Cloud over job market lifts (just look at the smog)

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 September, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 11 September, 2009, 12:00am

Signs of a rebound in the job market mean Hong Kong's economy is showing more 'green shoots', even if some positive signals may come in a shade of brown.

Banks and property agents are hiring again, employment advertising is rising, and even the pollution levels in Central have returned to growth - all signs the economy is getting back on track faster than many had predicted.

In July unemployment rose to a four-year high of 5.4 per cent. Now employers expect net hiring will increase by 3 per cent in the final three months of the year after six months of decline, a Manpower survey of 815 employers shows. Those in the services sector expect to do the most hiring - boosting net employment by a seasonally adjusted 6 per cent; shops, insurers and the finance and property sectors expect a 3 per cent rise.

The survey is one of several indicators suggesting Hong Kong is bouncing back from the financial crisis. The economy technically emerged from a year-long recession in the three months to June 30.

Even air quality - or rather a deterioration in it - appears to be pointing towards increased economic activity. In a note published yesterday subtitled 'Pollution - reassuringly bad!', Goldman Sachs economist Michael Buchanan said analysis of air pollution data in Central for pointers to the prospects of economic recovery had produced striking results. Pollution levels dropped 'meaningfully' below 2008 levels in the first quarter but since April had returned to last year's levels and in the past month or so had surpassed the levels of a year ago.

'We would not suggest this is the most reliable measure of activity in the exporting regions across the border. However, it does suggest there is little evidence ... to cast doubt on the recovery,' Buchanan wrote.

In addition to the employers' survey, forward-looking indicators suggest the job market is tipped for a rebound. The number of job advertisements in Hong Kong rose by 9.1 per cent between the first and second quarters, according to recruiting firm Robert Walters. However, both job postings and the number of potential employers for university students were down by nearly one-fourth year on year in the June-to-August period.

Even so, if the early indicators prove accurate, job-seekers will soon be able to breathe easier - if it weren't for the pollution.

With additional reporting by Anita Lam