Economic confidence at new low, says poll
By DANNY GITTINGS
PUBLIC confidence in the economy has sunk to a historic low, with most people predicting things will get worse in the coming year.
And many fear they have little chance of quickly finding another job if they are made redundant.
The South China Morning Post's quarterly opinion survey reveals a mood of economic gloom unparalled even during the Gulf War or after the Tiananmen massacre.
Fifty-seven per cent believe the situation will worsen in the next 12 months - a drastic increase on the 41 per cent who expressed similar fears in the last survey in April. The mood was particularly pessimistic among professionals.
And only eight per cent of the people surveyed expect the economy to recover while most are gloomy about improving their personal financial position.
The Survey Research Hong Kong (SRH) telephone poll of 1,025 people, conducted from July 3 to July 7, also revealed political confidence had fallen to its lowest point since the immediate aftermath of the Beijing massacre.
But the sharpest drop was in the economic confidence index, which now stands at 76, down from 82 in April, and 91 in July 1994.
The latest figure is the lowest since SRH began its three-monthly surveys in January 1985, at which point the confidence level was 100. It is also far worse than the previous low of 81, during the Gulf War in January 1991, or the post-Tiananmen figure of 85 in June 1989.
Few respondents had illusions about their prospects if they lost their job in such a depressed climate. Forty per cent believe they would have little chance of finding work within three months - a figure which rose to 60 per cent among the over-40s - and a further 34 per cent gave themselves only a moderate chance. Twenty-nine per cent have witnessed sackings in their company over the past 12 months.
But the gloom has yet to reach the stage where most people fear for their jobs: 55 per cent were not at all worried they might be sacked, with only four per cent expressing strong concern this might happen.
Fears were significantly higher among blue-collar workers, especially those who were less well educated and who earned less.
But the pessimism is also not severe enough for most to fear their personal financial position will worsen over the next 12 months.
However, only 17 per cent expect it to improve - down from 21 per cent in April's survey - and 59 per cent expect their prospects to remain unchanged.
Confidence in the territory's future after 1997 also appears to have been dragged down by concern over the economy.
Despite warmer Sino-British relations, that have led to the recent agreements over the airport and Court of Final Appeal, the SRH political confidence index has fallen to 87 in the latest survey from 90 in April.
Although only marginally below the figure of 88, recorded in the surveys of April and October 1994, it is still the lowest the political confidence index has sunk since it hit 82 in June 1989, and remained at 86 for a further four months.
However, SRH researchers believe the latest figure may reflect the pessimism over the economy, rather than the political situation.
The only bright note is the increase in the SRH purchase intention index - which tracks willingness to make a major buy over the next three months. The recent survey put the figure at 87, up from April's historic low of 81.
However, SRH researchers caution this may be a seasonal change influenced by the recent slackening of inflation.