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Companies may consider moving from Hong Kong to Singapore

Companies in Hong Kong can move out of political uncertainty and massive protests in the city. Business members told CNBC.

But an analyst said that Hong Kong still has an advantage over its rivals – its proximity to the mainland.

"The real concern here, as we have seen little evidence, is that people are moving their businesses and their money in greater numbers to Singapore," Tara Joseph, president of the US Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, told CNBCs "Squawk Boxas "on Monday.

On Sunday, hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Hong Kong to oppose a law change that would allow refugees to be extradited from the territory to China for trial.

Although the disputed bill was suspended on Saturday, continued demonstrations related to calls to Chief Executive Carrie Lam to go down and withdraw the proposal altogether.

At a press conference Tuesday, Lam told her and her team would "try (their) very best" in the next three years of her term. The bill remains indefinitely, with Lam saying the government "will not go ahead with this legislation" if people's concerns have not been rejected.

The government has argued that the law is needed to close a legal "gap" but many are concerned that Hong Kong's freedoms may be threatened if the bill is completed.

I think companies are seeing China crushing to Hong Kong in an increasing way over the past few years, so it gives them cause for concern. [1

9659009] Peter Churchouse

Portwood Capital

New protests differ from the Occupy Central movement in 2014, says Fraser Howie, an independent analyst. The business then only saw it as a "traffic disruption", he said.

This time, it has been brought to "very real concern for Beijing intrusion", he told CNBC's "Street Signs" on Monday

Impact on Hong Kong

Also, "increasing numbers" of companies are also moving their regional headquarters from Hong Kong to other parts of Asia, "especially" to Singapore, says Peter Churchouse, CEO of Portwood Capital.

A tycoon moved over more than $ 100 million from a Citibank account in Hong Kong to Singapore, according to an adviser involved in the transactions that spoke to Reuters.

"It will, of course, affect demand in Hong Kong's economy," Churchouse said. It will also have an impact on the real estate market, especially the commercial and upper part of the residential area, he said.

"It already happens," said Churchouse, adding that it is not just due to the proposed law change.

"It's also because of other things happening in China in general. There are many rules and rules that make life more difficult," he said. "I think companies are seeing China crushing to Hong Kong in an increasing way over the past few years, so it gives them cause for concern."

Joseph also said there are signs of talent moving out of town, and companies are starting to look at Singapore "more seriously".

It would be a real disappointment if companies and capital continue to deceive, she added. "Hong Kong has a lot to play for as a financial center and a good place to do business," she said.

"Onus is really in the Hong Kong government now, despite a crisis, to really get back into the game and ascend and insure investors, calm business," she said.

Safeguards elsewhere

But other financial hubs may not be able to take Hong Kong's place, according to Ronald Arculli, senior partner of King & Wood Mallesons.

"Looking at Asia, Hong Kong is probably the leading financial center we have here," he said. "Tokyo is also very big, Singapore is active, but in terms of turnover, liquidity, it's really Hong Kong."

It also contributes to the city's legal system based on English common law that people around the world understand, he added.

Independent analyst Howie said that money and management could go out to Singapore. But not all companies could do that, he said.

"A trade counter is primarily in China or is located in Hong Kong because it is close to China," Howie said. "It's ultimately where China's business is. So if you're focused on China, you really need to be much closer to China than Singapore."

Nevertheless, he acknowledged that business may have to start "diverting" from Hong Kong. "You have to secure your games in a way that you didn't need before."

– Reuters and CNBC's Kelly Olsen contributed to this report.

A woman is seen with a sign outside the headquarters in Admiralty in Hong Kong, China.

Vernon Yuen NurPhoto | Getty Images

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