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US rate hikes strain HK’s virus-weakened economy

HONG KONG (AFP) – Recent rate hikes from the Federal Reserve have come at a bad time for Hong Kong which, thanks to its US dollar peg, must follow suit despite its own flagging economy.

Hong Kong has pegged its currency to the US dollar since 1983, which has helped the city weather economic storms such as the 1997 Asian financial crisis and underpinned its status as a major global finance hub.

But it also means Hong Kong has little choice but to follow the Fed’s latest round of hawkish rate hikes – the biggest of its kind in 22 years.

“The COVID outbreak in Hong Kong and in mainland China is already hurting growth,” senior economist at Oxford Economics Lloyd Chan told AFP. “The last thing that Hong Kong needs now is a rising interest rate.”

The city on Friday revised its 2022 GDP growth forecast down to between one and two per cent, after a worse-than-expected four-per-cent drop in the first quarter.

Financial Secretary Paul Chan wrote last week that Hong Kong was now facing a reversal of the low interest rate environment it had enjoyed for more than a decade.

“As the economy has not yet fully recovered from the epidemic, we have to pay attention to the impact of interest rate hike… (on) people and small and medium enterprises,” he wrote on his offi-cial website.

A man walks past Exchange Square in Hong Kong. PHOTO: AFP