'Busy looking for masks': financiers worry about the virus, Hong Kong prepares for business slowdown

HONG KONG: Temporary relocation for families and facial masks were two of the main problems of financial professionals in Hong Kong, as they began their first full work week, after the Lunar New Year holidays, under the shadow of a coronavirus rapid spread

I am not in the city and will not return until things become normal, said a senior capital market banker (ECM).

Financial firms in Hong Kong have said or allowed staff to work from home as part of broader precautions against the virus, which can be transmitted from person to person, has claimed 361 lives in mainland China and has spread to about two dozen others. of countries.

In many cases, they have also asked workers to return from the mainland, where the coronavirus originated, to quarantine for up to two weeks.

The loss of personnel, whether due to the virus itself, or the lack of willingness of staff to enter, is a real problem. Plans for telecommuting should be implemented and tested, said Harry Rhulen, executive director of the New York-based consultant CrisisRisk. .

The additional precaution would be another blow to Hong Kong, whose economy and market have already suffered protests in favor of democracy for months and the trade war between the United States and China.

Initial public offers, other stock sales and bond agreements, the daily bread of investment bankers, generally take at least a week to start after the New Year's holiday, but negotiators now fear a longer pause. .

It is definitely not the usual business for us or our clients, and our focus now is to make sure that the things that were in the pipeline are executed in some way, said a senior commercial banker from a large European bank.

Meetings canceled

An Australian-based lawyer said he rejected a request for a meeting in Hong Kong for fear he could not return. Australia has prohibited entry to travelers from the mainland, but not to those in Hong Kong. The Philippines has included the city in its ban on travelers from China.

All people spoke with Reuters on condition of anonymity since their firms were not authorized to discuss the issue.

A Hong Kong-based private equity executive said he had canceled all of his meetings.

Anyway, my priority is not really in (business). I am more concerned about the shortage of (facial) masks, he said.

As far as I know, investment teams in other companies are busy looking for masks. They are not looking for any project at this time, he added.

Schools closed

Concerns about the spread of the coronavirus erased about $ 400 billion of the value of China's shares as markets reopened after the holidays.

Reflecting the general sadness, the cafes in the compact central business district of Hong Kong were remarkably quieter on Monday, according to baristas and customers.

Many expatriate professionals have sent their families away, as they observe the threat of new travel bans.

Hong Kong has closed all schools until March 2.

There is nothing (for them) to do with schools and all closed sports and cultural facilities, and no one wants their children to mingle on game dates, said a banker whose family was gone.