High net worth individuals and companies begin relocating assets from Hong Kong to Singapore following unrest over extradition Bill

As the political storm unfolds between the government of Hong Kong and the city’s denizens – particularly members of civil society – over the former’s divisive extradition Bill, the mega-wealthy are moving their assets elsewhere, including to Singapore.

Financial Times reported Thu (20 Jun) that according to an executive vice-president from the Singapore Stock Exchange (SGX), Hong Kong’s Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) was under the control of the China Securities Regulatory Commission, which has been denied by the SFC.

The SGX official had also reportedly suggested that Hong Kong is no longer a safe place for high net worth individuals, as seen in the abduction of Chinese-Canadian billionaire Xiao Jianhua from the city’s Four Seasons hotel two years ago by Chinese agents.

A financial advisor involved in a transaction that entailed the shifting of assets to Singapore told Reuters that one tycoon has begun shifting more than US$100mil (S$136mil) from a Citibank account in Hong Kong to a Citibank account in Singapore.

“It’s started. We’re hearing others are doing it, too, but no-one is going to go on parade that they are leaving,” according to the advisor.

“The fear is that the bar is coming right down on Beijing’s ability to get your assets in Hong Kong. Singapore is the favoured destination,” added the advisor.

The head of the private banking operations of an international bank in Hong Kong who wished to remain anonymous told Reuters that it is not clients from mainland China “who might be politically exposed” who are moving their assets to Singapore and other places, but “wealthy Hong Kong clients”.

“The situation in Hong Kong is out of control. They can’t believe that Carrie Lam or Beijing leaders are so stupid that they don’t realise the economic damage from this,” the source added.

President of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong Tara Joseph told CNBC on Mon (17 Jun) that even businesses are compelled to move to Singapore and other business hubs as a way of escaping China’s purportedly growing encroachment into Hong Kong’s governance.

An anonymous source told CNBC that the extradition Bill, coupled with the political unrest that ensues the Bill, were taken into account when their company decided to move its research team to Singapore, due to the nature of the team’s work, which involves “powerful companies and figures on the mainland”.

Managing director of Hong Kong-based real estate investment firm Portwood Capital Peter Churchouse observed that “increasing numbers” of companies are also relocating their regional headquarters from Hong Kong to other parts of Asia, “most particularly” to Singapore, according to CNBC.

“That, of course, will affect demand in the Hong Kong economy,” Churchouse added, particularly in the commercial and high-end residential segments in real estate.

Director of the Centre for Governance, Institutions and Organisations at NUS Business School Lawrence Loh told FT that while the extradition bill had unnerved businesses, the “broader uncertainty is not because of the protests, but rather because the end of Hong Kong’s autonomy is clearly getting closer and closer”.

However, AFP quoted Prof Loh as saying that it is unlikely “that the uncertainty and loss of confidence has reached a tipping point where you will see the floodgates open”.

Hong Kong and Singapore have long been considered two of four Asian Tigers due to being at the forefront of rapid economic growth and industrialisation historically since the 1960s.

A report by Credit Suisse last year, however, noted that Hong Kong has a “larger base” in terms of private wealth, with more than twice the number of high net worth individuals worth more than US$100mil compared to their counterparts in the Republic.