Hong Kong’s stockbrokers may soon have to wave farewell to three-course lunches at Michelin-starred restaurants and instead settle for a cold sandwich at their desks.
The city’s bourse wants to cut its two-hour midday break — the longest among the world’s 20 major stock exchanges — to bring trading hours in line with other Chinese financial markets.
However, cutting a cherished lunch break in half has some in the financial hub steaming over what they see as an affront to their long-held eating habits.
“It’s a Chinese tradition to fill our stomachs with hot things for lunch — I could not stomach a sandwich,” said Peter Lai (黎永良), a sales director at DBS Vickers Securities, who dismissed the proposal as “crazy.”
The 30-year industry veteran said he often spends lunch entertaining clients and briefing them on the market at some of the former British colony’s private clubs — impossible on a one-hour break.
That sentiment appears to be shared by many in the territory’s influential investment community: A recent survey by the Hong Kong Securities Professionals Association interviewed more than 700 of its members and found that seven out of 10 opposed the proposal.
However, advocates of change including Charles Li (李小加), chief executive of Hong Kong’s exchange operator, have said the move is crucial as Hong Kong looks to become an offshore trading center for China’s yuan.
More than 70 percent of trading volume on the territory’s exchange — the second-largest in Asia — also comes from China-based securities.
“Over 500 mainland firms are currently listed in Hong Kong. [The territory] is also trying to position itself as an offshore yuan trading center, which means we need to match the mainland market,” said Jojo Choy (蔡思聰), chairman of the Institute of Securities Dealers of Hong Kong.
Choy doubted whether longer hours would mean higher trading volumes.
“There are lots of markets that have longer trading hours, but few have a higher turnover,” he said. “I don’t think extending trading hours will increase the turnover volume.”
Lunchtime trading breaks are almost unheard of outside of Asia.
The London Stock exchange has not had a lunchtime hiatus since 1950, while New York scrapped lunch breaks in 1887.
London, Paris and Frankfurt trade for more than eight hours a day, while New York and Singapore are open for six-and-a-half hours.
If the proposal is adopted, Hong Kong’s trading hours would start half an hour earlier, at 9:30am, end at noon and then restart at 1pm or 1:30pm, instead of 2:30pm. -Trading would still end at 4pm.
This would shorten the lunch break by up to an hour and increase daily trading by as much as 90 minutes. Trading hours now run for a total of four hours daily.
Despite the wave of opposition, some argue that the measures aren’t drastic enough and call for lunchtime to be abolished completely.
“In order for it to be a meaningful reform, we should open half an hour earlier and cancel lunch hours completely, like in Europe and America,” said Francis Lun (藺常念), general manager at Hong Kong’s Fulbright Securities.
In 2001, the exchange proposed extending Hong Kong’s trading day to as long as 11 hours and ditching lunch, but the idea was shot down by the territory’s brokerage community.