MANILA, Philippines – The protests on the financial district of Hong Kong last Thursday, January 12, were not their version of Occupy Wall Street.
It was the stock exchange brokers protesting the latest cuts in their lunch breaks to just an hour starting March 2012.
They used to have 2 hours to get a long, leisurely lunch, until this was cut to 90 minutes in March 2011. Trading hours stretched from 9:30 am to 12:00 pm, and at 1:30 pm to 4:00 pm. Looming is a further cut by another 30 minutes to an hour from noon.
The brokers complained they need the time to meet up with clients and attend presentations on initial public offerings or quarterly earnings.
They were joined by some restaurant and other food outlets owners who told Reuters they will also suffer from the shorter lunch breaks. About 400 attended the Tuesday protest.
The exchange operator said this move is crucial to make Hong Kong’s securities and derivatives markets more competitive, especially against China. Several firms are traded in both exchanges.
Shorter lunches is part of plans to lengthen trading hours. An earlier start of trades is also in the works.
Bourse officials said longer trading hours, which were announced way back in November 2010, would also make Hong Kong traders quicker to respond to news, as well as allow them to to bring in customers from different time zones.
Many overseas exchanges have been extending their trading hours, while some have eliminated their lunch break or are considering doing so.
Lunchtime trading breaks are rare outside Asia, according to BBC. London traders have had no lunch break since 1950.
Hong Kong and China experienced their biggest annual loss in 2011 since the 2008 financial crisis. Concerns are growing on China outlook, as well as the global economic uncertainty.
Hong Kong is one of the world’s top 10 stock exchanges.
In 2003, Hong Kong abandoned plans to eliminate the lunch break after opposition from the local brokerage community.
They pause for a 90 minute break, then resume trading from 1:30 p.m. to a 3:30 p.m. session closure.
Meantime, here are some of the comments on the Hong Kong protests on social media :