China Economy

The yuan may be weak, but mainland Chinese are still flowing into Hong Kong and Macau

Key Points
  • Mainland Chinese are heading to Hong Kong and Macau despite a decline in the yuan.
  • Mainland Chinese visitor arrivals and retail sales in Hong Kong both rebounded in August.
  • Analysts see a major infrastructure project known as the Greater Bay Area furthering economic integration among the two former European colonies and China's Guangdong Province.
A Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link 'Vibrant Express' train is seen at Shek Kong Stabling Sidings in Hong Kong.
Philip Fong | AFP | Getty Images

Mainland Chinese consumers are ignoring the weakness of the yuan when it comes to visiting nearby Hong Kong and Macau.

The Chinese yuan has declined as much as about 10 percent against the U.S. dollar as U.S. President Donald Trump uses tariffs and the threat of more as he seeks to rebalance trade and change China's business practices. Falls in the yuan also mean weakness in relation to the Hong Kong dollar as the latter is essentially pegged to the greenback, moving in a tight, designated band.

That could be expected to hit the retail industry in the city since mainland customers make up a large portion of consumers. That effect hasn't been seen, however.

Hong Kong retail sales increased 9.5 percent in August from the same month the year before, accelerating from July's 7.8 percent, according to figures in a report last week from Jessica Fei Ye, an equities analyst at Jefferies. In fact, visits by Chinese tourists to Hong Kong, rose 22 percent in August, compared with 8 percent in July, according to the report.

"Contrary to the market expectation, the mainland visitor consumption seems more resilient than local consumption after the sharp depreciation of the RMB," Citi consumer sector analyst Tiffany Feng said in a report released Thursday, using an abbreviation for the renminbi, another name for China's currency.

Feng cited mainland authorities' implementation of a simplified visa application process for its citizens who visit Hong Kong and continued strong demand by mainland consumers for cosmetics and jewelry in the city.

People pose for photographs in front of the Wynn Macau casino resort in Macau, China, on Tuesday, July 24, 2018.
Paul Yeung | Bloomberg | Getty Images

'Enhance the flow'

Hong Kong, a former British colony, and Macau, once ruled by Portugal, maintained their own currencies after China regained control in 1997 and 1999, respectively.

Gambling enclave Macau also appears to be outperforming in drawing Chinese visitors.

A separate Citi analysis released last week, citing figures from Macau tourism authorities, showed that visitor arrivals during the first four days of China's annual Golden Week holiday rose 21.4 percent from the year before.

"It is encouraging to see that Mainland Chinese arrivals on each of the four days are higher than those of any day during the National Day Golden Week last year," Anil Daswani, Citi's head of global gaming research, said in the report.

Analysts, meanwhile, see room for further optimism as mega-infrastructure projects aimed at economically integrating the two special administrative regions with southern China, known as the Greater Bay Area, come on line.

The initiative is meant to foster economic integration among Hong Kong, Macau and nine cities in neighboring Guangdong province, including commercial and transport hubs Shenzhen and Guangzhou.

A high speed train that began operating last month and a bridge and tunnel system to open later in October are key components.

Nearly 70 million people live in the Greater Bay Area and combined GDP is estimated at $1.5 trillion — about the same as South Korea or Russia.

Citi's Feng said that the plan "should further enhance the flow of people, along with the movement of goods and services, capital and information within the region."