vital quickly ageing societies in Asia. Within the close to time period, we count on a cyclical restoration with progress of -4.7% in 2020 adopted by a rebound of 4.9% in 2021. Nonetheless, we count on the underlying development progress charge to sluggish.
The stability of dangers to Hong Kong’s long-term financial prospects is tilted to the draw back. Outstanding amongst them is an additional speedy deterioration within the U.S.-China relationship leading to a decoupling of the U.S. greenback and Chinese language renminbi monetary programs. A second danger is an accelerated monetary opening of the mainland that will reduce Hong Kong’s position as a conduit.
A believable draw back situation may see development progress of zero in a decade. The principle upside danger is that Hong Kong advantages from a slower tempo of mainland opening and attracts an growing share of China’s offshore financing enterprise.
Hong Kong’s Specialness Is Being Eroded
Hong Kong is likely one of the world’s most costly cities for conducting enterprise. Based on a examine by CBRE, a industrial property knowledgeable, Hong Kong’s Central district had the most expensive workplace lease on this planet in 2019.  Throughout Victoria Harbour, Kowloon district was the third most costly location, behind solely Hong Kong Central and the West Finish in London. Each Kowloon and Central are dearer than prime midtown Manhattan in New York.
Different Hong Kong working bills, akin to employees prices, are excessive, and town repeatedly options among the many most costly cities on this planet for price of dwelling. [2, 3]
And but, Hong Kong has remained extremely aggressive. Within the World Financial Discussion board’s 2019 rating, Hong Kong got here third after Singapore and the U.S., scoring greater than the high-income group common throughout the board.  Its greatest benefits had been macroeconomic stability, a strong monetary sector, healthcare, and infrastructure.
We must always not downplay these achievements, which all economies ought to aspire to match. However they don’t reveal totally the sting that has propelled Hong Kong to such financial success, and which is now in danger.
The benefit is a mixture of traits that derive efficiency from how they mix collectively. On the highest stage, geography, financial flexibility, social cohesion, and delicate infrastructure have all mixed to make Hong Kong particular. Nonetheless, world notion of the robustness of not less than three of those traits could also be altering.
First, companies had already begun to specific extra pessimism concerning the results of social unrest on their prospects. In a survey of international companies final 12 months, nearly one in 4 respondents stated that their funding plans had been being adversely affected.  Second, the brand new Nationwide Safety Regulation (NSL) could have launched better uncertainty into the coverage outlook and enterprise local weather. [6, 7]
Hong Kong’s geography, not less than in an financial sense, can also be altering. Hong Kong continues to be “offshore” from the mainland in a regulatory sense however shut sufficient to behave as an efficient monetary conduit. Now this hole between Hong Kong and its mainland rivals, particularly within the Higher Bay Space—a proposed financial hub encompassing Macau, Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and Zhuhai–is shrinking. Whereas this offers alternatives for Hong Kong, we expect the web impact might be destructive as extra mainland-related enterprise migrates to cities akin to Shenzhen.
Hong Kong’s Benefits Allowed Commerce And Finance To Flourish
Hong Kong’s historical past and distinctiveness helped it grow to be an entrepôt with thriving commerce and monetary industries. Collectively, these two industries mixed account for simply over one-third of worth added within the financial system.
The monetary trade has been a cornerstone of town’s prosperity for a very long time, and accounts for almost one-fifth of the financial system, nearly double the extent simply earlier than the 1997 handover. This share is disproportionately giant in contrast with international averages. For comparability, Korea, which has a comparable stage of earnings, has a monetary sector that accounts for about 5.5% of the financial system.
Import and export commerce account for an additional 16% share of worth added, excluding the direct contribution from transport. That is about the identical as simply earlier than the handover. Hong Kong has benefited considerably from its position as a commerce gateway to the mainland. The town has environment friendly port services and, in 2018, it was the seventh busiest port on this planet.
Hong Kong doesn’t merely ship merchandise from level A to level B. Way back to 2001, analysis has proven that re-exports of Chinese language items are way more costly after they go away Hong Kong than after they entered, indicating that precious duties have been outsourced to town. 
Hong Kong’s Productiveness Has Propelled Its Prosperity
Distinctive comparative benefits allowed Hong Kong’s financial system to develop a lot quicker than one would possibly count on. Extra jobs have helped however the true driver of progress has been labor productiveness. From the 1997 handover to China, to 2018, earlier than social unrest intensified, Hong Kong’s actual GDP grew by nearly 3% a 12 months of which labor productiveness and employment have contributed 2.1 and 0.Eight proportion factors (ppts), respectively.
Normally, the poorer an financial system is, the quicker it ought to develop as its productiveness ranges meet up with the richest economies. We examined this concept by estimating the connection between labor productiveness and progress for 123 economies over the interval 1963 to 2018. We measure labor productiveness as actual GDP (or worth added) divided by the variety of workers, a comparatively crude measure however one that permits us to check Hong Kong with a variety of different economies that don’t report output per hour. We additionally allowed for country-specific components (so-called “fastened results”) which may additionally decide progress.
Chart 1, under, reveals how an financial system of Hong Kong’s earnings stage would have grown if it had qualities that positioned it within the prime 25% or prime 10% of all economies. In 1997, Hong Kong’s labor productiveness was three-quarters that of U.S. ranges. Our mannequin means that its labor productiveness would have grown by about 2% to three% per 12 months (the darkish blue and yellow strains, respectively). In actual fact, Hong Kong grew quicker, at 3% to 4%. As Hong Kong turned richer, its labor productiveness progress slowed, as anticipated, but it surely nonetheless did higher than nearly each different financial system once we account for variations in earnings ranges. Briefly, Hong Kong’s efficiency positioned it within the prime 8% of all economies internationally. The place did this productiveness progress come from?
Finance And Commerce Account For 90% Of Labor Productiveness Progress
The monetary and commerce industries are Hong Kong’s productiveness powerhouses. Collectively they account for about 90% of labor productiveness progress for the reason that international monetary disaster (GFC). Extra refined measures, akin to output per hour labored, present related outcomes. In sensible phrases, what does an exceptionally excessive stage of labor productiveness imply?
For the monetary sector, excessive productiveness displays the selections of companies to rent and appeal to employees that full duties producing outsized revenues in Hong Kong. Examples embrace groups that handle fairness capital elevating or debt syndication. A decade in the past, employees on this sector generated greater than thrice the worth added of these within the common sector. Not solely was this hole large but it surely has widened since then, aided by China’s monetary opening, with monetary providers output per worker rising by 2.2% per 12 months in contrast with 1.8% for the entire financial system. If these employees and their duties transfer elsewhere, the extent and progress of productiveness would fall with substantial financial results.
For the import-export sector, which is extra capital intensive, it implies that companies have invested closely in superior equipment, gear, and software program, permitting a smaller variety of employees to generate substantial worth added. The position that expertise has performed on this sector is proven by the truth that, over the previous decade, actual worth added has grown about 3% in annualized phrases, whereas employment has shrunk by nearly 4% on common yearly. In different phrases, labor productiveness has surged by an annualized 7%.
So that is actually a story of two sectors, monetary providers and import-export commerce. The prospects for each will rely on the extent to which companies that spend money on Hong Kong understand that it retains its comparative benefits (see chart 2).
Perceptions Matter For Comparative Benefit
Measuring perceptions about how unsure the political, social, and enterprise local weather has grow to be is tough. Some latest surveys counsel enterprise confidence has eroded on account of social unrest. The American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) in Hong Kong polled 180 members in June 2020 and located that 80% had been both “very involved” or “reasonably involved.” Furthermore, 60% of respondents felt that the NSL (which on the time had not been made public) would hurt their enterprise operations in Hong Kong. 
Three kinds of uncertainty are rising. First, perceptions of Hong Kong’s relationship with the mainland seem like altering. Opinion surveys of the Hong Kong inhabitants level to diminishing confidence within the “One Nation, Two Programs” framework.  How briskly and the way deep adjustments might be this aspect of 2047, when the framework expires, stay unknown.
Second, how the brand new relationship, based mostly on what has been launched publically thus far, will work in observe can also be unknown (certainly, ambiguity within the scope and enforcement of the brand new legislation was the highest concern within the AmCham survey).
Third, how governments in different components of the world will deal with Hong Kong because of these adjustments has been thrown into doubt (the elimination of Hong Kong’s particular standing by the U.S. authorities will not be the final phrase).
Let’s assume, for now, that we may connect significant possibilities to completely different outcomes for Hong Kong’s relationship with the mainland and the ensuing enterprise local weather. This distribution would certainly have widened but additionally have grow to be way more skewed. In different phrases, the likelihood of nearer alignment with the mainland, moderately than extra independence for Hong Kong, has certainly risen.
One doesn’t have to take a place on latest developments, whether or not they’re “good” or “dangerous,” to conclude that coverage uncertainty has risen and the likelihood of Hong Kong totally retaining its comparative benefits has decreased. Perceptions that comparative benefits may very well be eroded will doubtless have an effect on funding and hiring choices. However how, in sensible phrases, would possibly their diminishment have an effect on productiveness and progress?
Some Monetary Actions Might Take Place Elsewhere
We don’t have to provide you with fanciful situations to consider that progress is likely to be much less distinctive sooner or later. Clearly, monetary establishments with substantial operations in Hong Kong should not prone to shut store and transfer elsewhere. However this isn’t actually the purpose. The purpose is that some actions may transfer elsewhere and with it might transfer the worth added, which incorporates the wage paid to the resident worker and the taxes paid on these wages, and the revenue. The problem dealing with Hong Kong is that there are few boundaries to many high-value actions transferring elsewhere. In contrast with difficult bodily provide chains, service sector actions incur decrease adjustment prices.
The stress to maneuver actions may very well be push and pull. The push may very well be companies finding actions in decrease price places, together with the mainland, as Hong Kong’s distinctive benefits akin to a monopoly in sure mainland-related monetary actions erode. The pull issue may very well be workers who want to work in different places on account of uncertainty concerning the new authorized framework (over 40% of respondents to the AmCham survey had been involved about expertise drain and staffing points.)
Even prosaic points akin to taxes may reduce incentives to work in Hong Kong–news that the mainland is clarifying its guidelines on international taxation may imply extra of its residents relocate from Hong Kong to decrease price Shenzhen. Both method, the extra that prime value-added duties relocate (or new duties are undertaken elsewhere), the better the downward stress on productiveness and progress.
As a easy thought experiment, if the expansion in actual monetary sector worth added halves from the close to 5% per 12 months over the previous decade to a still-respectable 2.5% this may immediately shave 0.5 proportion factors off annual progress. After all, there could be broader implications because the trade’s workers earn and spend much less within the home financial system, affecting the true property, transport, and providers sectors.
One counterargument to this view is that Hong Kong will stay the super-connector for a quickly rising China. This can be true however as China opens and develops its personal capability, one may additionally surprise if the world nonetheless wants an costly intermediary.
Hong Kong Will Face Stiff Competitors From The Higher Bay Space
China’s authorities has unveiled an formidable plan to combine the cities of Hong Kong, Macau, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Foshan, Zhongshan, Dongguan, Huizhou, Jiangmen, and Zhaoqing into an financial and enterprise hub. That is the “Higher Bay Space” (GBA). The GBA brings alternatives but additionally aggressive pressures for Hong Kong. Hong Kong could grow to be extra like different Chinese language cities however different Chinese language cities can even, from a monetary perspective, grow to be extra like Hong Kong.
Particularly, the GBA could threaten Hong Kong’s quasi-monopoly in some monetary providers as regulatory and capability gaps slim. First, integration over time will doubtless imply extra harmonization of guidelines and rules. Cross-border monetary actions which, till now, have solely been permitted in Hong Kong could more and more be allowed throughout the broader GBA.
Second, mainland monetary establishments will learn-by-doing and develop their very own capability to supply the extra complicated cross-border providers now supplied in Hong Kong, most definitely at a a lot cheaper price.
The logistics trade is already dispersing throughout the GBA. Shenzhen and Guangzhou have overtaken Hong Kong to grow to be the world’s third and fifth busiest container ports, respectively. The expansion in container dealing with in Shenzhen and Guangzhou has been brisk at a compound annual progress charge of two.6% and seven.1%, respectively, over the post-GFC interval. In distinction, Hong Kong now handles about 4.6 million fewer containers yearly in contrast with proper earlier than the GFC (see chart 3).
Hong Kong’s aggressive benefits won’t disappear in a single day. Nonetheless, many companies will repeatedly revisit the query of whether or not these benefits offset the upper prices concerned in working from Hong Kong.
Hong Kong Is Getting Outdated, Shortly, Including To Progress Strains
Hong Kong is ageing faster than nearly another financial system in Asia-Pacific. The working age population–which we outline as people aged between 15 and 65 years–grew by about 1% a 12 months via the last decade ending 2010. Partially, this was helped by migration inflows. Nonetheless, this inhabitants began shrinking in 2015.
Within the decade ending 2030, the United Nations tasks that this inhabitants will shrink by about 1% a 12 months and extra if internet migration is decrease than anticipated. With zero internet migration–that is, the variety of leavers balances out these arriving in Hong Kong–its working age inhabitants will shrink at charges comparable with Japan.
Hong Kong’s ageing is mirrored in it old-age dependency ratios. In 2015, there have been 5 individuals of working age for each individual aged 65 years or above. By 2035, the United Nations tasks that it will drop to simply two individuals per senior. This demographic headwind implies that employment will doubtless stagnate, at finest, for some years after which fall slowly.
In Our Baseline, Hong Kong’s Pattern Progress Will Fall To 1.1% By 2030
We assume Hong Kong’s development progress will fall all via the following decade and attain 1.1% by 2030, greater than halving from the estimated 2.7% in 2018. Incorporating a post-COVID cyclical restoration, this may imply the cumulative, annualized progress charge for the last decade via 2030 could be 2%, down from a 10-year progress charge of about 3.5% in 2015. We arrive at this determine by making assumptions about employment and labor productiveness which, in flip, mirror how shortly we expect Hong Kong’s specialness erodes over time.
Employment will stagnate, at finest. Certainly, our forecasts assume a better proportion of the working age inhabitants make themselves out there for work (the so-called participation charge) and this may occasionally offset a few of the inhabitants decline. Nonetheless, the participation charge is already excessive at 76% and it’s laborious to see it rising a lot additional. The present stage is comparable with participation charges in Korea or the eurozone, and better than the U.S. the place it’s round 63%.
We count on Hong Kong’s labor productiveness progress to fall to 1.2% in 2030 as perceptions of its distinctive comparative benefits are eroded over time and a few high-value duties within the monetary and import-export sectors are relocated or diverted to different places, together with mainland China. On the identical time, the share of much less productive sectors within the economy–such as tourism–will rise.
Chart 6 summarizes our projections in decade-long progress charges. Every a part of the bar reveals the contribution to adjustments within the variety of workers, how lengthy they work, and the way productive we count on them to be. Within the decade via 2030, we count on progress to be pushed fully by labor productiveness as each the overall variety of jobs and common hours labored stay unchanged.
A draw back situation may very well be an acute or continual deterioration in macroeconomic stability and prospects. In flip, we see the most definitely catalysts for every of those situations being monetary decoupling from the U.S. and a gradual, persistent rise in home coverage uncertainty, respectively.
Monetary decoupling is a continuum, starting from “sand within the wheels” that raises the price of some actions, to sanctions that freeze Hong Kong out of the U.S. greenback monetary system. After all, the U.S. financial system would additionally incur prices in limiting entry to its monetary system. These prices are growing, in a nonlinear method, alongside this continuum. In consequence, it appears cheap to imagine that the likelihood of a dramatic decoupling is low.
The likelihood of accelerating monetary friction shouldn’t be zero, nevertheless, and has certainly risen. The U.S. is reviewing Hong Kong’s particular standing and efforts to weaken Hong Kong’s position as a monetary heart would tighten monetary circumstances globally, in addition to in Hong Kong. Whereas the financial impression of such efforts may very well be very giant, at this level we see this as an excessive tail danger moderately than a believable draw back for the Hong Kong financial system.
A believable draw back for the financial system could be a gentle however persistent rise in perceptions of home coverage uncertainty. Perceptions of uncertainty could also be broad-based and would embody greater than macroeconomic and monetary insurance policies, together with Hong Kong’s delicate infrastructure.
To place some flesh on the bones, now we have assumed that on this draw back, Hong Kong’s labor productiveness would develop in keeping with probably the most technology-advanced giant financial system (which we take to be the U.S.) which suggests about 0.9% per 12 months. So Hong Kong’s productiveness progress continues to be good however not distinctive. We additionally assume that fewer folks come to Hong Kong to work and a few could go away for alternatives elsewhere–specifically, we use the United Nations’ zero internet migration inhabitants projections however saved assumptions concerning the participation charge unchanged. By 2030 on this reasonable draw back, Hong Kong’s development progress charge could be zero as labor productiveness progress is fully offset by declining employment.
Change Fee Implications Of Slowing Pattern Progress
Given the Hong Kong greenback peg’s contribution to financial and monetary stability, it’s pure to surprise what slowing productiveness and progress will imply for the change charge. We predict they are going to result in depreciation stress on the true change charge when measured towards all its buying and selling companions.
Over the long term, an financial system’s productiveness ought to assist decide the valuation of its actual change charge. As an financial system turns into much less productive than its buying and selling companions, its tradable items and providers will grow to be much less aggressive and its exterior stability (that’s, the present account) will deteriorate.
Its inside stability can even worsen as extra employees and capital that produce these items and providers stand idle. All else equal, to revive each exterior and inside stability to the financial system, its change charge versus its buying and selling companions, together with mainland China, must depreciate.
After all, the Hong Kong greenback peg implies that the nominal change charge is rigid. The Hong Kong greenback can transfer towards different currencies however solely to the extent that the U.S. greenback is transferring on the identical time. If the peg stays in place, as we count on, this implies the adjustment must occur via relative costs. With inflation very low in Hong Kong’s buying and selling companions, this most likely means deflation within the home financial system.
That is what occurred to Hong Kong after the Asian monetary disaster and SARS. Hong Kong’s actual change charge based mostly on relative unit labor costs–a measure of competitiveness–depreciated by nearly 60% between 1998 and 2008. Since bottoming out in 2012, this identical change charge has appreciated by about 40%. If Hong Kong’s productiveness progress benefit versus its buying and selling companions diminishes, then to take care of the identical stage of competitiveness, the change charge must depreciate extra (or admire much less) than in any other case. If the peg prevents the nominal change charge from adjusting a lot, then unit labor prices in Hong Kong have to say no in contrast with friends and relative wages will fall. In flip, it will weaken consumption and decrease inflation.
Between 1998 and 2005, Hong Kong suffered sustained deflation or falling client costs. Hong Kong’s financial system is extremely versatile with wages fast to regulate and this offers an vital help for the pegged change charge regime. On the identical time, although, it does imply greater actual rates of interest.
Hong Kong’s actual short-term rate of interest was considerably above its U.S. equal between 1998 and 2005. Certainly, round 2000, Hong Kong’s actual rate of interest reached 10% and was over 600 foundation factors greater than the U.S. equal. Greater actual rates of interest tighten monetary circumstances and would have adversarial implications for curiosity rate-sensitive sectors of the financial system (see chart 8).
 CBRE, June 27 2019, Six of the World’s 10 Most Costly Workplace Markets are in Asia. https://www.cbre.com.sg/about/media-centre/six-of-the-worlds-top-10-most-expensive-office-markets-are-in-asia
 Mercer, 2020 Price of Residing Survey, https://www.mercer.com.sg/newsroom/mercer-2020-cost-of-living-survey-sg.html
 Economist Intelligence Unit, Worldwide Price of Residing 2020, https://www.eiu.com/n/campaigns/worldwide-cost-of-living-2020/
 World Financial Discussion board, 2019, “International Competitiveness Report”.
 American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, “How is Hong Kong’s unrest affecting enterprise?” AmCham Temperature-Testing Survey, October, 2019.
 Monetary Instances, “Companies in Hong Kong Worry Collateral Injury from Safety Regulation,” July 2, 2020 https://www.ft.com/content material/b056cd9b-c3d3-42dc-a2e1-6a204ea25e85
 Wall Avenue Journal, “Massive Tech’s Stand on Hong Kong Regulation Reveals Wider Fears at Overseas Corporations,” July 7, 2020. https://www.wsj.com/articles/big-techs-stand-on-hong-kong-law-reveals-wider-fears-at-foreign-firms-11594139991
 Feenstra, Robert C. and Gordon Hanson, 2001, “Intermediaries in Entrepôt Commerce: Hong Kong Re-Exports of Chinese language Items,” NBER Working Paper 8088.
 American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, “Nationwide Safety Regulation and Hong Kong’s Particular Standing,” AmCham Temperature-Testing Survey, June, 2020.
 United Nations, World Inhabitants Prospects 2019.
 The Hong Kong Public Opinion Analysis Institute semi-annual survey carried out in February 2020 discovered that confidence in “One Nation, Two Programs” dropped to a -27 (a stability out of 100 of these assured much less people who had been assured).
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