22 March 2020

BDA’s Simon Kavanagh speaks to Bloomberg on Hong Kong returning to work

March 22, 2020

By Manuel Baigorri, Vinicy Chan and Alfred Liu

(Bloomberg) — Simon Kavanagh never thought he’d be so happy to go to work. The investment banker rode the elevator to the 20th floor of his office on Queen’s Road Central in Hong Kong recently after spending a couple of weeks cooped up in his apartment as the coronavirus raged across Asia.

Working from home is nice for a few days, “but for week-long periods when you live in very small Hong Kong apartments it quickly loses its novelty,” said Kavanagh, a managing director at BDA Partners. “Returning to the office indicated a return to normalcy.”

Kavanagh is among a growing cadre of bankers and other office workers slowly returning to work in Hong Kong and across greater China following a stretch when new virus cases slowed. While most offices aren’t 100% staffed — some are still rotating at home — the gradual return to normal offers some comfort for
workers in Europe and North America who are just starting to see their lives turned upside down by the virus. Signs of the return are everywhere. Kavanagh’s BDA team in Shanghai was back at work last week. Traffic jams are becoming the norm again in China’s financial capital. In Hong Kong, hot lunch spots in the financial center like Simply Life are sporting line-ups. Most bank branches in Beijing have reopened. Singapore, the Southeast Asian financial hub, has barely missed a beat.

“We are about 3 to 4 weeks ahead of where the U.S. is in terms of dealing with the outbreak,” Chris Brankin, chief executive officer of TD Ameritrade Asia, told Bloomberg Television on March 12. “People are coming back to the office, they are out and about in public, whereas the U.S. and Europe are inscramble

Back at work doesn’t mean back to normal for most bankers, and a recent uptick in cases in Hong Kong and Singapore has authorities cautioning against complacency. While some deals and equity sales are starting to get done, travel restrictions and the surge in cases throughout Europe and the U.S. are putting major transactions on hold. Announced deals involving Chinese and Hong Kong companies plunged by almost a third in the first quarter to $65 billion. Initial public offerings in Hong Kong however have picked up in March after a plunge in February, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

“Business has slowed down, but we’re still closing deals, including one in China just now, and we have a few more to close in the coming weeks,” said Kavanagh, whose firm has offices across Asia.

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