Behind the curtain︰If disinvestment surfaces, Yau Tang-wah can’t strain himself anymore

Published (HKT): 2021.01.30 09:23

The Financial Times in the UK reported the other day that the Securities and Futures Commission, the Monetary Authority, the Financial Services and the Treasury Bureau and Financial Services Development Council of Hong Kong phoned fund managers and bankers to inquire about their decisions about and timing of quitting Hong Kong, and pointed out what the four major institutions have been doing is rarely seen. A source from the financial industry indicated that even though Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau Tang-wah alleged he didn’t see a significant number of corporates withdrawing from Hong Kong, “the fact is big financial institutions are leaving”, and these are only visible instances. It means there are companies departing in a low-profile and even invisible manner. “When the impact surfaces – i.e., it poses a threat to Hong Kong as an international financial center, any remedy will be too late.”

Financial industry: quite a number of corporates have quit Hong Kong in a low-profile manner

The source also said in fact economic news in Japan covered as early as the end of last year that investment management firms from the US such as Baring and Vanguard Group, and investment advisor Motley Fool had been exiting from Hong Kong one after another. Up to June last year, 52 banks and financial institutions, and 24 insurance companies in total had left the city. The news reports also cited official data indicating that until June last year, the total number of offices set up in Hong Kong by non-local companies, inclusive of those with headquarters in China, had decreased by 0.2% year on year, which had been the first decline since 2009. If Chinese enterprises were excluded, the margin would be 2.8%. “So, Yau Tang-wah’s claim that he didn’t see ‘a significant number’ of corporates withdrawing from Hong Kong is just sophistry.”

Actually, besides companies pulling out, quite some corporates took themselves off in a low-profile and even invisible manner in order not to catch anyone’s attention politically. “On the one hand, some corporates worried that the political risk would be too high; on the other hand, they were afraid of inviting trouble if they went away in a high-profile manner. So, they relocated their headquarters’ functions and personnel to Singapore and the mainland businesses to their offices in Shanghai. While they still have offices in Hong Kong in name only, the management teams have already been settled in Singapore. If there is any contingency, they will still be able to disinvest from Hong Kong.” That’s why he said the impact concerned has not yet “surfaced”. “Perhaps the watchdogs have sniffed out something before taking the actions. However, those who have decided to leave will leave. After all, Hong Kong is still a city where free flow of capitals is allowed. If the risk can be lowered by simply going away, there is no reason why one should stay.”

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