It’s the season for Christmas and non-denominational holiday cocktail receptions at foreign firms in Shanghai. Attending one such event at a consultancy recently, I pulled myself away from the limitless finger food and wine (to which journalists have a tendency to gravitate) long enough to have a proper conversation with one of the consultants.
He explained that the gathering was rather more subdued than in the past — about half as many people had showed up as was usual. “It’s the economic climate,” he said. “People don’t want to be seen out partying.”
I’m not sure how strong that line of reasoning is, particularly in a place like Shanghai. There’s probably a reasonable desire to avoid AIG-style excesses, but a few free drinks and canapés at a consultancy doesn’t seem to be in exactly the same league. Nevertheless, it was a quiet affair. A pharmaceutical executive laughed ruefully when asked how his business was going.
Another interesting point was raised in a discussion about the strangely quiet reaction to Beijing’s stimulus package: holiday timing. With an earlier-than-usual Spring Festival holiday coming just a month after Christmas (January 26), businesses – particularly foreign businesses – are putting off any major decisions and investments for the time being. If that’s true, it would be in line with expectations that the stimulus could take several months to kick in.