HK to feel the pinch as inflation, higher interest rates bite

Hong Kong developers are cutting their property prices, spooked by the prospect of rising interest rates. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Against the backdrop of rising oil prices, low yields and average workers’ wages, should investors be worried about inflation and its impact on global markets?

So far, there’s little sign suggesting that investors are paying much attention to inflation while their focus falls mainly on the escalating trade war between the United States and the Chinese mainland.

Indeed, the increases in prices of utilities and transportation have been almost entirely overshadowed by soaring property prices which seem to have defied all economic fundamentals. The property bubble, even as grotesque and enduring as the one in Hong Kong, doesn’t have a life of its own.

The driving force behind escalating property prices has been a combination of abnormally low interest rates and easy bank credit, factors rooted in the expansionary monetary policies adopted by the major economies to stimulate growth in the years since the outbreak of the global financial crisis in 2008.

Things have taken a sharp turn in more recent years. Strong economic growth in the US, together with a robust job market, has prompted the Federal Reserve to tighten liquidity and raise interest rates, resulting in the appreciation of the US dollar against most major world currencies.

Meanwhile, inflation has exceeded the targeted 2 percent in many developed economies. Further increases in prices could force central banks to be more aggressive in raising the cost of money. After all, fighting inflation has remained the primary function of central banks.

Hong Kong has remained relatively unaffected by all the latest developments despite its externally oriented economy and the fact that the exchange rate of its currency is linked to the US dollar. That’s because the local money market is grossly distorted by the inflow of overseas capital, mostly from the mainland.

This could change. The pressure on raising the benchmark best lending rate is building fast, signaling the beginning of the interest rate up cycle.