New world breaks for brokers
A whole array of questions has been raised since the announcement that the lunch break at the Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing (HKEx) will be shortened to one hour from March next year, despite robust opposition from some local brokers and professional organisations.
Actually, HKEx has been moving there in increments. Since March 7, the exchange has opened 30 minutes earlier, and cut the two-hour lunch by half an hour.
It is understood that the extension is intended to match international practice. Hong Kong trades only five hours a day, with only Shanghai, Shenzhen, Taipei and Manila trading for fewer hours. The London, New York and Frankfurt markets trade for between 6.5 hours and 8.5 hours a day. Meanwhile, closer to home, the Korea exchange, India's National Stock Exchange and the Australian Securities Exchange already trade non-stop through the working day, without any lunch break. The Tokyo Stock Exchange will increase its trading hours by 30 minutes on November 21 while Singapore Exchange has decided to drop its 90-minute lunch break starting August 1.
Nevertheless, several major broker industry associations in Hong Kong recently opposed further moves to cut into the lunch break and said that the extended hours already implemented had not raised turnover. Others see the move as both beneficial and necessary. Many industry observers and participants are encouraged.
Mark Laudi, CEO of InvestorCentral.org, which covers much of the Asia-Pacific region, explains: 'Exchanges previously closed for lunch because stock brokers and traders were physically present on the floor and simply needed a break. On some markets, trading hours were also shortened to allow traders to physically walk over to other trading floors to trade there. But with electronic trading, these 'must-have' breaks have become 'nice-to-have'.'
Hong Kong's main rival, the Singapore Exchange, is doing away with the lunch break from August 1, which means the market will be open from 9am to 5pm weekdays.
'Friends in the industry complain they won't have enough time to tend to their clients, for example by taking them out for lunch,' says the Singapore-based Laudi.
How will traders cope with this change in their working conditions? 'It may not be comfortable, but traders can eat their lunch and still watch their screens at their desks or via mobile devices. This wouldn't have been possible in open outcry trading pits,' Laudi says.
A kind of social Darwinism is set to kick in when lunch at the bourse becomes an 'al-desko' affair. 'The bottom line is that brokers who adapt to changing times and find ways to add value to their clients will keep their jobs,' Laudi says. 'Some jobs may disappear but new ones will be created. This may not be pleasant, but it is true in any line of business.'
A Hong Kong trader who spoke of condition of anonymity, outlined some advantages.
'Market hours will overlap to a greater extent with those of other Asian exchanges, and this will enable investors trading pan-Asian securities to respond swiftly to both regional market movements and to news flow,' he says.
'And I believe investors will also face less risk with these increased trading hours. The question really is, not 'how are we going to cope', but 'how is it that we ever enjoyed such a long lunch break in the first place'.'