June 16, 2020 / 9:14 AM / 2 months ago

UPDATE 1-Hong Kong's March-May unemployment rises to 5.9%, highest in over 15 years

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* Mar-May unemployment rate at s/adj 5.9% vs 5.2% Feb-April

* Underemployment rate at 3.5%, highest in close to 17 years

* Total employment down 37,900 to 3.6195 million in Mar-May

HONG KONG, June 16 (Reuters) - Hong Kong’s unemployment rate rose to the highest in more than 15 years in the March to May period as outbreak of the coronavirus restricted activity in an economy already in recession.

The seasonally adjusted jobless rate for the three-month period ended in May rose to 5.9% from 5.2% in February-April, government data showed on Tuesday.

The underemployment rate hit 3.5%, the highest in close to 17 years, from 3.1% in the previous three-month rolling period.

Total employment fell by around 37,900 to 3.6195 million in March-May period.

The year-on-year declines in total employment and the labour force widened further to 6.5% and 3.3%, respectively, both the largest on record.

The unemployment rate in the consumption- and tourism-related sectors combined soared to 10.6%, the highest since August-October 2003 after the SARS outbreak hit the economy, and their underemployment rate rose to 6.3%, its highest on record.

“The labour market will still face pressure in the near term, yet the pace of deterioration may decelerate,” Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong said in a statement.

Hong Kong’s retail sales slumped by 36% in value terms in April from a year earlier with visitor arrivals plunging by 99.9% year-on-year.

Hong Kong Retail Management Association has estimated that 15,000 retail stores will close down by the end of 2020 if conditions do not improve.

The Chinese-ruled city has reported only a handful of new cases recently, with its total so far standing at 1,113 infections and 4 deaths.

While many restrictions related to the coronavirus have been gradually lifted, Hong Kong’s borders remain almost fully closed and gatherings will be limited to 50 people effective Friday, relaxing from the current maximum of eight people. (Reporting by Donny Kwok and Twinnie Siu; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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