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Buoyant consumer goods sector amid banking blues
Rick Gangwani
update on Saturday, February 25, 2012

Buoyed by strong retail sales, employers in the consumer-goods sector remain the most optimistic about hiring relative to other segments, a recent Hudson survey revealed.

The quarterly poll found that 57 per cent of respondents from the industry plan to increase their permanent headcount during the first three months of the year. The figure is up 10 percentage points over the preceding quarter, and, according to the report, mainly stems from the large number of mainland shoppers who continue to visit Hong Kong.

"The revenue that these visitors bring in is huge," says James Carss, general manager for Hudson Hong Kong. "And it doesn't look likely to let up any time soon."

Asked about how the recent negative sentiment towards mainlanders - among some locals - might affect this revenue, Carss says it's still too early to tell. "As far as we can see, it hasn't put people off visiting Hong Kong at all," he says.

On the issue of declining consumer confidence, however, the recruitment executive notes that competition in the sector does seem to be increasing.

This, he suggests, could affect how much employers were willing to invest in expansion, including headcount.

"A couple of years ago, China was the great hope, relative to other economies in the world," Carss explains. "Businesses who were struggling in Europe and the US were keen to throw resources at Asia, especially in retail."

"But as things have become worse in Europe, they've also started to slow in China. As such, companies may no longer wish to pursue aggressive spending plans here," he adds.

Despite this, Carss predicts that hiring in the consumer sector will likely continue to outpace that of other industries, particularly banking, where jobs have been slashed recently.

Of the banking and finance executives who took part in the survey, 20 per cent say they plan on reducing headcount this quarter. Rather perplexingly, however, 33 per cent also say they plan on hiring, with many expressing a willingness to pay larger salaries than before to attract new managers.

Carss attributes the discrepancy to the still talent-driven nature of the market. "What I would surmise is that we're mainly talking about niche skill sets," he says. "So a bank letting go of staff in one area may still be willing to hire in another, more critical, area."

The importance of these staffers, adds Carss, could also explain the hefty rise in bonus payments in the industry. Two-thirds of survey respondents say they plan to pay 10 per cent more than last year - by far, the biggest increment of any sector.

"I think that bonuses are closely linked to retention," he says. "In a bad market like this, it's often difficult to get the go-ahead to rehire people. So it's important for employers to look after their staff, especially if they're good, and they don't want to lose them."

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