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14 Aug, 2019 10:02

Hong Kong's super-rich take their money and escape to New York amid protests at home

Hong Kong's super-rich take their money and escape to New York amid protests at home

Anti-government protests in Hong Kong are forcing local wealthy families to relocate to the US as they are seeking to buy property there instead of just investing in it, a New York-based real estate attorney has revealed.

Edward Mermelstein of One & Only Realty, which organizes relocation and luxury property investment starting at $10 million, described the situation as “extremely unusual” to the South China Morning Post. His firm recently received four inquiries from high-net-worth Hong Kong clients about relocating their families to the US.

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“Hong Kong residents were typically just investors and had no interest in becoming US residents. But today, the conversations are definitely about relocating families and businesses,” the wealth management consultant said.

The tense unrest has been ongoing in the city for weeks, recently leading to the shutdown of the airport. Mermelstein expects that the customers’ interest in fleeing overseas will only grow, as the situation in Hong Kong is not improving. Hong Kong’s rich want to “prevent the social unrest from disrupting their lifestyles” and ensure comfort and safety for their families, he said.

I have never seen interest from Hong Kong picking up so quickly.

Rallies in Hong Kong initially erupted at the end of March and intensified in the summer, as people demanded the cancellation of an extradition bill that would allow criminal suspects to be sent to mainland China. The bill was subsequently suspended, but the protests continued, with participants now calling for direct elections and the resignation of the chief executive, among other demands.

The turbulent situation in the city has had a negative impact on the local economy. June retail sales, a key part of Hong Kong’s economy, fell 6.7 percent from a year earlier, posting the biggest decline since February. At the same time, Hong Kong retailers fear that year-on-year sales for July and August are set to plummet by double digits.

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“It has not only affected Hong Kong’s reputation as an international financial center, but also the small and medium size enterprises,” Hong Kong’s General Chamber of Commerce said in a statement last week.

The recent two-day disruptions at Hong Kong International Airport, one of the world’s busiest air hubs, have only added pressure to the local economic situation. More than 200 flights were suspended on Monday.

“This is a disaster for Hong Kong that will cost tens of millions of dollars,” Geoffrey Thomas, the editor-in-chief of AirlineRatings.com, told CNN. He added that the city will further feel the impact of the shutdown as travelers try to avoid Hong Kong as a hub.

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