HK employers keep jobless rate at 6.8pc for the September quarter In the face of increasing global uncertainty, Hong Kong's employers put a hold on hiring additional workers during September, according to government unemployment figures. The Census and Statistics Department yesterday announced that at 6.8 per cent, the city's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for the July-to-September period was unchanged from that for the three months from June to August. But there was a marginal improvement in the underemployment rate, which dropped from 3.3 per cent to 3.2 per cent. Financial Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen said he couldn't predict whether the unemployment situation would improve or worsen. 'External economic factors are affecting Hong Kong,' he said, citing higher oil prices, interest rate rises and the mainland's macroeconomic policies. 'I really can't predict whether the unemployment rate is going up or going down by the end of the year,' he said. Economists were divided as to whether the result showed employers were consolidating their positions ahead of further expansion or whether an expected slowdown in Hong Kong's economic growth had arrived earlier than expected. HSBC economist George Leung said it was the second piece of data - after poorer-than-expected retail sales growth in August - indicating that a slowdown was taking place. He noted that while the actual rate was unchanged, the economy shed 11,700 jobs - to 3,282,000 - during the period, which was masked by the fact that about 12,700 chose to leave the labour force at the same time. 'Indeed it was a bit of a surprise,' Mr Leung said. 'Over the last 10 months Hong Kong was back into a job-creation cycle ... but now we see there is a decline in the number of jobs and this is confirmation of a possible slowdown. We were expecting [it] early next year, but this has come a bit too early.' But Credit Suisse First Boston economist Joseph Lau said the flat result indicated employers were pausing to assess the situation before a limited resumption of hiring. 'We expect unemployment will trend downwards in the longer term. But we're looking at fairly minor gains in the next six months.'