Survey shows 80% optimistic or neutral on global economy in 2021

Co-organised by the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) Government and Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC), the 14th Asian Financial Forum (AFF) concluded on Tuesday (1/19). Running on the theme “Reshaping the World Economic Landscape”, the two-day virtual event also featured an online poll to gauge participants’ views on the global economy and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on various sectors. This year’s AFF attracted more than 63,000 viewers from more than 70 nations and regions. To help facilitate more concrete collaboration between global investors, project owners and start-ups, the online forum included the AFF Deal Flow Matchmaking Session, with more than 700 one-on-one matchmaking meetings arranged.

Paul Chan, Financial Secretary of the HKSAR, expressed his views on the outlook for Hong Kong on the second morning of the forum. “My optimism for Hong Kong is clear and compelling. It’s built on our distinctive advantages under the ‘one country, two systems’ arrangement. I’m talking about Hong Kong’s world-class financial system and the professional services prowess that supports it. To that, add the free flow of information, talent, capital and goods, in and out of Hong Kong. No less vital is our long-standing rule of law and level playing field tied to our transparent and internationally aligned regulatory system, low and simple tax regime and deep market liquidity. Put it all together, and you know why Hong Kong means business. Whatever business you’re in, whatever investment interests you may have.”

68% of respondents believe Mainland China will offer best investment return in 2021
Real-time polling conducted at various sessions during the AFF enhanced interactivity between speakers and participants and gauged their views on subjects such as global economic prospects, the region that offers the best investment return, and the challenges of sustainable development. When asked about the outlook for the global economy in 2021, 32% of respondents were optimistic, 47% were neutral, while 21% of respondents expressed pessimism, reflecting a generally not-so-pessimistic view on the overall economic outlook.

Meanwhile, 68% of respondents believed that Mainland China would be the region with the best investment return, while ASEAN ranked second (18%) and the USA third (7%). This result echoed the sharing of Nobel Laureate economist and policy entrepreneur Paul Romer in the keynote session on the first day of the AFF. Mr Romer pointed out that Asia will likely lead the way in terms of economic contribution to global GDP. He explained that while there may be changes ahead and business travel may decrease, some economic trends are firmly in place that can continue, including urbanisation. And people will want more living space as wealth increases in Asia, helping to make the region a leader in urban development.

55% expect global economic activities to take one year to return normal
While the pandemic is still hindering world economic activities, the forum responded to the theme “Reshaping the World Economic Landscape” and conducted on-site polling to gauge participants’ view on the impact of the pandemic on the global economy. The survey showed that 55% of respondents believed global economic activities would return to normal after one year, 28% believed it would happen within this year, while 17% of respondents said it would take more than two years to return to normal. When asked about their views on governments’ measures to stimulate economic recovery, 24% agreed that unemployment assistance was the most effective, followed by stimulus payments in the form of vouchers to boost local consumption (21%) and tax relief measures such as deferral of corporate income tax payments (21%). When asked about the biggest challenge faced by the banking industry in 2021, 32% of respondents said credit risk and quality, followed by cyber threats due to increasing digital banking interactions (26%).

Shift from technology to traditional businesses in second half of 2021

The impact of the pandemic and evolving international geopolitical issues have created uncertainties in the global economy. More than 60 dialogues and discussion sessions were organised at this year’s AFF, inviting more than 160 distinguished finance policymakers and business leaders to examine the market situation and share insights on the strategies to address the current financial stalemate. Stephen A Schwarzman, Chairman, CEO and Co-Founder of Blackstone, who last year predicted that the economy of the United States would see a V-shaped recovery, expressed the view that as demand returns in the second half of 2021 there will be higher interest rates due to inflation. He also said that technology is revolutionising the world and has “had a massive run”, after which it may fare less well this year in terms of investment return. “Conventional investing for value-oriented securities has really lagged because those companies are being disrupted, but I think there will be a rotation to some of the more traditional businesses as they recover.”

Two tech trailblazers share insights on innovation technology and business ideas
Innovation and technology are fundamentally impacting financial development and were a key focus at this year’s AFF. Two technology trailblazers – Alexis Ohanian, Co-founder of Reddit and Seven Seven Six, and Luc Julia, Co-creator of Siri, Apple’s virtual assistant – shared their insights during keynote sessions on the second day of forum. Mr Ohanian said: “There’s an interesting timing opportunity for start-ups in the right place at the right time. Travel is a good example. There is an opportunity right now if you’re building the right kind of travel business to seize a large part of the market quickly, because as the vaccine rollout continues, and as we start to beat COVID, there will be a huge appetite for things that fell to basically zero over the past year.”

700+ meetings arranged through online matchmaking sessions
The AFF Deal Flow Matchmaking Session ran on a virtual platform this year, helping to arrange 718 one-on-one meetings between project owners and investors and bringing together investors, project owners and start-ups, breaking the record for the number of companies involved. Investment projects covered areas including the Internet of Things, digital technology, healthtech, fintech, education, environment and energy, food and agriculture, infrastructure and real estate services.

This year’s AFF continued to present the Fintech Showcase, FintechHK Startup Salon, InnoVenture Salon and Global Investment Zone. More than 140 local and overseas international financial institutions, technology enterprises, start-ups and investment agencies, including Mox Bank, a start-up group from Cyberport, Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks, PAO Bank and Airwallex, came together to give online presentations on the latest trends in fintech innovation and next-generation business ideas, helping industries from different parts of the world to explore investment opportunities. The HKTDC, 500 Startups and FWD Group also jointly presented the inaugural “AFF Accelerate”, an open-innovation challenge with eight start-up finalists devising insurance technology solutions to help the insurance industry recruit agents, engage prospects and solve payment problems. “Open innovation” refers to an innovation management model that promotes collaboration with external parties.

Overview of 2021 Asian Financial Forum participants’ polling results
1. With the government measures and COVID-19 vaccine in place, when do you expect global economic activity to return to normal? – Polling result
– 2Q 2021 3%
– 3Q 2021 25%
– Beyond one year 55%
– Beyond two years 15%
– Beyond five years 2%

2. Governments worldwide have rolled out relief packages in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In your view, which of the following measures is the most effective in stimulating economic recovery? – Polling result
– Monetary policy measures such as interest rate reductions 19%
– Tax relief measures such as deferral of corporate income tax payment 21%
– Moratorium on delayed debt repayments for enterprises 15%
– Unemployment assistance 24%
– Stimulus payment in form of vouchers to boost local consumption 21%

3. Which of the following would you consider as the most prominent feature of the post-pandemic economy? – Polling result
– Lower flow of global travellers 12%
– Accelerated adoption of technology in businesses 47%
– Persistently low interest rate 10%
– Deglobalisation 9%
– Rising inequality 22%

4. Global economic outlook in 2021 – Polling result
– Optimistic 32%
– Neutral 47%
– Pessimistic 21%

5. Which of the following economies/regions do you think will offer the best investment return in 2021? – Polling result
– Mainland China 68%
– ASEAN 18%
– USA 7%
– India 4%
– Others 3%

6. The biggest challenge faced by the banking industry in 2021 – Polling result
– Credit risk and quality 32%
– Cyber threats due to increasing digital banking interactions 26%
– Workforce management for a more agile and remote way of working 13%
– Customer relationship and loyalty 4%
– Political risks 25%

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The Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) is a statutory body established in 1966 to promote, assist and develop Hong Kong’s trade. With 50 offices globally, including 13 in Mainland China, the HKTDC promotes Hong Kong as a two-way global investment and business hub. The HKTDC organises international exhibitions, conferences and business missions to create business opportunities for companies, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), in the mainland and international markets. The HKTDC also provides up-to-date market insights and product information via trade publications, research reports and digital news channels. For more information, please visit: Follow us on Twitter @hktdc and LinkedIn.

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