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Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA)

Jake van der Kamp versus Tom Holland: who is right on Hong Kong consumer debt risk?

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 May, 2013, 10:27am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 January, 2018, 4:12pm

In Tuesday’s Business section, the Monitor column on the back page decided to pick a fight with the front page’s Jake’s View.

Columnist Jake van der Kamp tore into a statement about household debt made by Hong Kong Monetary Authority chief Norman Chan Tak-lam. Chan contended on Friday that the city’s economy was at risk of overheating because of “household debt and rampant consumer overspending”.

Van der Kamp points out that Chan has been misled by a “superficial” take on the ratio of private consumption to gross domestic product.

What our man forgets is that almost a fifth of consumer spending in our domestic market is now attributable to tourists ... Thus when calculating GDP, established practice is to deduct this tourist spending from the local consumer figures but add back what Hong Kong residents spend abroad. It not only makes sense in GDP but it gives you a better picture of whether local consumer activity is restrained or overheated.


[Also] household debt now stands at about 35 per cent of total loans, down from 45 per cent 10 years ago. Overheated? Really?

Coming to Chan’s defence is columnist Tom Holland, who argues that Hongkongers face a real crisis over consumer debt after the US Federal Reserve raises interest rates.

I am not so sure [Van der Kamp] should dismiss the debt-to-GDP measure so lightly. After all, the ratio of a country's household debts to its national income clearly affects its people's ability to service those debts.

Holland breaks down household debt in the last five years to find three-quarters of it consisting of rising mortgage debts.

When the Fed begins raising interest rates, that cost burden is going to rise, plunging many families into financial hardship - and some into default.

Your turn. Who do you think is right?