Hong Kong protests: food and beverage businesses post steepest fall in third quarter since 2003 Sars outbreak

Kanis Leung

Hong Kong’s food and beverage businesses posted the steepest fall in the third quarter of this year since the 2003 Sars outbreak due to the ongoing anti-government protests.

Receipts of the restaurant sector declined 11.7 per cent year on year to HK$26.4 billion between July and September, and decreased 10.6 per cent from the preceding quarter, the Census and Statistics Department data revealed on Tuesday.

A government spokesman said the sharp fall between July and September marked the steepest year-on-year decline since the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) outbreak hit Hong Kong in the second quarter of 2003.

Pacific Place shopping mall in Admiralty wears a deserted look. Photo: Nora Tam

“The plunge … mainly reflected severe disruptions to food and beverage businesses caused by local social incidents, while weak consumer sentiment amid subdued economic conditions also played a part,” he said.

The industry will continue to face an immense pressure in the near term amid ongoing violent protests and the subdued economic outlook, he said.

Carrie Lam points to protests as ‘root of problems’ as economy heads towards negative

The civil movement, triggered by the now-withdrawn extradition bill, has taken a heavy toll on Hong Kong economy since June, leading to a recession for the first time since the global financial crisis hit the city a decade ago.

On Sunday, Hong Kong finance chief warned of another cut in the city’s growth forecast from its already downgraded GDP growth prediction of between 0 and 1 per cent. Initially, the figure was estimated to be 2 to 3 per cent.

Last month, the city’s major fast-food chains Fairwood Holdings and Café de Coral Holdings issued a warning that their profit attributable to shareholders between April and September might record a decline.

David Leung Chi-wai, chairman of Seafood Delight Group, said revenues in some of its 12 restaurants located in Causeway Bay and Tsim Sha Tsui – which are also protest hotspots – dropped as much as 60 per cent in the months of September and October compared with the same period last year. Restaurants located in housing estates suffered a revenue loss of up to 20 per cent.

He said the early closure of the city’s railway service was another factor driving the fall.

Call for stronger measures to rescue Hong Kong economy

To save businesses, Seafood Delight Group started offering free shuttle bus services for guests attending wedding banquets, which further increased its operating cost, he said.

“The outlook is not positive. I hope calm returns soon,” he said.

“Food and beverage businesses are driven by sentiment.”

But even in this situation, some local eateries that shared the political stance of anti-government protesters saw their revenues go up significantly.

Let’s Jam boss Charles Yip, who had “Lennon Walls” in his two restaurants for guests to write pro-democracy comments on colourful Post-it stickers, said he recorded a 40 to 50 per cent surge in revenues in the third quarter year on year.

The revenue surge even hit 60 to 70 per cent in its Jordan branch during the same period, making it the restaurant’s best business session since it launched about four years ago, he said.

“Maybe it’s because we showed solidarity … more people got to know us,” he said.

He foresaw more bookings in his Jordan restaurant during Christmas.

“But if the government takes measures similar to imposing a curfew, that is beyond our control,” he said.

Police fire tear gas to disperse protesters in Mong Kok. Photo: Sam Tsang

Meanwhile, Hong Kong Purchasing Manager’s Index (PMI) dropped to 39.3 in October, down from 41.5 in the previous month, “signalling the worst deterioration in the health of the private sector since November 2008”, index compiler IHS Markit said on Tuesday.

The PMI is a measurement of economic performance based on indicators such as new orders, output, and employment. Any figure greater than 50 indicates an overall improvement in the economy.

“The ongoing political unrest and the impact of trade tensions saw business activity fall at the sharpest pace since the survey started more than 21 years ago,” Bernard Aw, principal economist at IHS Markit, said.

“As new orders continue to fall sharply, led by a record decline in demand from mainland China, firms are becoming increasingly pessimistic about the outlook.”

This article Hong Kong protests: food and beverage businesses post steepest fall in third quarter since 2003 Sars outbreak first appeared on South China Morning Post

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