(編按︰今天,談社區經濟,總會聯想起社會企業,回收工業、有機食品等等,其實社區經濟不一定只有社企,還有很多很多存在我們身邊很久的小商業活動。

銀行被不小稱為百業之母,今天的金融海嘯也源於銀行自身的危機,涉及大型模的經濟活動可以找銀行,但如果社區中,小商戶或小販們要「融資」,就要從二叔公(當舖)說起。「二叔公」對社區怎樣重要呢?看看以下的文章可以略知一二。

官塘的二叔公真的不少,尤其是市中心一帶,究竟為何會這樣呢?)

Hardcore Pawn

source of information : http://hk-magazine.com/feature/hardcore-pawn

February 13th, 2009 June Ng

The government is raising the maximum loan allowance for pawnbrokers from $50,000 to $100,000, but will this move save the industry or its customers.

Pawnshops are a longstanding business in Hong Kong, their green and red neon signs easily recognizable as a handy alternative to banks when one needs an urgent cash injection. There are currently 190 such establishments in the city, with each one conducting around 6,500 transactions a year. In 1990, the government put a $50,000 cap on loans paid out by pawnbrokers in the Pawnbrokers Ordinance, but come February 25, the loan ceiling will be raised to $100,000.

The raise appears to be good news to this slowly shrinking century-old industry, which at its peak 10 to 20 years ago numbered at least 300 shops. Mr. Lee, who runs a pawnshop in Shau Kei Wan, remembered how during those times, he would see at least 100 customers a day. Now, the number has dwindled to around 30.

But while a recession might seem like a great time for pawnshops to make a comeback with their combination of quick money and safety when compared to borrowing from loan sharks, this is far from the truth. Although there has been a slight increase in business, pawnbrokers say that their revenue has not increased much because more people have failed to redeem their pawned items owing to a lack of money. A pawnshop’s sole income comes from the interest, which the person pawning their valuables will need to pay back when they return to reclaim their property within four months, otherwise the pawned goods will be confiscated and sold (read more about the procedure in box, right).

“It’s a misconception that when the economy is doing badly, we’ll do well,” Lee says. “In fact, when the economy is good, that’s when people have more valuables that they’re willing to pawn for cash to invest in the stock market. But now people come to us because they are short of cash, and they rarely return to redeem the valuables.” He hopes that the new increased cap will at least attract richer customers who are more likely to pay interest and reclaim their items.

The raise was proposed in 2007 by the Hong Kong and Kowloon Pawnbrokers’ Association. They said that thanks to inflation (the Consumer Price Index shows a 63.7 percent rise in the cost of goods since 1990), many valuable items such as gold, jewelry and luxury watches are now worth far more than the current maximum limit.

Mr. Au, owner of a pawnshop in Tsuen Wan, welcomes the change. Having operated his pawnshop for more than 60 years, he has seen firsthand the changes to the industry. In the 50s, people would pawn their shoes, clothes and blankets, but now, people bring only valuable items that are often worth far more than the current maximum loan limit. “Before, we could only say that an item was worth $50,000, even if it was worth more, or we would use a loophole to break down the loan fee into several transactions,” he says.

Fellow pawnbroker Mr. Hung, who runs a pawnshop in Kwun Tong, agrees that the new move could save a lot of trouble. Not only will it save on paperwork, but it will provide tangible benefits to more Hongkongers, especially small-business owners. “Some of my regulars are heads of small companies. If they’ve sold a lot of goods but their buyer hasn’t paid them yet, they’ll just drop by with their Rolex to get some handy cash to pay their staff,” he says.

But legislator Wong Ting-kwong—who once protested against the banks tightening their control of loans to small and medium enterprises—questions whether this move will help small businesses. “Under usual practice, businesses won’t raise funds via pawnbrokers because the borrowing costs are too high. However, it might help the small vendors in an emergency,” he concedes.

Nevertheless, Wong supports the bill, saying it’s high time the outdated loan ceiling of the 90s is increased. Some pawnbrokers are also concerned that the raise will have an adverse impact on their business. A pawnshop owner in North Point who wishes to remain anonymous, says that he has seen a 30 percent increase in people not returning to reclaim their goods. He now has at least $100,000 worth of unclaimed goods and he is not certain of recouping his losses in the resale market. When the ceiling is raised, so too are the stakes for pawnbrokers.

How a Pawnshop Works
You pawn your valuables by surrendering them to the pawnbroker in exchange for cash. You redeem your valuables by paying back the capital, usually within four lunar months (one lunar month is 30 days), plus monthly interest of 3.5 percent. If you fail to repay the broker, he will then resell your valuables for compensation. Of course, if you can make the repayments before the four months are up, you can buy back your items with no additional surcharge. Besides watches and jewelry, some pawnshops these days even accept cellphones and digital appliances. But to prevent people trading stolen goods, customers must fill out a personal information form before pawning.

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