Consumers take stock of their spending amid market turmoil

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 19 September, 2008, 12:00am

The financial and emotional roller-coaster ride that sent investors running for cover yesterday brought back memories of the 1998 Asian financial crisis as a pall descended on consumers and tourists in Hong Kong.

With stock markets in a tailspin, taxi rides are increasingly a luxury, shoppers are becoming window-shoppers and well-heeled diners are feeling the pinch.

Compared to previous weeks, this week's business was relatively weaker at the dining tables of Fook Lam Moon Restaurant, a favourite Wan Chai haunt of tycoons, although its private rooms continued to be popular, a spokesman said.

Just last year, a banquet for 10 tables featuring abalone at Fook Lam Moon resulted in a bill for HK$900,000. However, this price was surpassed by the HK$100,000 per table the restaurant charged at the height of the property market boom in the 1990s.

In Causeway Bay, Fu Ho Restaurant, which serves shark's fin and seafood delicacies, is packed at lunchtimes but has seen some very quiet evenings. About half of its private rooms were booked last night. Dinner service had been relatively quiet since the Olympics and the stock market turmoil might be partly to blame, a spokesman said.

Some taxis, too, reported spartan business. Looking for a fare along Gloucester Road yesterday, driver Terry Chui said his business was down by at least 10 per cent over the past few days. He said taxi drivers could normally expect between HK$800 and HK$1,000 a day in business, keeping about half that, but that earnings had now shrunk by a half.

Business was not much better at some top retailers. Ms Kwan, who handles sales at a luxury jewellery and watch shop, said the number of customers had fallen by at least half in the past few days because of the slump in the stock market.

'Those who used to purchase luxury goods have disappeared. No matter whether they are mainlanders or Russian tourists, they are all affected by the recent economic turmoil.'

Ms Kwan said most people visiting the shop were window-shoppers.

Having been in the industry for 15 years, Ms Kwan said she had experienced other financial crises but that this one was the worst.

'It's horrible. I feel that the business is worse than when Sars hit Hong Kong. Sales have dropped drastically,' Ms Kwan said. If the situation continues, she said she was worried her income would be affected as half of it was based on sales commissions.