Confidence survey paints grim picture for SAR and shows China bucking regional trend

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 July, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 20 July, 2001, 12:00am

Hong Kong consumer confidence has dropped significantly since earlier this year, while mainland consumers are more confident than ever before, according to MasterCard International's latest regional survey.

In its biannual MasterIndex survey of the Asia-Pacific region, MasterCard found Hong Kong consumer confidence had dropped 23 points to 44.2 from December last year and is the lowest Hong Kong MasterIndex in two years.

Under the survey, a score of 50 is a mid-point. The survey results show confidence levels expected in the next six months.

MasterCard's regional corporate services senior vice-president Stuart McDonald said yesterday the most significant drop for Hong Kong among the five variables used in the survey was for the stock market.

Mr McDonald said this variable previously held a score of 72.3 and is now at 33.3.

Similarly, the score for the economy is 42.6, 35 points lower than the previous 77.8.

However, Mr McDonald stressed the 40-odd point score for Hong Kong was not all doom and gloom.

'Hong Kong has been really affected by what is going on around it [the United States slowdown]. I think it's only natural that there is something of a concerned view.'

The MasterIndex, however, found China continued its ascent with a score of 79.1 being the highest for this market and the highest MasterIndex for the region.

'As with the previous December 2000 survey, China's latest results again buck the trend,' MasterCard said.

'Most mainland Chinese are particularly buoyant about quality of life, economy and regular income, with Shanghai consumers again exhibiting the most optimistic outlook for the next six months.'

Earlier this week, it was announced Chinese gross domestic product had grown 9.8 per cent to 2.97 trillion yuan (about HK$2.76 trillion) in the first half of the year.

For the region overall, Mr McDonald said the results were a mixed bag.

'They don't reveal any discernible, singular trend . . . and a lot of them are probably due to events taking place outside their own country, such as the US.'

Mr McDonald expects the survey to show the worst of consumer concern in the present economic cycle as MasterCard is confident the US will bounce back in the near term.

However, this also depended on the rate of internal change from regional governments.

For example, South Korea's confidence score has moved from marked pessimism in December to a much higher score.

The previous score of 25.9 to the present 54.5 was a move to cautious optimism, MasterCard said.

MasterCard economic adviser Yuwa Hedrick-wong said yesterday that in the case of Korea, the improvement was based on the development of small and medium enterprises since 1998 and the downsizing of the family-run conglomerates.

Mr Yuwa said the average number of small businesses registered per year up to 1998 was 4,000. In the 1999 to 2000 period, it was 20,000 per year.

'From that point of view, it's not surprising that Korea sentiment - despite the economic slowdown - is more positive,' he said.

'My point about Korea is that it has faced the same type of external conditions but has managed to improve because of the growth of the domestic sector.'

Elsewhere in the region, Australia registered an increase from 44.6 to 50.8, with Japan's score at a meagre 9.4 and Taiwan seeing a slight recovery to 23.8 from 21.6.

MasterCard undertook the survey in June in 13 countries involving 5,494 respondents.