Jan. 13 - HK's stock market traders protest another planned reduction in their lunch break, saying it does not increase business or volumes. Arnold Gay reports.
It isn't about political freedom, or pay, but a long held tradition among Hong Kong's traders and securities industry - the lunch break. The 2-hour break was cut to 90 minutes last year, and will be further reduced to one hour by March, a move the Hong Kong Stock Exchange says is crucial to boost its competitiveness. These protesters obviously don't agree. Hong Kong's securities employees chief Patrick Lam, says the shorter lunch hour will hurt the local economy, particularly the restaurant industry, with no significant increase in trading volumes or their business. (SOUNDBITE)(English) PATRICK LAM, PRESIDENT OF THE HONG KONG SECURITIES AND FUTURES EMPLOYEES UNION, SAYING: "The famous financial centres, it's not dependent on the time. Because we can see the past history, we have a huge amount of turnover, and just in a few years time; so I think it's unreasonable." Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Chairman, Ronald Arculli, accepted a petition from Lam, but defends the move as crucial for the industry's survival. (SOUNDBITE)(English) HONG KONG STOCK EXCHANGE CHAIRMAN, RONALD ARCULLI, SAYING: "Obviously, with the economic situation being what it is, we never introduced this reform on trading hours with a view to increasing trading volume. But if we did not do it, I fear we would lose some competitive edge to our competitive rivals." Some brokers say the longer hours mean they will need to hire more people at a time when transaction volumes are low. Hong Kong faces competition from Shanghai which wants to become a global financial centre by 2020. Shanghai's stock exchange currently opens at 9.30 am and closes at 3:00 pm, with a 90-minute lunch break. Rival Singapore's trading hours are the longest among major bourses in Asia, operating from nine to five with no lunch break. Hong Kong and China shares suffered their biggest annual loss in 2011 since the 2008 financial crisis on growing concerns over the outlook for China and deepening global economic uncertainty. Arnold Gay, Reuters