Brokers will have to get used to taking shorter lunch breaks and going to work earlier after the Hong Kong stock exchange yesterday announced it would extend trading hours from March next year. Securities dealers will take an hour-and-a-half lunch break from March 7 next year and around a year after will just have an hour to finish their lunch. They currently have a two-hour break from 12.30pm. They will also have to start work earlier because trading hours will begin at 9.30am instead of 10am. Extending the trading hours will help the exchange stay competitive, Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing chairman Ronald Arculli told reporters, adding that the decision to introduce longer trading hours had been well received following consultation with the financial industry. Rather than cutting the lunch break to just one hour next year straight away, Arculli said it will be easier for everyone if it was reduced by half-hour next year and another half-hour the year after. From March 7, 2011, trading will be from 9.30am to noon and then from 1.30pm until 4pm. And from 2012, trading begins at 9.30am until noon, starts again at 1pm and finishes at 4pm. If turnover goes up significantly, the shareholders of the exchange including the government are likely to be impressed with Charles Li Xiaojia, who has taken up the baton from Paul Chow Man-yiu as chief executive since late last year and has been pushing for reform of trading hours. Major markets such as the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq trade for 6? hours a day. The Irish and Frankfurt exchanges, which trade for 8? hours, have the longest opening hours. After the changes to opening hours in Hong Kong are completed in 2012, the bourse will trade for 5? hours from the current four hours. Li wants Hong Kong markets to be more closely aligned with the trading hours of Shanghai and Shenzhen bourses. Most brokers have anticipated the change. There have been some protests over the shorter lunch breaks and concern that longer trading hours may not really result in higher stock turnover, however. Many fund managers and brokers use the long midday break to discuss business with clients and opponents of the plan to change trading hours worry it may disrupt opportunities to hold these meetings. Christopher Cheung Wah-fung, chairman of the Hong Kong Securities Professionals Association, said he supported the decision to have longer trading hours and shorter lunch breaks. 'I do think that introducing a one-hour lunch break straight away would be pushing it a bit for many brokers,' said Cheung. 'It's better to do it one step at a time and this would allow them to get used to it and also we can see if turnover really changes as a result of longer trading hours.' Ricky Tam Siu-hing, the chairman of the Hong Kong Institute of Investors, supported the decision to cut the lunch hour break because he said it would bring the local market more in line with the trading hours of its regional peers. 'It can reduce volatility and make the [transition] from the morning session to afternoon session smoother,' Tam said. The Hong Kong market currently lags the mainland and Japanese stock markets in reopening following the lunch break. That has led to some knee-jerk trades by investors taking stock of regional trade movements. 'Brokerage houses welcome [the change] because they can have more business but for the stock brokers they may have to work more,' Tam said. 'They may have to change their working pattern.'