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MARKETS & INVESTING | Staff Reporter, Hong Kong
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Hong Kong's stock brokers rally to defend 90 minute work break

When is lunch not lunch?- When it's a Hong Kong stock broker lunch.

Unlike most ordinary mortals for whom lunch means, well, lunch, Hong Kong's stock brokers use lunch to communicate with clients. And keep working away from the trading floor.

The existing "lunch break" of one and a half hours is barely enough for this, said Patrick Lam, chairman of the Hong Kong Securities & Futures Employees Union.

Brokers use the break to communicate with clients and one hour is not enough, said Lam.

That's why 1,000 members of his union and restaurant staff staged a rally last Jan. 12 to protest a proposal by the Hong Kong Exchanges & Clearing Ltd to further reduce the lunch break to only one hour starting March 5. The broker's lunch break was cut by 30 minutes before.

“Turnover at the Hong Kong exchange hasn’t increased since the first phase of the lunch cut,” said Lam.

The average daily turnover in the city has been HK$67.8 billion since the bourse reduced its break on March 7 last year to the current 90 minutes, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That’s less than the HK$69.8 billion average for the same period a year earlier, when traders still enjoyed their two-hour lunch break. The average number of common shares traded has dropped by 28 percent to 11.1 billion.

“Maybe we can compromise to make everyone happy,” said Louis Lai, a stock broker at Phillip Securities who is also part of the union. “There’s no urgent need to further cut it back to one hour.”

Hong Kong Exchanges’ Chief Executive Charles Li, in seeking to cut the lunch break to one hour from 90 minutes, argues it may boost business as trading hours are brought in line with China’s markets. Rivals in the region have also enacted similar measures with Tokyo shortening its midday halt and Singapore scraping its break.

“We’ll work together to find ways to solve the lunch problem,” Li told reporters yesterday after meeting the protesters. “It’s necessary to move on. We shouldn’t stop our reform.”

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