Warning bells sound amid trampling bulls

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 January, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 January, 1994, 12:00am

THE real story of economic performance is not told only through the big figures. Sometimes, it's the little things that mean a lot.

Last year saw a steady easing in some of the key numbers relating to re-exports and direct exports, which have set some bells ringing.

These have been largely drowned out by the roar of money flooding in and chasing stocks.

Yesterday, another tinkle. But once again, the bulls will have been listening to the louder sounds coming from the latest survey of business confidence.

This showed that the feel-good factor appears to be stronger than ever, following the influx of funds which have fuelled optimism in property, manufacturing and financial sectors.

So why worry about the fact that travel agents, of all people, are complaining about a decline in customers? For the past four months, Hong Kongers - surely the most active travellers in the world - have been staying at home in increasing numbers. Not only holiday-makers, but also the corporate clients.

Strange. When you are feeling good, surely it's time to head off to Bali, New York or St Moritz for a bit of self-indulgence.

And since when did anyone do more business by staying at home? The opinion of one travel agent, that workers in Hong Kong were travelling less because they did not feel so secure in their manufacturing jobs, is another apparently strange reaction when the latest jobless figure showed, once again, that there were virtually none.

Indeed, last week the figures showed evidence of soaring vacancies in the market.

With workers being chased, and salaries still going up by 10 per cent plus, it is also strange that retailers should have told Knight-Ridder that business was very lumpy.

First a super performance up to Christmas, and then a slump, leaving the whole picture less than satisfactory.

Spending on travel and toys is extremely marginal, but that, of course, is always the first to be cut.

That the laws of supply and demand are firing up property is not in doubt, nor is the roll on which the financial sector finds itself, but perhaps the fact that some of the colours in Hong Kong's economic kaleidoscope are dulled should be inspiring some deeper probing into the state of the real economy.