Hong Kong and Singapore have a fierce rivalry for the region's business crown, but which city comes out on top in the stakes that really matter to most people: their pay? Hong Kong leaves the Lion City standing when it come to monthly rewards for the boss, according to a regional remuneration survey from William M. Mercer, a United States-based human resources consultancy. The survey showed the annual cash compensation for top management in Hong Kong was 33 per cent ahead of that in Singapore. Both however were overshadowed by rewards for top management in Japan, which were about 3 per cent higher than those in second-placed Hong Kong. In cash terms, that translates as annual pay packets for top management worth US$181,698 in Japan, US$176,242 in Hong Kong and US$117,385 in Singapore. The survey did not, however, try to reconcile pay levels with national costs of living. William M. Mercer said annual cash compensation covered all base salaries, guaranteed cash allowances and annual bonuses. The survey was compiled from responses by more than 350 multinationals. While it was good news for those on a Hong Kong payroll, the consultancy said the results highlighted a potential headache for SAR-based managers struggling to keep costs in check. 'At the top management levels, Singapore's total annual compensation costs increases have consistently stayed beneath those of its competitors,' William M. Mercer said. 'Singapore's closest business competitor, Hong Kong, is facing price rises in salaries, not only in the top management but also across senior management and most staff levels.' The discrepancies, although already significant, appear set to widen further as salary rises expected next year in Hong Kong would outstrip those in Singapore. The survey forecast that next year, allowing for inflation, companies expected the average Singapore salary would rise by 2.9 per cent, one of the lowest figures in the region. It suggested total pay rises in Hong Kong, by contrast, would come in at 4.3 per cent, while in Japan they would total 2.5 per cent, and more than 7 per cent on the mainland. Richard Payne, William M. Mercer chairman of remuneration and reward practice in Asia, said: 'It is almost unbelievable - the economic growth [in Singapore] is nearing 10 per cent and yet its total compensation cost is more under control than those seen in Taiwan, Korea or Hong Kong. It is hats off, really, to the Singapore Government.' Even with the impending restoration in Singapore of cuts made to employers' contributions to the Central Provident Fund (CPF) - a long-term centrally run pension - the increase in costs for Singapore firms would not be that severe, he said. CPF contributions by businesses were pared after the financial crisis struck from 20 per cent of salaries to 12 per cent. The rate will be restored to 16 per cent from next month. Whatever the merits of Singapore and Hong Kong's positions, however, the results suggest that employees in both places would be thankful that they were in neither Australia nor New Zealand. Pay rises in those two countries failed to match inflation rates this year, and companies forecast the lowest salary increases across the region next year.