Family offices and wealthy investors focused on and based in Asia say the ongoing protests in Hong Kong may have impacted the special administrative region’s status as a safe haven in the region.
Sparked by an extradition bill introduced by the Hong Kong legislature earlier this year, the protests have been ongoing since March and have recently taken an ugly turn. More than 2,100 have been injured and authorities have arrested 748 people, according to reports by the BBC and Hong Kong Free Press.
The turmoil has impacted capital markets. Data from Refinitiv shows that real estate companies have lost a total of HKG $446 (US $56.9 billion) in value since April. The country’s 10 richest people saw their wealth decline by $19 billion since July 23, with Hong Kong’s richest man, property mogul Li Ka-shing, losing roughly 9% of his fortune.
For Bharat Bhise, Chief Executive Officer at Bravia Capital Partners, the financial flight is symptomatic of a larger trend in the region. “I’m a businessman, not a politician, so I can’t make political judgments,” he says. “But in 2015, it was apparent that the business environment was becoming less favorable.”
Between 2009 and 2016, Bravia’s exposure to Hong Kong accelerated from near zero to more than 90%. However, it soon decided to mitigate its exposure. “In 2015, I foresaw what was likely to be a likely political crisis that would affect the financial markets, and decided to move investment operations away from Hong Kong to London,” says Bhise.
Other firms have reportedly abandoned Hong Kong in favor of its closest Asian rival, Singapore. “For the past few years most family offices and high-net-worth individuals have already decided to set up in Singapore instead of Hong Kong,” says Eric Wong of TCG Capital, a multi-family office based in Hong Kong. TCG has been investing in Hong Kong’s passive, legacy real estate and equities since 2003 and has managed a local broker-dealer business known as Celera since 2012.
When asked if the ongoing protests had damaged Hong Kong’s brand as a safe haven for investors, Wong said: “In the short term yes, but in the long term the broader currents of China’s opening up and the trade war may do more real damage.”
Mr. Bhise has similar concerns. “China’s $11 trillion economy is a serious force that weighs on the region heavily.” He believes the ongoing trade war and economic issues may surface investment opportunities, but only for those with a personal link to the region. “However, if you don’t have personal links or an established network [in Hong Kong], I wouldn’t recommend relying on an unknown third party to invest there at the moment.”
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