MIDDLE managers in Hong Kong have more spending power than their counterparts anywhere in the world, according to a new survey. Top secretaries in the territory are also better off compared to those in 20 other major cities, according to the study by ECA China. The study focused on the purchasing power of two typical Hong Kong employees - a $62,000-a-month middle manager (or department head) and a bilingual secretary earning $19,000. Using the cost of a basket of consumer goods, it compared salaries and taxes with those paid to staff on equivalent levels in other leading economies. The findings showed that basic salaries in Hong Kong were not the highest in either job category. Middle manager salaries are higher in Switzerland, Germany, Austria and Japan. But, with the benefit of low taxes, local managers could afford to buy much more with their pay. A Danish middle manager is taxed on half his salary. A Japanese executive pays higher taxes as well as much higher prices in shops. Behind Hong Kong in the spending power rankings were Switzerland and German. The United States was in sixth place followed by Japan. With spending power worth $700,000 a year, local managers could afford to buy twice as much as their counterparts in Norway and Finland. Meanwhile, a typical bilingual secretary earning just under $20,000 a month in Hong Kong would be paid nearly 50 per cent more in Switzerland, Japan and Denmark. But the survey calculated that her spending power in the territory, with its low tax rate, was still marginally higher than anywhere else in the world. 'On these two levels, staff in Hong Kong are better off,' said Patrick Maule, a director of ECA China and human resources consultants Renwick, McCormick & Maule. 'Hong Kong stands out ahead of the crowd as No. 1 for buying power, which is what really counts at the end of the day.' Salary hikes over the past six or seven years had elevated Hong Kong to the top of the spending power tree, he said. 'Asian salaries shot ahead while the global recession kept pay rises down in other countries,' Mr Maule said. 'Hong Kong crept to the dominant position as one of the highest paid places in the world, with the added benefit of low tax.' Salaries in Hong Kong increased by between 15 and 20 per cent in 1989 and remained in double digits until 1993. Last year, pay increased by an average 8.5 per cent - with another 7 per cent likely this year. While the findings indicate that the reasonably qualified have never had it so good, the Hong Kong economy is not similarly rewarding those at the bottom of the pay scale. 'There is high gearing between the higher and lower paid,' Mr Maule said. 'In other countries, a minimum wage system pushes low salaries up, which forces high salaries down. But, here, the only minimum wage is for Filipino domestic helpers. 'A company executive might only earn 10 times more than his chauffeur elsewhere but, in Hong Kong, he will earn hundreds of times more. 'Among the lower paid, Hong Kong is not enormously competitive with other countries, although, with no taxes and high government spending on public housing, they are not quite so close to the poverty line as the poorest in other industrialised countries.' While the lower paid may be missing out on Hong Kong's booming economy, the findings indicate they do not have far to go to start reaping the benefits.