Burdened by over five months of civil unrest, Hong Kong has fallen into a recession, the city's financial secretary said Sunday.
"The economy has entered a technical recession, and the negative growth rate has significantly expanded," Secretary Paul Chan wrote in a blog post. "The blow to our economy is comprehensive."
Chan added that official quarterly GDP figures would be released Thursday, but that preliminary analysis shows consecutive economic contractions. It will be "extremely difficult," he wrote, for Hong Kong to reach its previously forecasted growth rate.
The bleak report coincided with chaotic demonstrations over the weekend that saw shops set ablaze and petrol bombs thrown at police, who responded heavily with water cannons and tear gas. In a statement Monday, police said that protesters overstepped the "bottom line of any civilized society." Unrest in Hong Kong, which first broke in June in opposition to a proposed extradition bill, has escalated significantly in recent months as residents continue to protest China's growing influence over the city and call for more democratic rights.
Chan on Sunday called on demonstrators to keep order and allow industry and commerce to operate freely. "Our society and the economy need to take a breather and need to get back on the road," he wrote.
Police and protesters in Hong Kong on Sunday. Photo Credit: JEROME FAVRE/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
As a Chinese special administrative region since 1997, Hong Kong has enjoyed relative autonomy from Beijing in recent decades and has grown into one of the world's most significant financial and commercial hubs. In 2018, Hong Kong was home to the highest number of ultrawealthy ($30 million or more net worth) residents of any city in the world, according to Wealth-X's annual report. New York surpassed Hong Kong just slightly in 2019.
Earlier this month, Hong Kong's richest resident, Li Ka-shing, donated 1 billion Hong Kong dollars ($128 million) to support local business affected by the city's "unprecedented challenges."
"I hope that HK$1 billion donation will spark more support for the embattled [Small and Medium Enterprises]," Li said in a statement. "All suggestions are welcome and let's work together during these difficult times."
The Hong Kong government has also implemented a series of measures to help alleviate financial pains. Secretary Chan announced earlier this month a 19 billion Hong Kong dollar ($2.4 billion) relief package, which included significant rent reductions.
In announcing the recession Sunday, Chan cited plummeting tourism and retail sales figures. The number of visitors to Hong Kong fell by 37 percent in August and September, and by 50 percent in the first half of October. Tourism's decline constitutes an "emergency," Chan wrote. The decline of retail sales volume fell by 13.1 percent in July to 25.3 percent in August.
"We will continue to closely monitor the external economic situation and the political and economic situation in Hong Kong and try our best to further study the relief measures," Chan added in his Sunday blog post.
Investors, however, seem to be sticking with Hong Kong. The Hong Kong Stock Exchange's Hang Seng Index remains up more than 4 percent year-to-date.