Traders Caught in Shanghai Lockdown Skip Showers, Lose Sleep
(Bloomberg) -- Henry, a fund manager, is currently sharing a single bathroom in his office in Shanghai’s financial district with more than 20 people, none of whom have access to a shower. He doesn’t know how much longer he’ll have to do this for.
He was called back on Saturday along with some other employees as part of his company’s rotational work arrangement implemented amid Shanghai’s worsening Covid outbreak. Henry packed up some clothes and necessities for a short stay, but days later, the elevator in his office building had been suspended, and 9 million people in the eastern half of the city were placed under a four-day lockdown.
Though the lockdown officially ended early Friday, many parts of Pudong, where the financial district is, remain sealed off indefinitely as infections remain widespread. The city’s western Puxi area, home to 16 million people, also went into a lockdown early Friday, an operation that will severely test authorities’ ability to rein in the outbreak amid the Covid-Zero policy.
“Everyone is worried,” Henry, who asked only to be quoted by his first name, said. “We came here in early spring, but will likely only be able to leave around early summer.”
He and his colleagues are anxiously awaiting for updates from his employer and building management on how much longer they’ll have to stay in the office for.
Hundreds of traders, bankers and fund managers in Shanghai have been living in their offices after employers rushed to call staff back ahead of the lockdown. The firms alerted employees to be prepared to sleep in the office, and some were offered extra money for their ordeal. The requests are part of contingency plans to ensure smooth operations, and compliance rules meant that some operations, such as placing orders, can’t be executed from home. And following one of the most volatile periods in decades in China’s markets in March, there is strong pressure to ensure that things like spotty internet connections don’t interrupt trading.
Shanghai, which is home to more than 1,600 financial instititutions, reported more than 4,500 local Covid cases and asymptomatic infections for Thursday, accounting for more than 60% of the nationwide tally. The city has said it will adopt a strategy of “static management,” a term it didn’t clarify but has been used by officials to mean a strict lockdown in which residents are barred from leaving their homes.
At Henry’s firm, more than 20 people are now sharing one bathroom in the office, he said. People rest in camping beds or sleeping bags in poorly ventilated conference rooms for a little bit of privacy, while others sleep by their desks. Some cover up surveillance cameras on trading floors at night before uncovering them again in the morning. Elsewhere, traders disturbed at night by the neon signs from nearby skyscrapers seek help from friends working at those companies to try to turn the lights off.
Trading volumes in stocks and currency markets had slumped since the partial lockdown went into effect, and some small- and medium-sized banks in Shanghai almost halted business without an emergency backstop, people familiar with the matter said. Meanwhile, having fund managers communicate from different locations adds to the difficulty of cross-checking trades while managing multiple accounts and can lead to “occasional errors,” according to a hedge fund manager who declined to be named.
Min Liangchao, a fund manager with HSBC Jintrust Fund Management Co., said a typical day for him in the office now begins with an early struggle to place online orders for vegetables to be delivered to his family, before grabbing some food and kicking off work at about 7 a.m. During trading hours, he helps execute trades for colleagues who are working from home with their authorization and compliance approval, and joining online roadshows and seminars after market close, working until 10 p.m. before squeezing in a video call with his child.
“Working from the office means that you have all the time to yourself to invest and research. So I find myself more concentrated,” said Min, whose office is located in the Shanghai International Finance Centre in the Lujiazui financial area and has a shower. “In fact without the need to commute, you get more time to yourself.”
HSBC Jintrust said that all employees in the office are well-prepared to stay beyond April 5, and the company will adjust its rosters based on the local government’s Covid restriction policies.
The prospect of being locked down for days or even weeks longer in the office away from families is also starting to weigh emotionally on some financial workers. Henry, the fund manager, said he can only check on his child via a baby camera or video clips shared by family members.
Wang Zhichao, head of foreign exchange trading at Bank of Communications Co., asked his helper to stay with the family during the lockdown, while he and a team of around 30 people stay in the office.
“I’ve been living at the company for two weeks and there’s not much I can do to take care of the family,” said Wang.
Given the gravity of the situation facing China, Min, the fund manager, said that he is willing to make sacrifices -- as long as he can also keep making money for clients.
“I can overcome the inconveniences. And these difficulties are nothing compared with what Shanghai or even the country is facing,” said Min. “As a fund manager, I’m more concerned about how I can improve the performance on my product during the market downturn.”
©2022 Bloomberg L.P.
With assistance from Bloomberg