Hong Kong protest boom for protection gear businesses begins to tumble

Businesses selling protection gear have enjoyed a boom in sales. (Reuters)
Updated 15 August 2019

Hong Kong protest boom for protection gear businesses begins to tumble

  • Behind the tear gas, flying bricks and transport disruptions there are bigger factors at play, such as shrinking global trade volumes and a slowdown in demand from mainland China

BEIJING: John Lam’s safety equipment shop has been spared the global downdraft shaking Hong Kong’s economy. In times of crisis, businesses providing basic necessities tend to fare better.
In Lam’s case, that means hard hats, filtered masks, goggles and other gear that millions of anti-government protesters taking to the streets in the past two months bought to protect themselves as clashes with police turned increasingly violent.
“Many people are willing to save a meal in order to buy some protective equipment, especially students,” Lam said inside his Shing Fat Safety Products shop in Yau Ma Tei, a working class commercial area of the city.
“Usually unnecessary items for civilians have become the necessity of the moment.”
Lam, who opposes the violence that has marked many of the protests, said sales had “doubled or tripled” since early June.
At times, he could not replenish stocks fast enough to meet demand. Some customers were buying 50 items at once. But lately, in a sign of saturation, demand has been easing. The reality of a slowing economy is also kicking in.
Behind the tear gas, flying bricks and transport disruptions there are bigger factors at play, such as shrinking global trade volumes and a slowdown in demand from mainland China.
Those trickle through into all aspects of the economy, including the construction industry — Lam’s core customer base.
“Although our business has improved lately, it does not mean that the economic downturn will not affect our business next month,” Lam said.
Indeed, the problems facing Hong Kong’s wide-open economy — which is expected to grind to a halt in coming quarters — run so deep that even those businesses whose products have been repurposed as protest paraphernalia are losing momentum.
Joe Chan, director of Many Stationery & Book Centre Co in the Sham Shui Po, a neighbourhood that has been the scene of protests and has been soaked in tear gas multiple times, said sales of Post-It notes are up 20 percent. Protesters have been using them to cover walls with part-art, part-political messages across the territory.
But his more important clients, event organisers who use stationery as promotion materials, are now few and far between. Overall, revenues are down 10 percent.
“This year they cancelled, or delayed,” Chan said, referring to orders.

FASTFACT

Hong Kong became a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China in 1997.

Emily Tam, store manager of Baleno, a clothing shop in Causeway Bay, said stocks of black T-shirts, the unofficial uniform of the protests, ran out on a daily basis in June and July.
But over the past two weekends, the shopping district witnessed violent clashes and barricaded roads. Her shop closed early and since then it has seen fewer customers.
“We’re getting close to the red line that means business losses,” Tam said.
Across the road, a seller surnamed Hui at a Watsons pharmacy says her store often runs out of cooling pads, surgical masks and other supplies that protesters use. But sales of other, more expensive items, such as cosmetics, are dropping.
“Surely we are also experiencing an overall economic downturn. And when there was tear gas, we shut the door,” Hui said.
The economy has become a focus for a public relations battle between authorities and protesters.
As a city-wide strike kicked off last week, government officials said protests were scaring high-end shoppers and tourists away, threatening growth.
Protesters are blaming the downturn on the fact that Hong Kongers have little control over public policy in the absence of universal suffrage.
They say the government spends too many resources on Beijing’s priorities, such as developing a “Greater Bay Area” around the Pearl River Delta, and it is not doing enough to solve income inequality and a housing shortage.
Chan Chi Ming, 60, at Shing Cheong Stationery & Books Ltd, in Sham Shui Po, agrees with the government. He is losing business and hopes police “arrest thousands.”
But Hungry Dino owner Tracy Tang sees it differently. She has been handing out discounted rice balls to young protesters after hearing some skipped dinner amid family feuds over their participation in the movement.
“If we say that the economic deterioration is all related to the protests, it is extremely unfair,” Tang said. “We should shift the question to why youngsters are sacrificing themselves.
“As Hong Kongers with a conscience, we feel heartbroken for what has happened in the past two months. It has already affected the economy. But we will still offer discounts and high-quality food to Hong Kong people.”


Economists fear a US recession in 2021

Updated 19 August 2019

Economists fear a US recession in 2021

  • Trump’s higher budget deficits ‘might dampen the economy’

WASHINGTON: A number of US business economists appear sufficiently concerned about the risks of some of President Donald Trump’s economic policies that they expect a recession in the US by the end of 2021.

Thirty-four percent of economists surveyed by the National Association for Business Economics, in a report being released Monday, said they believe a slowing economy will tip into recession in 2021. 

That’s up from 25 percent in a survey taken in February. Only 2 percent of those polled expect a recession to begin this year, while 38 percent predict that it will occur in 2020.

Trump, however, has dismissed concerns about a recession, offering an optimistic outlook for the economy after last week’s steep drop in the financial markets and saying on Sunday, “I don’t think we’re having a recession.” A strong economy is key to the Republican president’s 2020 reelection prospects.

The economists have previously expressed concern that Trump’s tariffs and higher budget deficits could eventually dampen the economy.

The Trump administration has imposed tariffs on goods from many key US trading partners, from China and Europe to Mexico and Canada. 

Officials maintain that the tariffs, which are taxes on imports, will help the administration gain more favorable terms of trade. But US trading partners have simply retaliated with tariffs of their own.

Trade between the US and China, the two biggest global economies, has plunged. Trump decided last Wednesday to postpone until Dec. 15 tariffs on about 60 percent of an additional $300 billion of Chinese imports, granting a reprieve from a planned move that would have extended duties to nearly everything the US buys from China.

The financial markets last week signaled the possibility of a US recession, adding to concerns over the ongoing trade tensions and word from Britain and Germany that their economies are shrinking.

The economists surveyed by the NABE were skeptical about prospects for success of the latest round of US-China trade negotiations. Only 5 percent predicted that a comprehensive trade deal would result, 64 percent suggested a superficial agreement was possible and nearly 25 percent expected nothing to be agreed upon by the two countries.

The 226 respondents, who work mainly for corporations and trade associations, were surveyed between July 14 and Aug. 1. That was before the White House announced 10 percent tariffs on the additional $300 billion of Chinese imports, the Chinese currency dipped below the seven-yuan-to-$1 level for the first time in 11 years and the Trump administration formally labeled China a currency manipulator.

As a whole, the business economists’ recent responses have represented a rebuke of the Trump administration’s overall approach to the economy.

Still, for now, most economic signs appear solid. Employers are adding jobs at a steady pace, the unemployment rate remains near a 50-year low and consumers are optimistic. US retail sales figures out last Thursday showed that they jumped in July by the most in four months.