In world's priciest luxury city, baby formula is most precious commodity

Infant milk formula is a precious commodity 'kept under lock and key', and Hong Kong's budget woes

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 March, 2013, 10:47am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 August, 2013, 4:13am

The Wall Street Journal on Monday tweeted an astounding fact on the high cost of living in Hong Kong.

Among the top 10 cities for luxury living - including New York, Paris, London and Sydney - Hong Kong is the priciest, according to a wealth report.

Luxury two-bedroom apartments there typically sell for US$4.81 million. The cost of consumer products is also high, with milk going for about US$10.22 a gallon and gasoline selling for about US$8.10 a gallon, according to Knight Frank, a U.K.-based real-estate consultancy.

In New York, a typical luxury two-bedroom apartment sells for much less, US$2.135 million. And consumer goods in the survey are far cheaper, relative to Hong Kong.

But wealth is relative. Milk may cost more than gasoline, but infant milk formula in the city is less expensive than in the mainland.

That fact has driven up demand for the commodity as parallel-goods traders cross the Shenzhen-Hong Kong border to buy up milk powder for mainland mums sceptical of the quality of domestic products.

As such, baby formula is a precious commodity - “kept under lock and key”, the Los Angeles Times reports - as locals complain of a shortage.

The LA Times article points out that the dispute boils down to local fears that Hong Kong is being swamped by “1.3 billion mainlanders, who are increasingly affluent and mobile”.

The BBC reported on 10 arrests on Friday, the first say measures went into effect to limit the export of baby formula. The total number of arrests had increased to 45 by Monday.

Heartbreak in historic city

The South China Morning Post splashed on the tragic accident in Luxor, Egypt, in which nine Hong Kong tourists were killed when a hot-air balloon burst into flames in the air. Ten other victims were from France, Japan, Britain, Hungary and Egypt.

The New York Times covered the accident with a Hong Kong angle after the first day, but subsequent reports widened the scope beyond Hong Kong.

Everyone's a critic

Hong Kong returned to international headlines later that week with Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah’s budget speech. A Wall Street Journal editorial points out that the Hong Kong government has increased public expenditures since the handover in 1997, an indication that the territory is “abandoning its tradition of positive noninterventionism”, or a limited government.

Hong Kong journalist Philip Bowring, writing for the Wall Street Journal, notes that Tsang’s budget lacks a coherent strategy, with one-off relief measures contradicting fiscal principles. Bowring targets handouts including the rent waiver and electric subsidy.

Both articles zero in on property prices as a major contribution to the government’s HK$64.9 billion budget surplus. But the New York Times also notes that Hong Kong has low social spending and no military. 

Haunted? Who knows

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