Protests rattle Hong Kong stocks

The stand-off between Beijing and Hong Kong protesters has knocked investor confidence.

Hong Kong's pro-democracy protesters, who had endured tear gas last weekend, showed no sign of dispersing early this week.

What began as a "meticulously planned act of civil disobedience", says Robyn Mak and John Foley on Breakingviews.com, "risks spiralling into something more volatile and unpredictable, with damaging long-term implications" for the territory.

The local stockmarket has slid by 9% since the beginning of September, while last Monday saw the Hong Kong dollar's biggest one-day fall since 2011. Thestand-off has helped fuel an emerging-market sell-off and caused a wobblein developed markets.

The clash could escalate, as Beijing's heavy-handed refusal to rule out universal suffrage in 2017 has "backed the students into a corner", says the FT. They may well be tempted to dig their heels in.

The immediate casualty of the crisis, says William Pesek on Bloombergviews.com, is Hong Kong's reputation as a financial centre. Beijing is "remaking Hong Kong in China's deteriorating image" if the attack on Hong Kong's "liberties and institutions" goes on, multinationalswill up sticks for Singapore.

That would undermine China's long-term prospects too, noted Capital Economics, while a violent crackdown by Beijing could prompt the rest of the world to impose sanctions on China. That, in turn, could also have serious consequences for the countries that depend on its growth.

In the near term, the economic outlook for the former British territory has deteriorated.A worsening crisis could damage confidence enough to dent the property market, where prices have more than doubled since 2009. That implies knock-on effects for banks and the financial sector is worth several times the territory's GDP and half the stockmarket.

To make matters worse, Hong Kong's banks are highly exposed to the mainland's (already collapsing) property bubble. And the Hong Kong authorities' scope for combating a slowdown is limited, as the Hong Kong dollar is pegged to its US counterpart (it is allowed to move in a narrow range). Hong Kong essentially imports US monetary policy, which is about to tighten.

So, "even if sanity and democracy prevail", concludes James Mackintosh in the FT, investors in Hong Kong "would be advised to hang on to their umbrellas, just in case".

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