Economy of Hong Kong

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Economy of Hong Kong
Hong Kong Harbour Night 2019-06-11.jpg
CurrencyHong Kong dollar (HKD)
1 April – 31 March
Trade organisations
APEC, WTO, Group of Twenty (Chinese delegation), One Belt One Road, AIIB and ICC etc.
Country group
PopulationIncrease 7,553,689 (2021)[3]
  • Decrease $368.633 billion (nominal, 2021 est.)[4]
  • Decrease $472.395 billion (PPP, 2021)[5]
GDP rank
GDP growth
  • 2.9% (2018) −1.2% (2019)
  • −4.8% (2020e) 3.9% (2021e)[5]
GDP per capita
  • Decrease $49,036 (nominal, 2021 est.)[4]
  • Decrease $62,839 (PPP, 2021 est.)[4]
GDP per capita rank
GDP by sector
2.0% (2020 est.)[5]
Population below poverty line
19.9% (2016 est.)[6]
53.9 high (2016)[6]
Labour force
  • Decrease 3,946,772 (2019)[9]
  • Decrease 59.0% employment rate (2016)[10]
Labour force by occupation
  • manufacturing: 6.5%
  • construction: 2.1%
  • wholesale and retail trade, restaurants, and hotels: 43.3%
  • financing, insurance, and real estate: 20.7%
  • transport and communications: 7.8%
  • community and social services: 19.5%
  • Negative increase 4.5% (2020 est.)[5]
  • Negative increase 3.0% (2019)[5]
Main industries
textiles, clothing, tourism, banking, shipping, electronics, plastics, toys, watches, clocks
Increase 3rd (very easy, 2020)[11]
Exports$537.8 billion (2017 est.)[6]
Export goods
electrical machinery and appliances, textiles, apparel, watches and clocks, toys, jewelry, goldsmiths' and silversmiths' wares, and other articles of precious or semi-precious materials[6]
Main export partners
 Mainland China 54.1%
 United States 7.7%
(2017 est.)[12]
Imports$561.8 billion (2017 est.)[6]
Import goods
raw materials and semi-manufactures, consumer goods, capital goods, foodstuffs, fuel (most is reexported)[6]
Main import partners
FDI stock
  • Increase$2.2 trillion (31 December 2017 est.)[6]
  • Increase Abroad: $2.036 trillion (31 December 2017 est.)[6]
Increase $14.75 billion (2017 est.)[6]
Positive decrease $633.6 billion (31 December 2017 est.)[6]
Public finances
0.1% of GDP (2017 est.)[6]
+5.2% (of GDP) (2017 est.)[6]
Revenues79.34 billion (2017 est.)[6]
Expenses61.64 billion (2017 est.)[6]
Standard & Poor's:[14]
AAA (Domestic)
AAA (Foreign)
AAA (T&C Assessment)
Outlook: Stable[15]
Outlook: Stable
Outlook: Stable
Foreign reserves
US$431 billion (December 2017)[16]
Main data source: CIA World Fact Book
All values, unless otherwise stated, are in US dollars.

The economy of Hong Kong is a highly developed free-market economy. It is characterised by low taxation, almost free port trade and a well-established international financial market.[17][18] Its currency, called the Hong Kong dollar, is legally issued by three major international commercial banks,[19] and is pegged to the US dollar.[20][21] Interest rates are determined by the individual banks in Hong Kong to ensure that they are market driven.[22] There is no officially recognised central banking system, although the Hong Kong Monetary Authority functions as a financial regulatory authority.[23][24]

Its economy is governed under positive non-interventionism, and is highly dependent on international trade and finance. For this reason it is regarded as among the most favorable places to start a company. In fact, a recent study shows that Hong Kong has come from 998 registered start-ups in 2014 to over 2800 in 2018, with eCommerce (22%), Fintech (12%), Software (12%) and Advertising (11%) companies comprising the majority.[25] The Economic Freedom of the World Index listed Hong Kong as the number one country, with a score of 8.97, in 2015.[26]

Hong Kong's economic strengths include a sound banking system, virtually no public debt, a strong legal system, ample foreign exchange reserves at around US $408 billion as of mid-2017, rigorous anti-corruption measures and close ties with mainland China.[27] The Hong Kong Stock Exchange is a favourable destination for international firms and firms from mainland China to be listed, due to Hong Kong's highly internationalised and modernised financial industry. Additional advantages include the city's capital market in Asia, its size, regulations and available financial tools, which are comparable to London and New York City.[28][29]

Hong Kong's gross domestic product had grown 180 times between 1961 and 1997. Also, the GDP per capita rose by 87 times within the same time frame.[30] Its economy is slightly larger than Israel's or Ireland's[31][32][33] and its GDP per capita at purchasing power parity was the sixth highest globally in 2011. By the latter measure, its GDP per capita was higher than those of the United States and the Netherlands, and slightly lower than Brunei. In 2009, Hong Kong's real economic growth fell by 2.8% as a result of the Great Recession.[34]

By the late 20th century, Hong Kong was the seventh largest port in the world and second only to New York City and Rotterdam in terms of container throughput. Hong Kong is a full Member of the World Trade Organization.[35] The Kwai Chung container complex was[when?] the largest in Asia, while Hong Kong shipping owners were[when?] second only to those of Greece in terms of total tonnage holdings in the world. The Hong Kong Stock Exchange is the sixth largest in the world, with a market capitalisation of about US$3.732 trillion.[36]

Hong Kong has also had an abundant supply of labour from the regions nearby. A skilled labour force coupled with the adoption of modern British/Western business methods and technology ensured that opportunities for external trade, investment, and recruitment were maximised. Prices and wages in Hong Kong are relatively flexible, depending on the performance and stability of the economy of Hong Kong.[37]

Hong Kong raises revenues from the sale and taxation of land and through attracting international businesses to provide capital for its public finance, due to its low tax policy. According to Healy Consultants, Hong Kong has the most attractive business environment within East Asia, in terms of attracting foreign direct investment (FDI).[38] In 2013, Hong Kong was the third largest recipient of FDI in the world.[39]

Hong Kong ranked fourth on the Tax Justice Network's 2011 Financial Secrecy Index.[40] The Hong Kong Government was the fourth highest ranked Asian government[41] in the World Economic Forum's Network Readiness Index (NRI), a measure of a government's information and communication technologies in 2016, and ranked 13th globally.[42] However, the Heritage Foundation has removed Hong Kong from the Index of Economic Freedom,[43] as in recent years it was demonstrated that its economic policies have been ultimately controlled by Beijing. The economics freedom index stated that Hong Kong will be considered in the context of China, indicating the eroded independence and greater state control over the city's capitalist system.

Economic predictions[edit]

Cathay Pacific City, the headquarters of Cathay Pacific

Since the 1997 handover, Hong Kong's economic future became far more exposed to the challenges of economic globalisation and the direct competition from cities in mainland China. In particular, Shanghai claimed to have a geographical advantage. The Shanghai municipal government dreamt of turning the city into China's main economic centre by as early as 2010.[44]

Positive non-interventionism[edit]

Hong Kong's economic policy has often been cited by economists such as Milton Friedman and the Cato Institute as an example of laissez-faire capitalism, attributing the city's success to the policy. However, others have argued that the economic strategy is not adequately characterised by the term laissez-faire.[45] They point out that there are still many ways in which the government is involved in the economy, some of which exceed the degree of involvement in other capitalist countries. For example, the government is involved in public works projects, healthcare, education, and social welfare spending. Further, although rates of taxation on personal and corporate income are low by international standards, unlike most other countries Hong Kong's government raises a significant portion of its revenues from land leases and land taxation. All land in Hong Kong is owned by the government and is leased to private developers and users on fixed terms, for fees which are paid to the state treasury. By restricting the sale of land leases, the Hong Kong government keeps the price of land at what some consider as artificially high prices and this allows the government to support public spending with a low tax rate on income and profit.[46]

The economy functions well into the night.

Economic freedom[edit]

Hong Kong was ranked as the world's 2nd freest economy in the Index of Economic Freedom of The Heritage Foundation in 2020 after Singapore.[43][47] The index measures restrictions on business, trade, investment, finance, property rights and labour, and considers the impact of corruption, government size and monetary controls in 183 economies. Hong Kong is the only economy to have scored 90 points or above on the 100-point scale, achieved in 2014 and 2018.[48] In 2021 the Heritage Foundation removed Hong Kong as a separate entity from China from its list of freest economics of the world citing increasing interference from the Chinese government in Hong Kong's governmental system and democratic process. With this Hong Kong along with Macao lost a position they had held in the index after several decades. The head of the Heritage Foundation indicated that Hong Kong is guaranteed with more economic freedoms but however, those economic policies are still ultimately controlled by Beijing.

Economic data[edit]

Treemap of Hong Kong export in 2014

The following table shows the main economic indicators in 1980–2017. Inflation under 2% is in green.[49]

Year GDP
(in Bil. US$ PPP)
GDP per capita
(in US$ PPP)
GDP growth
Inflation rate
(in Percent)
(in Percent)
Government debt
(in % of GDP)
1980 34.5 6,771 Increase10.3 % Negative increase4.4 % n/a
1981 Increase41.2 Increase7,897 Increase9.2 % Negative increase9.5 % 3.9% n/a
1982 Increase45.0 Increase8,497 Increase2.9 % Negative increase11.0 % 3.6% n/a
1983 Increase49.6 Increase9,207 Increase6.0 % Negative increase9.9 % 4.5% n/a
1984 Increase56.5 Increase10,330 Increase10.0 % Negative increase8.8 % 3.9% n/a
1985 Increase58.7 Increase10,602 Increase0.7 % Negative increase3.5 % 3.2% n/a
1986 Increase66.6 Increase11,875 Increase11.1 % Negative increase3.6 % 2.8% n/a
1987 Increase77.4 Increase13,732 Increase13.4 % Negative increase5.7 % 1.7% n/a
1988 Increase86.9 Increase15,220 Increase8.5 % Negative increase7.8 % Positive decrease1.4 % n/a
1989 Increase92.4 Increase16,017 Increase2.3 % Negative increase10.2 % Positive decrease1.1 % n/a
1990 Increase99.5 Increase17,169 Increase3.8 % Negative increase10.3 % Negative increase1.3 % n/a
1991 Increase108.6 Increase18,548 Increase5.7 % Negative increase11.2 % Negative increase1.8 % n/a
1992 Increase118.0 Increase19,906 Increase6.2 % Negative increase9.6 % Negative increase2.0 % n/a
1993 Increase128.3 Increase21,245 Increase6.2 % Negative increase8.8 % Steady2.0 % n/a
1994 Increase139.0 Increase22,551 Increase6.0 % Negative increase8.8 % Positive decrease1.9 % n/a
1995 Increase145.2 Increase23,001 Increase2.4 % Negative increase9.0 % Negative increase3.2 % n/a
1996 Increase154.2 Increase23,843 Increase4.3 % Negative increase6.3 % Positive decrease2.8 % n/a
1997 Increase164.8 Increase25,292 Increase5.1 % Negative increase5.8 % Positive decrease2.2 % n/a
1998 Decrease156.8 Decrease23,819 Decrease−5.9 % Negative increase2.8 % Negative increase4.7 % n/a
1999 Increase163.2 Increase24,587 Increase2.5 % Positive decrease−4.0 % Negative increase6.2 % n/a
2000 Increase179.7 Increase26,776 Increase7.7 % Positive decrease−3.7 % Positive decrease4.9 % n/a
2001 Increase184.8 Increase27,462 Increase0.6 % Positive decrease−1.6 % Negative increase5.1 % 3.3 %
2002 Increase190.7 Increase28,365 Increase1.7 % Positive decrease−3.0 % Negative increase7.3 % Negative increase3.5 %
2003 Increase200.5 Increase29,646 Increase3.1 % Positive decrease−2.6 % Negative increase7.9 % Positive decrease1.6 %
2004 Increase224.0 Increase32,948 Increase8.7 % Positive decrease−0.4 % Positive decrease6.8 % Positive decrease1.5 %
2005 Increase248.3 Increase36,306 Increase7.4 % Increase0.9 % Positive decrease5.6 % Positive decrease1.4 %
2006 Increase273.9 Increase39,668 Increase7.0 % Increase2.0 % Positive decrease4.8 % Positive decrease1.1 %
2007 Increase299.3 Increase43,143 Increase6.5 % Increase2.0 % Positive decrease4.0 % Positive decrease1.0 %
2008 Increase311.7 Increase44,761 Increase2.1 % Negative increase4.3 % Positive decrease3.5 % Positive decrease0.9 %
2009 Decrease306.4 Decrease43,787 Decrease−2.5 % Increase0.6 % Negative increase5.3 % Positive decrease0.7 %
2010 Increase331.1 Increase46,948 Increase6.8 % Negative increase2.3 % Positive decrease4.3 % Positive decrease0.6 %
2011 Increase354.2 Increase49,819 Increase4.8 % Negative increase5.3 % Positive decrease3.4 % Steady0.6 %
2012 Increase366.8 Increase51,157 Increase1.7 % Negative increase4.1 % Positive decrease3.3 % Positive decrease0.5 %
2013 Increase384.3 Increase53,299 Increase3.1 % Negative increase4.3 % Negative increase3.4 % Steady0.5 %
2014 Increase402.0 Increase55,431 Increase2.8 % Negative increase4.4 % Positive decrease3.3 % Positive decrease0.1 %
2015 Increase416.1 Increase56,924 Increase2.4 % Negative increase3.0 % Steady3.3 % Steady0.1 %
2016 Increase430.4 Increase58,345 Increase2.2 % Negative increase2.4 % Negative increase3.4 % Steady0.1 %
2017 Increase454.9 Increase61,393 Increase3.8 % Increase1.5 % Positive decrease3.1 % Steady0.1 %


  • GDP (nominal, 2017) – HK$2,669,009 million
  • GDP – real growth rate: +3.8% (2017)
  • GDP – per capita: HK$360,000 (2017)
  • GDP – composition by sector[51] (2015):
    • Finance and insurance: 17.6%
    • Tourism: 5.0%
    • Trade: 22.2%
    • Professional Services: 12.4%
    • Other Sectors: 42.8%


  • Population: – 7.409 million (end-2017), +0.9% p.a. (2015–16)
  • Unemployment rate: 2.9% (2017)
  • Labour Force Participation Rate[52] (2009):
    • Overall: 60.3%[53]
    • Male: 45.8%
    • Female: 54.2%
    • Age 15–24: 8.5%
    • Age 25–39: 36.8%
    • Age 39+: 43.7%


  • Labour force: 3.9 million (mid-2017)
  • Employed: 3.86 million (96.8%, mid-2017)
    • Public administration, social and personal services 510,321
    • Finance and insurance 223.221
    • Import/export, wholesale and retail trade 808,251
    • Transport, storage, postal and courier service 178,1
  • Average Work Week: 45 hours
  • Unemployed: 128,200 (3.1%, mid-2017)
  • Underemployed: 44,200 (1.2%, mid-2017)

FY 2019–20 budget[55][edit]

  • Total Revenues: HK$626.1 billion
  • Total Expenditures: HK$607.8 billion
  • Government debt HK$92.3 billion (US$11.89 billion; 3rd Quarter of 2019)


Selective data for various years
  • Two-way Trade: US$823.9 billion, +23.6% (2010), +11.1% p.a. (1986–2010)
    • With mainland China:' $402.6 billion, +24.2% (2010), 48.9% share
  • Exports: $459.4 billion, -0.5% (2016)
    • To mainland China:' $205.7 billion, +26.5% (2010), 52.7% share
  • Re-exports: $381.2 billion, +22.8% (2010), +14.3% p.a. (1986–2010)
    • To mainland China:' $247.7 (2016)
  • Imports: $513.8 billion, +9.1% (2016),
    • From mainland China:' $245.3 billion (2016)

Trade with Macau[edit]

Location of Hong Kong and Macau

As at 2015, Macau is Hong Kong's second largest export destination, occupying 6.1% of Hong Kong's total exports.[56] The amount of export totaled USD 8.4B, with broadcasting equipment, jewelry, and precious metal watches as the major products. [57] On the other hand, Hong Kong is Macau's largest export destination.[58] Totaled USD 774M, with precious metal watches, jewelry, trunks and cases as the major trading products, the exports to the Hong Kong forms 53% of Macau's total exports.[59] Since 2018, Hong Kong and Macau have been connected via road by the Hong Kong–Zhuhai–Macau Bridge.


The international poverty line is a monetary threshold under which an individual is considered to be living in poverty. This threshold is calculated using Purchasing Power Parity.[60] According to the World Bank, the international poverty line was most recently updated in October 2015, in which it was increased from $1.25 per day to $1.90 per day using the value of 2011 dollars.[61] Raising this threshold helps account for changes in costs of living, which directly effects individuals ability to obtain basic necessities across countries. With Hong Kong being one of the largest and most expensive cities in the world, there is no surprise that a portion of the population is living in poverty.

Recent figures show that 1.37 million people are living below the poverty line and struggling to survive on HK$4,000 ($510 USD) per month for a one person household, HK$9,800 for a two-person household earning, and HK$15,000 or a three-person household.[62] The poverty rate in Hong Kong hit a high of 20.1%, but recent efforts by government programs have lowered this number to 14.7%.[63]

In December 2012, the Commission on Poverty (CoP) was reinstated to prevent and alleviate poverty with three primary functions; analyze the poverty situation, assist policy formulation and to assess policy effectiveness. Cash handouts have been credited with alleviating much of the poverty, but the extent in which poverty has been alleviated is still questionable. Although cash handouts raise households above the poverty line, they are still struggling to meet certain standards as the cost of living in Hong Kong steadily increases.

Coupled with these cash payments, statutory minimum wage is set to increase for a second time in the past 10 years. Statutory Minimum Wage (SMW) came into existence on May 1, 2011 and the SMW rate has been HK$34.5 per hour since May 2017. The Legislative Council in Hong Kong most recently approved the revision on the SMW rate to increase to HK$37.5 per hour, effective May 1, 2019.[64] Although the total statistics for Hong Kong show declining poverty, child poverty has recently increased .3 percentage points, up to a total of 23.1%, as a result of larger households due to children staying with their elderly parents.[65] With economic growth projected to slow in the coming years, poverty becomes an increasingly pressing issue.

Beyond benefiting the younger generation through cash handouts and minimum wage increases, expanded elderly allowances have been implemented to increase disposable incomes of the elderly population that can no longer work. As of February 1, 2019 the amount payable per month for eligible elderly population became HK$1,385 in an effort to raise households incomes living with elderly tenants. Although Hong Kong has become one of the largest growing cities in the world, much of the population is struggling to keep up with the rising costs of living.

One of the largest issues affecting low income families is the availability of affordable housing. Over the past decade, residential Hong Kong property prices have increased close to 242%, with growth finally starting to decelerate in 2019.[66] Considering housing is a basic necessity, prices have continuously increased while disposable incomes remain virtually unchanged. As the amount of affordable housing diminishes, it has become much harder for families to find homes in their home country. Public housing programs have been implemented by the government, but delayed construction and growing waitlists have not helped to the extent they planned for. Recent results from a Hong Kong think tank show that by 2022, the average citizen could wait up to 6 years for public housing.[67] Evidence shows that the availability of affordable housing has declined, forcing households to spend more on shelter and less on other necessities. These issues can lead to worse living conditions and imbalanced diets, both of which pose problems beyond just financial well being.

Stock exchange[edit]

The Hong Kong Stock Exchange is the sixth largest in the world, with a market capitalisation of about US$3.732 trillion as of mid-2017. In 2006, the value of initial public offerings (IPO) conducted in Hong Kong was second highest in the world after London.[68] In 2009, Hong Kong raised 22 percent of IPO capital, becoming the largest centre of IPOs in the world.[69] The exchange is the world's 10th largest by turnover and third largest in China.[70][citation needed]

See also[edit]


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