Amid Ongoing Protests, 7,000 Hong Kong Retailers Expected to Close Stores

Ella Chochrek

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Hong Kong retailers are bracing for troubles ahead, as six months of ongoing anti-government protests continue to rock the territory’s economy.

Nearly all companies (97%) surveyed in a report released this week by the Hong Kong Retail Management Association say they have experienced losses since citywide protests started, with 57% indicating severe drops in revenue.

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More struggles await in the new year, according to HKRMA. Eleven percent of respondents anticipated having to close retail locations within the next month. If these numbers hold true across Hong Kong, HKRMA estimates that 7,000 retail locations out of 64,000 registered would be shuttered. Heavy layoffs are also expected, with 30% of businesses responding that they will be forced to make cuts (on average by 10%) in the next six months if conditions hold or worsen. This would mean more than 5,600 retail workers being laid off over the half-year ahead.

Hong Kong in October entered its first recession in a decade, reporting a 3.2% reduction in gross domestic product for the third quarter compared to the second quarter. Retail sales took a dive, sliding 25% year over year for October. Experts say this decline was caused in part by tourists staying away; per the Hong Kong Tourism Board, tourism dropped by 43.7% for October 2019 compared with October 2018.

The slide in tourism, experts suggest can be partially attributed to a decline in visitors from mainland China, many of whom have historically come to the island to shop high-end brands. Luxury is among the categories most impacted, as analysts estimate that Hong Kong accounts for 5% to 10% of global sales in the category.

As protests rage on amid the crucial holiday season, HKRMA chairman Annie Tse expects to see similar or worse drops compared with October.

Tse called for support from HK landlords, advising that retailer rents be reduced as they grapple with cash flow issues. Eighty percent of retailers surveyed by the HKRMA reported insufficient rent relief, with 40% of companies suggesting a half-off reduction would be appropriate.

The Hong Kong Retail Management Association conducted its study from Oct. 29 through Nov. 22, surveying 176 companies operating 4,310 stores.

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