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Economy in Brief

Hong Kong Budget 2022/23: Beyond the Sweeteners
by Kelvin Ho-Por Lam  March 1, 2022

Last week, Financial Secretary Paul Chan delivered the last Budget speech of his term at the height of the pandemic. In his expansionary budget, he announced counter-cyclical fiscal measures to the tune of $170bn, much higher than last year’s $120bn and one of the largest in Hong Kong’s history. If we include infrastructure and other spending, the whole package is expected to bolster the Covid-stricken economy by approximately 3 percentage points. So far, the media has focused largely on the “sweeteners” (the consumption vouchers and tax relief). However, we think there are other underlying issues that need to be addressed in this Budget.

Highlights

Concerns over forecasting errors - The government often made large revisions to the budget forecasts, we think this is due to outdated forecasting infrastructure and philosophy at the FSO. We compared budget estimates made since 2012, they tend to overestimate government expenditure and underestimate revenue. As a result, there is a negative bias to the fiscal balance estimates, as much as 5% of GDP. With so much at stake, a misallocation of resources because of inaccuracy of the forecast will have long term socio-economic implications.

Rapid rise in recurrent expenditure growth - It is worth noting that recurrent expenditure has been rising faster than nominal GDP growth in recent years, deviating from the Golden Rule set out in the Basic Law. This is unsurprising given rapidly aging population and the enlarging wealth gap. While this underlying trend is unlikely to change, we think the government should widen its tax base when the time comes.

Imbalanced economic development - The financial industry accounts for 23% of GDP but only 7% of employment, economic success is clearly not being felt so broadly in the society. While the government should continue to invest heavily in the new economy in order to generate more economic activity and revenues, they should also focus on revamping and realigning the education system to better match the future needs from the new economic structure, so that more locals can share the benefits of economic development.

What to do with the Brain-Drain? - Many expatriates and locals had left Hong Kong because of social unrest and the adopted pandemic measures. Brain-drain is occurring in many key industries, including health services, finance and professional services. The government should focus on making policies to retain talents, but not just to attract new ones.

Permanent housing for cage home residents - Currently there are at least 5000 individuals living in illegal cage housing, it makes sense to convert some of the quarantine centres (purposed built for city-wide Covid testing) into permanent home for residents living in these bedspace apartments, solving this decade long social problem.

Highlights with charts can be found here.

A longer version of this commentary is available here.

Viewpoint commentaries are the opinions of the author and do not reflect the views of Haver Analytics.

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