HONG KONG (Reuters) - About 400 people marched in Hong Kong’s financial district on Thursday to protest against a shorter lunch break, which the bourse operator has said is crucial to boost competitiveness and align it more closely with China.
After a lengthy consultation, Hong Kong shortened its two-hour lunch break to 90 minutes last March, trading from 9:30 am to 12:00 pm (0130-0400 GMT) and 1:30 pm to 4:00 pm. It now aims to cut the lunch break from March by another 30 minutes to an hour from noon.
“Obviously, with the economic situation being what it is, we never introduced this reform on trading hours with a view to increasing trading volume. But if we did not introduce this, I fear we would lose some competitive edge,” said Ronald Arculli, chairman of Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Ltd (HKEx) (0388.HK).
Patrick Lam, chairman of the Hong Kong Securities & Futures Employees Union, said people from the restaurant industry had also joined the march as the shorter lunch break would hurt their industry and the broader economy.
Marching after the stock market closed, some of the protesters waved placards saying: “You want us to trade until we drop. We want you to drop before we trade.”
Some brokers say the longer hours mean they will need to hire more people at a time when transaction volumes are low.
Hong Kong and Shanghai are increasingly competing against each other for business, with the latter aiming to become a global financial centre by 2020.
Shanghai’s stock exchange opens at 9.30 am and closes at 3:00 pm, with a 90-minute lunch.
Singapore’s trading hours are the longest among major bourses in Asia, operating for eight hours from 9 to 5 with no lunch break. Major stock exchanges in Europe and the United States have no lunch breaks.
Hong Kong and China shares suffered their biggest annual loss in 2011 since the 2008 financial crisis on growing concerns over the outlook for China and deepening global economic uncertainty.
HKEx reported a 1 percent rise in third-quarter net profit in 2011 compared with a year earlier, less than forecast, as market turmoil cut initial public share offerings.
Its shares have slipped 0.2 percent this month after losing about 30 percent last year. They lagged the blue-chip Heng Seng Index .HSI, which has risen 3.6 percent so far in January after falling 20 percent in 2011.
Reporting By Stefanie McIntyre; Editing by Anne Marie Roantree