You're reading this because I'm not on strike here on Monday. But much of Hong Kong, my hometown, is. The pro-democracy, anti-Communist protests called for a general strike on Monday that has caused plenty of people to call in sick.
Transportation was paralyzed during the morning rush hour and surely will be Monday night, too, and there's tear gas wafting in the air again as police combat protestors. The airport is running on one runway instead of two, with 34 flights taking off every hour instead of 68. That has led the airport authorities to cancel 230 flights.
It has taken a summer of protest, but investors finally have reacted to the disruption. The benchmark Hang Seng index fell 2.9% on Monday, the worst performance in Asia on a day that's displaying red right across the board. Expect market trackers such as the iShares MSCI Hong Kong ETF (EWH) to show similar losses in U.S. trade on Monday.
Shares in Hong Kong's flagship carrier Cathay Pacific (CPCAY) were among the big losers, down 4.2% at the close. The subway operator MTR dropped 3.4% to a two-month low and is down 13% since mid-July.
Public transportation was chaotic for those who did opt to go to work. Private cars struggled, too, as the demonstrators developed smart wildcat tactics that saw them deploy multiple cars to drive extra-slow around key roundabouts or to block tunnels. They are also holding flash protests in different parts of the city.
China's stocks are also lower on Monday, with the CSI 300 index of the largest stocks in Shanghai and Shenzhen off 1.9%. The most-notable mover, though, has been the Chinese currency, the yuan, which finally has breached the level of 7.0 to the U.S. dollar. I indicated in late June that it likely soon would.
The currency's woes reflect the ongoing tension with the United States over trade. Essentially all Chinese goods shipped into the United States are now under some form of higher tariff.
It's the first time in more than a decade that the Chinese currency has been this weak. The yuan is trading at C¥7.03 per US$1 as I write, having lost 2.2% so far this month. It was April 2008 when the yuan broke below 7, as Beijing began allowing it to trade with greater freedom.
The yuan - also known as the renminbi, which means "people's currency" - is off 5.3% since mid-April and 12.3% since U.S. President Donald Trump started his war on trade in the spring of 2018.
That's a long-running war on paper. Demonstrators here in Hong Kong are incredibly polite, but fighting a real running war with the police. The beleaguered cops are on the front lines as the pro-Beijing administration, noticeable by its absence, struggles to get any kind of grip on how to proceed.
The Hong Kong economy grew 3.0% in 2018. But it is likely to halve that to under 1.6% this year, according to Oxford Economics; that projection would represent the lowest level of growth since 2009. The continued demonstrations will likely only dent that further and hurt the Hang Seng even more.
Retail sales are most directly at risk from the demonstrations. They've fallen for four months in a row and are likely to continue to decline. That's partly because of the disruptions themselves, with many shops shuttering when the protests happen locally. Demonstrations are now expanding from Central and the center of town and rotating through different suburban neighborhoods. But the poor retail sales are also partly because mainland tourists, the main source of trade, are putting off travel to Hong Kong.
The housing market is a favorite place for Hong Kongers to speculate. However, residential sales volume plummeted 43% in June, the latest figures available, to a four-month low. Prices in the world's least-affordable property market continue to rise because the supply of housing stock is so low. But home prices tend to react to declines in the Hang Seng index with a lag of around three months, so expect to find a very expensive apartment slightly cheaper to buy come this fall.
Hong Kong's unpopular leader, Chief Executive Carrie Lam, emerged on Monday from her hole after a disappearance of two weeks. Rather than resign, as most people want her to do, Lam insists on staying in her post and reiterating warnings that the protests are destabilizing the city, while ignoring the fact that her administration is the root cause of the protests.
Demonstrators "claim they want a revolution and to restore Hong Kong," she said on Monday. "These actions have far exceeded their original political demands," adding that they bring Hong Kong to the "verge of a very dangerous situation."
Lam continues to paint the largely peaceful protestors as rioters, looters and hooligans, a more sinister depiction than her original assessment that they were acting like spoiled children.
"These illegal acts that challenge our country's sovereignty, and jeopardize 'One Country, Two Systems,' will destroy the stability and prosperity of Hong Kong," she said, according to Reuters.
Nobody is quite sure where these protests are headed, although a confrontation with an increasingly irritated Beijing government gets more and more likely. The local garrison of the People's Liberation Army says it stands ready if called into action, which would require the Hong Kong government to lodge a request.
Let's not hope we ever reach that stage; a sharp and prolonged drop in the Hang Seng would surely occur. For now, the long-term consequences of Hong Kong asserting its freedoms may very well be positive, reinforcing this city's place as the bastion of liberal freedoms from which to operate into Communist China.