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AI to propel Hong Kong’s economy

Speaking at the release of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council’s (HKTDC) forecast for Hong Kong’s export performance for 2020, HKTDC Assistant Principal Economist (Global Research) stated that the unprecedented and overwhelming nature of the COVID 19 outbreak can be a timely game-changer.

It will encourage a new phase of creativity and sustainability while preparing the global economy for a more resilient and robust post-COVID-19 future after a broad-based recovery.

Some businesses – including e-commerce marketplaces, pharmaceutical and healthcare companies, logistics solution providers, video-conferencing solution providers and entertainment streaming and online gaming platforms – are likely to thrive in this ‘new normal’.

He predicted the pandemic will accelerate automation and artificial intelligence (AI)-driven technology will become more mainstream as the global economy and industry reboots and tilts more towards digitalisation and automation.

Concurrently, business-model innovations that use big-data analytics, contactless solutions and new digital channels would help traditional commercial operations – such as restaurants, last-mile delivery services, public transportation – undergo digital transformation and survive the COVID-19 crisis.

The Assistant Principal Economist quoted Bain & Company research which anticipated that by the end of the 2020s automation of business processes may eliminate 20% to 25% of current jobs.

Over the next two years, Bain sees the share of companies scaling up automation technologies – ranging from low code automation, optical character recognition, robotic process automation to conversational AI – will at least double.

Export outlook declines

Uncertainties about the length and depth of the economic downturn brought by COVID-19 and the threat of trade protectionism led the HKTDC to revise its Hong Kong export growth forecast for 2020 down to a decline of 10%, from the previous prediction of a 2% fall.

The HKTDC Director of Research, at a press conference, stated that revision takes into account the latest HKTDC Export Index survey, which indicated that 82% of the 500 [respondent] exporters forecast their total sales will drop 10% year-on-year.

It was noted that the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic (64.6%), softening global demand (19.5%) and the trade tensions between Mainland China and the United States (10.8%) remained the biggest threats that may affect their export prospects.

Meanwhile, 97.5% of survey respondents – up 3.6 percentage points from the previous quarter – have experienced adverse shocks to their businesses because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

These include buyers purchasing less (57%) or cancelling orders (52.3%), delays in product deliveries (55.8%) and logistical disruptions (53.1%). In response to the pandemic, 67.6% of respondents had implemented remote-working arrangements, while more than 41% developed online sales channels to supplement conventional sales operations.

Index stabilises

The HKTDC Export Index rose a marginal 2.2 points to 18.2 in the second quarter of 2020.

“This may indicate that the negative sentiment is now plateauing, yet the reading is still well below the 50-point watershed, indicating that Hong Kong’s exports performance is not likely to improve dramatically in the short term,” HKTDC Assistant Principal Economist (Greater China) stated.

In addition, the Procurement Index fell by 4.3 points to a record low of 10.5, with all major industry sectors dropping further – jewellery (2.0), clothing (9.4), electronics (10.4), toys (11.3), machinery (14.8) and timepieces (17.3) – showing buyers will source less in the coming months.

Having said that, demand for electronics items related to computers, webcams, microphones and medical applications, wearable tech and smartwatches with health-monitoring functions, as well as comfortable, multi-purpose and athleisure wear are on the rise, while stylish fashion jewellery and design pieces and wedding items would also have a better chance.

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