US plan to repatriate billions could affect Hong Kong

HONG KONG • A United States push to encourage its companies to repatriate billions of dollars parked overseas could trigger capital outflows out of Hong Kong, though such funds could eventually return to the territory, the head of the city's Monetary Authority said yesterday.

Low-tax Asian financial hubs, such as Hong Kong and Singapore, have historically benefited from US multinational giants parking growing cash balances overseas to avoid paying higher tax bills at home.

But US President Donald Trump's call to allow a one-time tax cut to bring back funds that big US companies, such as Apple, have invested overseas has raised concerns about capital flight.

"The accumulated profits overseas of multinational American corporations are huge, but not all of it will return to the US," Mr Norman Chan, the chief executive of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, the special economic zone's de facto central bank, told reporters after a briefing to the city's legislative body.

He noted that the amount of funds repatriated would probably depend on the details of the new policy and what incentives it included.

Additionally Mr Chan said not all the funds that return to the US would remain in the country's banking system. Possibly some could flow back to emerging markets.

The amount of cash kept by US non-financial firms overseas probably reached US$1.3 trillion (S$1.8 trillion) at the end of last year, according to a report published by Moody's Investor Services in November, amounting to three-quarters of all cash held by them.

"We are confident the capital will eventually flow back to Hong Kong," Mr Chan said. "So the impact is difficult to predict for the time being."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 07, 2017, with the headline 'US plan to repatriate billions could affect Hong Kong'. Print Edition | Subscribe