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Hong Kong set for ‘worst ever’ wave of layoffs, store closures

[HONG KONG] More than 5,600 retail jobs could be lost and thousands of stores shut down over the next six months, as pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong continue to disrupt sales during the crucial festive period.

About 30 per cent of respondents in a survey by the Hong Kong Retail Management Association said they'll cut jobs while 43 per cent said they can't continue to operate beyond six months.

"If cash flow doesn't improve and landlords don't help, there will be a wave of layoffs and business shutdowns," Annie Tse, association's chairwoman said in a press briefing Monday. "This will be the worst ever in history."

The poll, which was released on Monday, interviewed 176 retailers, covering 4,310 stores and 89,700 employees.

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The anti-Beijing demonstrations, which started in June, have seen both peaceful mass marches as well as violent actions. Radical protesters have shut down transport networks, vandalized mainland-linked businesses and seized university campuses. Hong Kong's economy has slid into a recession and the pain has rippled across the retail, tourism and hospitality sectors.

Even the month of December -- typically a busy shopping season with the Christmas and New Year holidays -- is looking glum this year, according to Tse. Retail sales for the current month is likely to be similar to the record-low levels seen in October or slip even more, she said.

"We don't feel positive about the situation in January either," Tse said. "We are all trying to survive. We are racing against time."