A decade of financial and social turmoil

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 June, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 June, 2010, 12:00am

The first decade of the millennium has been one of turmoil, volatility and uncertainties for society and for financial markets. The beginning of the decade saw the biggest terrorist attack on American soil and towards the end of the decade the world experienced the biggest financial collapse since the 1930s Great Depression.

Likewise, the equity market in Hong Kong has gone through the rough and tumble, the highs and the lows.

Here are some of the major events that influenced the Hang Seng Index and the regional markets in the past decade.

March 2000: Dotcom bubble bursts

The dotcom bubble which had been forming for a year finally burst as overpriced firms, which had no assets except for websites, saw their stocks sold mercilessly. The Gem Board, launched in 1999 especially for the purpose of dotcom firms to list easily, experienced a sharp fall and a number of listed companies went bust. The Gem now has about 170 companies, down from a peak of about 220. There have been some spectacular collapses and more companies transferred to the main board.

September 2001: America under attack

On September 11, terrorists slammed two passenger planes into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York and another plane crashed into the Pentagon, killing nearly 3,000 people. The attacks were allegedly masterminded by Osama bin Laden and the subsequent attack on Afghanistan and Iraq by American forces would sharply affect the global markets. Stock markets were closed for a week after the attack and when they opened again on September 17 the Dow Jones Index plunged 684 points. Hong Kong and other Asian markets were also sharply affected.

July, 2002: Penny stocks crash

A government proposal to delist companies whose stocks trade below 50 cents for 30 consecutive days sent the penny stocks crashing.

The exchange showed bad timing by introducing sensitive proposals to a jittery market. Former secretary for Financial Services and Treasury Frederick Ma apologised for the government's policy.

Among other proposals that added to negative sentiments for penny stocks was that counters with a market cap of less than HK$30 million were not suitable for a listing.

February 2003: Outbreak of Sars in Hong Kong On February 21, a 64-year-old mainland doctor, who had treated cases in Guangdong, arrived in Hong Kong to attend a wedding. The next day, he fell sick and was admitted to Kwong Wah Hospital, marking the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars). About 80 per cent of Hong Kong cases were traced back to the doctor. In all, 1,755 people were infected in the city and 299 lost their lives. The economic affects of Sars was devastating on Hong Kong, as property prices dived and stock markets took a severe beating in the early months of the outbreak. However, from July of that year, the tide slowly turned and the stock market regained some of the lost ground, and the economy picked up on the back of tourist arrivals from the mainland.

October 2007: Hang Seng Index touches a peak of more than 31,000

Fuelled by hot money flowing into Asia, the index hit a high of 31,958.41, but it has fallen steadily since. Billionaire investor Lee Shau-kee, sometimes nicknamed Hong Kong's Warren Buffett, said he spent more than HK$1 billion in the stock market as the first salvo in a HK$10 billion bargain hunt.

August 2008: Beijing hosts Olympic Games

On August 8 at 8pm, the Bird's Nest Stadium in Beijing witnessed one of the most spectacular opening ceremonies in Olympic history, as the mainland held the Summer Olympic Games. The central government promoted the Olympics, which was the most expensive in history, to highlight China's emergence on the world stage. It invested heavily on new facilities and transport systems, with the cost of holding the event estimated to be US$58.5 billion. Hong Kong became an Olympic venue for the first time when it held the equestrian event. A feel-good factor helped the stock market touch new highs.

September 2008: Lehman Brothers files for bankruptcy

On September 14, Lehman Brothers sent shockwaves through the global financial markets when it filed for bankruptcy in a New York court. The next day, global equity markets collapsed as a result of the bankruptcy of one of the oldest Wall Street banks. The central banks, led by the United States Federal Reserve, rushed to inject tens of billions of US dollars into the money markets to head off any rush on liquidity, as investors pulled money out of stocks and looked for safe investments. Over the next six months, millions of jobs were lost as companies laid off workers globally.

June 2009: Hong Kong's economy on road to recovery

Hong Kong's economy finally looked set to get out of the slump and start on a recovery path, according to financial analysts. Government economist Helen Chan told the South China Morning Post that the city's quarter-on-quarter gross domestic product might perk up this quarter - or at least stop falling - if export figures for the last two months of May and June did not decline further.