Hong Kong in recession as protests slam retailers, tourism

HONG KONG (AP) — Steps from Hong Kong’s main tourist strip, Ashfaqur Rahman’s tailor shop usually is a mainstay for tourists dropping in to peruse neatly arranged rolls of fabric and get measured for custom-made suits.

Not anymore.

Business has nosedived since anti-government protests began in early June in the Asian financial centre.

Yesterday, the government said Hong Kong’s economy shrank 3.2 per cent in July-September from the previous quarter, pushing the city into a technical recession. The economy contracted 0.5 per cent in April-June on a quarterly basis.

That makes two straight quarters of contraction.

A salesman waits for customers at a cosmetic shop in a shopping district in Hong Kong on Wednesday. Business has plunged in Hong Kong’s shopping districts after more than four months of protests. The government announced yesterday that the city is in a technical recession after it contracted for a second straight quarter. PHOTO: AP

The once-common lines of Chinese shoppers outside Hong Kong’s glittering luxury stores are gone. Jewelry stores have no customers and related businesses like transportation are also languishing.

Rahman said his monthly sales have tumbled 80 per cent from an average of HKD200,000 (USD25,500) in better times.

His shop is tucked away in a passage off Nathan Road in the Tsim Sha Tsui district, which teems with luxury hotels and upscale jewellery and fashion boutiques set against the stunning backdrop of Victoria Harbour.

But on recent weekends the neighbourhood has become a protest battle zone, with black-clad demonstrators clashing late into the night with riot police unleashing tear gas and water cannon.

“This is the worst we’ve seen,” said Rahman, a Bangladeshi immigrant who opened the shop 14 years ago. Sales now barely cover rent and he and his business partner are dipping into their own pockets to pay the salaries of their five staff. He’s not sure they’ll be able to carry on if there’s no resolution to the increasingly violent protests.

Restaurant managers, watch shop owners and jewellery salespeople across the district echoed the sentiment. In jeweller Tiffany’s massive showroom, there were at least 10 salespeople and no customers on a recent afternoon.

Yesterday’s data underlined the problem, showing the city has slipped into an economic recession after contracting for a second straight quarter. The forecast for the year is for a contraction.

On Wednesday, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam warned of the bad news to come.

“The increasingly violent reality since June is hurting Hong Kong’s economy,” Lam said. Retail, catering, transport and other tourism-related industries have borne the brunt, she said.

Visitor numbers fell by 50 per cent in the first half of October, usually a lucrative time because of a weeklong Chinese holiday.

Retail sales fell by a quarter in August, the steepest annual drop on record.