Jobless rate climbs for fourth month

Top News | Avery Chen and Bloomberg 19 Feb 2020

Hong Kong's unemployment rate rose 0.1 percentage points to 3.4 percent for the November to January period, the highest level since 2016, as businesses struggled from the anti-government protests and from the disruption caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

The figure was 3.3 percent in the October to December period.

The jobless rate climbed for a fourth straight month although the data did not reflect the full impact of shutdowns from the coronavirus outbreak, which emerged toward the end of January.

The underemployment rate remained unchanged at 1.2 percent in the two periods.

The employment situation in sectors related to consumption and tourism - including retail, accommodation and food services - remained "difficult," according to Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong.

The unemployment rate of the related sectors combined was 5.2 percent, the highest in more than three years, while employment continued to fall sharply on a year-on-year basis.

Meanwhile, the unemployment rate of the construction sector increased further to 5.7 percent, the highest level in close to six years, and that of the import-export trade and wholesale sector deteriorated.

Law warned the local labor market will be subject to more pressure in the near term, as the threat of the virus outbreak has already caused severe disruptions to a wide range of economic activities lately, particularly the sectors related to consumption and tourism.

Total employment decreased by around 14,600 to 3.8 million in the November to January period.

Over the same period, the labor force dropped by around 16,300 to 3.93 million.

The number of unemployed persons fell by 1,700 to 122,300, while the number of underemployed persons was 47,300, slightly higher than the previous period.

In related news, Hotel Pennington by Rhombus in Causeway Bay will reportedly close down and lay off all staff at the end of March. The landlord is poised to change the property use of the hotel into an office building.

Hong Kong's economy last year fell into its first annual recession since 2009 as months of often violent protests put pressure on employers in the services industries, including restaurants, bars, travel agencies, hotels and shopping malls.

Visitor arrivals, especially from the mainland, evaporated amid the anti-government protests. Further declines are expected this month, with little travel to Hong Kong and China because of the virus outbreak.

The growing economic pain may lead to a record budget deficit in the next fiscal year, Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po said. Chan is set to unveil his budget next Wednesday.

avery.chen@singtaonewscorp.com

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