HK now a stronger global financial hub

Thriving: The Cheung Kong Centre which houses the Goldman Sachs offices in the Central district of Hong Kong. Since the national security law in Hong Kong took effect last year, a sequence of positive changes has taken shape. — Bloomberg

HONG KONG: Hong Kong remains a competitive and attractive financial centre, Nicolas Aguzin, chief executive of Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Limited (HKEX), has said.

“It is home to open, globalised and transparent markets, robust infrastructure, internationally-aligned regulatory regimes, the rule of law, the free flow of information and capital, and a deep pool of talent,” said Aguzin, who joined HKEX in May after working in Hong Kong for nine years at JPMorgan.

From investors to businesses, stakeholders have been more optimistic since the national security law in Hong Kong took effect on June 30, 2020.

A sequence of positive changes has taken shape. There was neither a capital flight nor exodus of foreign firms, and quite the opposite, major global financial institutions, including Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, have maintained or planned to increase their presence here.

“The law has proved effective in restoring law and order and guaranteeing a stable and predictable environment, where investment is protected and companies feel more secure to operate,” said Liang Haiming, a Hong Kong-based economist.

Figures do not lie. Over HK$300bil (US$38.6bil or RM163bil) flowed into Hong Kong from July to October 2020, and there was also a capital net influx for the whole of 2020.

As one of the major bourses in the world, HKEX witnessed an over-50% year-on-year increase in initial public offering fund-raising in 2020, while assets under management here amounted to nearly HK$35 trillion (US$4.5 trillion or RM18.99 trillion), up 21% from the year before.

The International Monetary Fund recently reaffirmed Hong Kong’s status as an international financial centre, citing its resilient financial system as well as the policies and regulatory frameworks. Hong Kong was also the third-largest recipient of foreign direct investment last year, according to a report released by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.

As a gateway to the mainland, Hong Kong has over the past decades thrived on the rapid growth of the world’s second-largest economy and become one of the most prosperous regions in the Asia Pacific.

Hong Kong’s success largely hinges upon “one country, two systems,” said Charles Li, a renowned banker who worked for big financial institutions including HKEX, JPMorgan and Merrill Lynch, respectively, over the last two decades.

While foreign investors here find better access to the enormous and ever-expanding mainland market, mainland companies see Hong Kong as a springboard for their global journey and a superior fund-raising platform.

Over the past years, Hong Kong’s closer financial ties with the mainland, which feature bond and stock trading programmes, have cemented its status. At the end of 2020, mainland enterprises accounted for more than half the companies listed here and held 80% of aggregate market capitalisation.

“The more integration, the more benefits,” said Hong Hao, chief researcher at Bocom International.

While many parts of the world are still struggling with Covid-19, Hong Kong has bounced back thanks to a fast-recovering mainland economy.

Paul Chan, financial secretary of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) government, highlighted opportunities brought by a new five-year plan of the country, the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area and the Belt and Road Initiative.

“The HKSAR government has strong confidence and ability to fully utilise Hong Kong’s unique advantages and competitiveness, and grasp the enormous opportunities... leading Hong Kong’s economy to prosperity,” he said.

Responding to a recent United States government warning about doing business in Hong Kong, American businessman Jim Thompson, who has operated a business in Hong Kong for 55 years, said the US intervention was pointless.

“Most of us think it’s a ridiculous and unnecessary effort on the part of the United States. We don’t need a warning from US President Joe Biden or his advisers because we know what we’re doing,” said Thompson, chairman of logistics company Crown Worldwide Group. — XinhuaWhile the US has imposed sanctions on Hong Kong over the past year, including freezing assets of its officials and revoking its special trade status, Hong Kong is largely unscathed. Most businesses here remain unchanged.

The American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong said Hong Kong is still a critical facilitator of trade and financial flow between the East and West, and it has a crucial role to play as an international business hub.

Hong Kong has one of the best infrastructures in Asia, an internationally-recognised system of commercial law, and a more open and sophisticated digital infrastructure than many of its Asian peers, the chamber said.

After doing business here for decades, Thompson remains a staunch believer in Hong Kong.

“Businesses like to operate in a stable environment, with a fair rule of law and a non-corrupt and safe operating atmosphere to have comfort,” Thompson said as he welcomed the restoration of stability by the national security law.

“There is no better place in Asia to operate the regional office of a multinational than Hong Kong,” he said.

Hong Kong “has always had a very strong heartbeat and that beat remains very strong today,” said the businessman.

In 2020, some 9,000 overseas and mainland companies operate in Hong Kong, over 40% of which have their regional headquarters or offices here. Business registrations also grew steadily in the first half of this year, adding to evidence of investors’ confidence in Hong Kong. - Xinhua/ANN

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