HK losing out by winning surveys

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 September, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 September, 1994, 12:00am

THE number of times Hong Kong is coming near, or at the very top, of surveys in major cities on the cost of living or doing business is becoming ominous.

There is little in these exercises to surprise the natives, used as we are to being gouged by landlords, ripped off by restaurateurs, battered by bar owners and mugged by smart stores.

But as this view of the territory as high-cost zone spreads, its attractions as a regional or global centre diminish accordingly.

The latest evidence of the attack on our wallets comes from the Union Bank of Switzerland (UBS).

The headlines on the ninth survey of prices and earnings around the globe tell most of the story.

Hong Kong people pay the highest rents and work the longest hours for below-average pay. The territory is fast catching up with Tokyo, which remains the most expensive city in the world, while Switzerland, Japan and the United States offer the highest wages.

The details show just where the pockets are being picked the fastest.

Leave rents out of the equation and it is a mildly expensive city, according to UBS, rated 23rd on a list of 53 cities.

It's more expensive than Los Angeles, but cheaper than London, and a long way behind Tokyo.

Using Zurich as the base of 100, Tokyo scores 132, Bombay 30.4, Hong Kong 68.4. The average is 67.2. Not too bad.

Take in rents, and the picture changes dramatically. Tokyo is 142 per cent of Zurich, with Hong Kong in third place at 97.5.

Chief executives of multi-nationals, thinking of relocating executives to Hong Kong, will find some interesting reading in the UBS survey, which concludes that the sort of accommodation which would be acceptable to their officers comes more expensive in Hong Kong than anywhere else in the world - even ahead of Tokyo.

At US$13,550 per month, by UBS figures, a typical luxury apartment in Hong Kong costs almost three times as much as it does in Singapore, six times the price in London, and 21/2 that of New York. Even Tokyo is almost one-third cheaper than Hong Kong.

Its position at the top of the cost rankings might be acceptable if Hong Kong salaries were on par with other centres, but the UBS figure show the image of a high earning society is a myth.

All right for those who feature in the social columns or drive one of the Rolls-Royces around town, but the average pay packet in Hong Kong is nothing to boast about.

The typical Hong Kong worker earns US$4.40 an hour, well below the global average of $6.80, and in 34th position.

Put the cost of accommodation and the low wages together and you probably would arrive at the explanation of Hong Kong's third place ranking in the number of hours worked - no one has a choice.