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Hong Kong protests

Hong Kong economy takes a beating as protests reach 80 days

Asia's financial hub sees just one IPO in August while tourism declines

Protesters clash with police in Hong Kong on Aug. 25. The demonstrations have continued for longer than the pro-democracy Umbrella Movement in 2014.   © Reuters

HONG KONG/SHANGHAI -- Protests in Hong Kong crossed the 80-day mark on Tuesday with no end in sight, dealing a heavy blow to a wide range of economic activities in the city from stock debuts to tourism.

The demonstrations, triggered in June by a controversial extradition bill, have now surpassed the length of the pro-democracy Umbrella Movement in 2014. But protesters and Hong Kong's government remain miles apart, jeopardizing the city's status as a key Asian financial hub and damaging its role as a bridge between the mainland and the rest of the world.

Hong Kong's stock market has been hit particularly hard. After leading the world in initial public offerings during 2018, the exchange has hosted only one debut so far in August. The city could fall to a six-year low in 2019, according to financial information company Shanghai DZH.

Anheuser-Busch InBev's Asia unit decided in July to halt a planned Hong Kong IPO, following a similar move in June by logistics property developer ESR Cayman. The benchmark Hang Seng Index has fallen 8% this month alone.

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding now looks to delay an expected August debut in Hong Kong to autumn or later as Beijing condemns the protests.

"A listing by Alibaba, a quintessential Chinese company, would benefit Hong Kong," a Shanghai-based think tank said.

Equity financing, an indicator for the level of activity in a capital market, sank in August to less than 20% of the monthly January-July average.

The financial sector has been on edge since protesters stormed Hong Kong International Airport earlier this month, sparking extensive flight cancellations. One brokerage temporarily discouraged staffers from traveling, given the possibility of physical harm.

The number of visitors to Hong Kong halved on the year between Aug. 15 and Aug. 20, the period immediately after the airport resumed operations, the city government said.

Tourism and retail face pressure as well, as demonstrators turn their ire against not only Hong Kong's government but mainland Chinese tourists as well. A crowd gathered in the Hung Hom district on Aug. 17, chanting: "Take back Hong Kong!" Buses carrying mainland visitors in the area had resulted in complaints about traffic and noise levels.

Many restaurants and hotels have seen earnings plummet as group tours disappear. A room at Marco Polo Hongkong, popular among mainlanders, costs roughly one-third of its regular rate online at under 1,000 yuan ($140) a night.

About 80% of visitors to Hong Kong come from mainland China.

"July and August is usually our peak season, but it ended up being extremely slow because of the protests," said Wong Ka-ngai, chairman of the Hong Kong Tour Guides General Union.

Jewelry and cosmetics sales have fallen, suffering also from the mainland's economic slowdown amid the U.S.-China trade war.

Long-term protests could hurt employment in Hong Kong as well. Property developer CK Asset Holdings told employees at 10 subsidiary hotels to take three days of unpaid leave between late August and September. JW Marriott Hotel Hong Kong also urged workers to use vacation days in August and September.

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