Hong Kong brokers balk at short lunches

By Hanny Wan (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-08-16 15:28
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HONG KONG - Hong Kong stockbrokers may lose their traditional two-hour lunch break, the longest among the world's 20 largest markets, as the city's exchange seeks more business from the mainland.

Hong Kong Exchanges & Clearing Ltd, the operator of Asia's third-biggest stock market, will start consultations on the move that Chief Executive Officer Charles Li said would align the city more closely with the mainland. The stock exchange proposes trading begin a half hour earlier at 9:30 am with a one-hour break at noon, keeping the close at 4 pm, Li said in Hong Kong on Aug 11. Shanghai's trading hours run from 9:30 am to 3 pm with a 90-minute break between 11:30 am and 1 pm.

"God knows if that would mean ordering McDonald's for company lunch presentations," said Francis Lun, general manager at Fulbright Securities Ltd in Hong Kong. "No more long lunches at the Conrad or Shangri-La hotels."

The move comes seven years after the exchange withdrew an attempt to shorten the two-hour lunch break amid opposition from brokers. Li revealed the newest plan after the bourse announced a 3 percent increase in first-half profit. Hong Kong is competing with Shanghai to maintain its position as China's pre-eminent financial center and is anticipating a surge in demand from mainland investors as the mainland relaxes currency controls.

Hong Kong's bourse is ready for yuan-denominated products, which will start when the mainland's policy makers find a way to allow free inflow and outflow for the currency, Li said two days ago.

The exchange's three-year strategic plan released in March included plans for products such as yuan-denominated bonds to capitalize on the liberalization of the mainland's financial markets.

"Extending trading hours is a good call, particularly in terms of alignment with the mainland," said Steven Leung, director of institutional sales at UOB-Kay Hian Ltd in Hong Kong. A single hour for lunch "will be a little more rushed. We now have sufficient time for meetings with Hong Kong-based listed companies over lunch. But with that change, we'll probably need someone back in the office to cover for us and handle trading."

An average HK$61.8 billion ($8 billion) of shares traded daily this year in Hong Kong, exchange data show. That's compared with 105.6 billion yuan ($15.6 billion) in Shanghai, home to the bigger of the mainland's two stock exchanges.

Singapore Exchange Ltd, operator of the city state's derivatives and securities exchange, may scrap its 90-minute midday break altogether, Chief Executive Officer Magnus Bocker said on July 23. Eliminating the break could boost trading volumes by 8 to 10 percent, he said.

While extended hours allow more people in more time zones to access a given market, longer trading days don't necessarily lead to more stock changing hands, said Jesse Lentchner, chief executive officer of BTIG LLC's Asia Pacific operations.

"There is a core amount of trading that happens in a market and if you stretch that out, you lose a certain amount of heat," Lentchner said, referring to the intensity of market activity. "There is very little correlation between longer trading hours and trading volumes."

Deutsche Boerse AG, Europe's largest stock exchange by market value, shortened its trading hours in 2003 after lengthening the market day failed to boost business and riled equity traders. The Philippine Stock Exchange scrapped its afternoon session in October 2008 after an eight-month trial saw volumes fall and the key index tumble 26 percent.

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Hong Kong brokers balk at short lunches

Hong Kong brokers balk at short lunches