Tough outlook takes its toll on HSBC

HSBC shares slid more than 6 per cent after the company reported revenues fell by a fifth from 2015. As Sonia Legg reports, it underscores the challenge it faces to boost returns amid low global interest rates and slowing economic growth.
HSBC Holdings reported a 62 per cent slump in annual pre-tax profit that fell way short of analysts' estimates.
HSBC Holdings reported a 62 per cent slump in annual pre-tax profit that fell way short of analysts' estimates.PHOTO: AFP

(REUTERS) - Last spring, HSBC investors were complaining about fat cats - as the bank's share price fell.

It led to an overhaul of HSBC's pay and a bout of restructuring.

Since then things have largely been on the up - until now.

A 62 per cent slump in annual pre-tax profit was well short of expectations. Revenues were also down by a fifth.

Mr Tom Stevenson, Investment Director at Fidelity International, said: "The company is blaming slowing trading in both Asia and the UK and shares fell quite sharply on the profit figures which were much lower than expected - about $7 billion compared to last year's $19 billion."

HSBC is Europe's largest lender by assets.


But it does much of its business in Asia, where economic growth has slowed.

Combine that with a hefty write-down from restructuring and low interest rates around the globe and you see the problem.

"I think the concern with HSBC is possibly the slowdown in trade around the world. That's bad news for banking profitability but I think in the case of HSBC the inter-regional trade, particularly in Asia, could offset that," said Mr Stevenson.

The 6 per cent fall in shares also followed a year which saw them rise by 50 per cent.

HSBC has been one of the best performing European bank stocks since Britain voted to leave the European Union.

And Brexit's not too much of worry.

HSBC plans to move 1,000 of its 43,000 staff to Paris, but will keep its headquarters in London.

Its problem Swiss operation has been slimmed down though - CEO Stuart Gulliver says the private bank is now viable after months of pain.

The global bonus pool will also be cut by 12 per cent to US$3 billion (S$4.3 billion) - perhaps meaning this year's AGM will attract slightly less attention.