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Hong Kong stock exchange enjoys upbeat 2019 despite protests

HONG KONG – The trade war and political unrest may have plunged Hong Kong into a recession last year but the stock exchange reported a surprisingly buoyant 2019 on Wednesday, February 26, retaining its status as the world's biggest initial public offering (IPO) market.

However, Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing (HKEX) warned of an uncertain 2020 as the deadly coronavirus sweeps the globe.

The firm posted a 1% increase in net income and a 3% increase in revenue, despite an 18% drop in trading as Hong Kong was hit by 7 straight months of huge, sometimes violent pro-democracy protests.

"Despite a challenging political and economic backdrop, we are reporting record revenue and other income, and profit, for the 2nd consecutive financial year," Charles Li, chief executive of HKEX, said in a note attached to the bourse's annual earnings. 

Bolstering what was otherwise a grim economic year for the city was the city's lynchpin role as an IPO market, especially for Chinese businesses, as well as growth in Stock Connect, which links to Shanghai and Shenzhen exchanges.

Total IPO funds last year reached $314.2 billion, the 2nd time in a row Hong Kong has topped the table of the world's most lucrative listings and the 7th time in the past 11 years, the exchange said.

Major listings last year included tech giant Alibaba and Budweiser's Asia division

But an unsuccessful surprise takeover attempt of the London Stock Exchange Group took some shine off.  

Nonetheless the results underscore Hong Kong's ongoing role as a crucial financial gateway for China even as swathes of the city increasingly rage against Beijing's rule and its refusal to grant full democracy.

But there is little sign 2020 is going to be any easier. 

The city's economic woes are now being compounded by the spread of the deadly coronavirus, something that will likely weigh on both business and the city's stock exchange in the coming months. (READ: Hong Kong to give big cash handouts as economy reels from virus)

"With a phase one trade deal between China and the US, there are signs of recovery in investor confidence, although the current COVID-19 outbreak brings renewed uncertainty," HKEX said. – Rappler.com