HSBC reports lighter-than-expected third-quarter profit fall

HSBC makes 90 percent of its profit in Asia, with China and Hong Kong being the major drivers of growth. (AFP)
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Updated 27 October 2020

HSBC reports lighter-than-expected third-quarter profit fall

  • HSBC has a further headache – geopolitical tensions via its status as a major business conduit between China and the West

HONG KONG: HSBC said Tuesday its third-quarter post-tax profits fell 46 percent on-year as the Asia-focused banking giant continued to take a hammering from the coronavirus pandemic and spiraling China-US tensions.
However, the profit falls were not as bad as some analysts had predicted and HSBC said it expected credit losses to be at the lower end of a previously announced $8 billion to $13 billion range.
The global economic slowdown caused by the virus has hit financial giants hard and there is limited optimism on the horizon as Europe and the United States head into the winter with infections soaring once more.
HSBC has a further headache — geopolitical tensions via its status as a major business conduit between China and the West.
As a result, the lender is in the midst of a worldwide overhaul, aiming to slash some 35,000 jobs by 2022, primarily in its less profitable European and American divisions.
“We are accelerating the transformation of the Group, moving our focus from interest-rate sensitive business lines toward fee-generating businesses, and further reducing our operating costs,” chief executive Noel Quinn said in a statement accompanying the results.
Reported post-tax profit for the third quarter came in at $2 billion with revenue down 11 percent at $11.9 billion, the statement said.
Adjusted pre-tax profit slid 21 percent to $4.3 billion in the period, beating a $2.8 billion estimate by Bloomberg analysts.
Quinn described the latest figures as “promising results against a backdrop of the continuing impacts of Covid-19 on the global economy” as well as low interest rates.
In the first six months of 2020, HSBC’s post-tax profits were down 69 percent, meaning the third-quarter results were something of an improvement as some major economies relaxed some of their coronavirus restrictions.
The bank said its board would consider whether to pay “a conservative dividend” for 2020 based on final end of year results and how the global economy looks in early 2021.
Earlier this year, UK regulators called on British banks to scrap dividends for the year to preserve capital during the pandemic crisis.
HSBC makes 90 percent of its profit in Asia, with China and Hong Kong being the major drivers of growth.
As a result, it has found itself more vulnerable than most to the crossfire caused by the increasingly bellicose relationship between Beijing and Washington.
The bank has tried to stay in Beijing’s good graces.
It vocally backed a tough national security law that Beijing imposed on Hong Kong in June to end a year of unrest and pro-democracy protests.
The move sparked criticism in Washington and London but analysts saw it as an attempt to protect its access to China, which has a track record of punishing businesses that do not toe Beijing’s line.
“Geopolitical risk, particularly relating to trade and other tensions between the US and China, remains heightened,” HSBC said in Tuesday’s profit statement.
The US has sanctioned nearly a dozen key Hong Kong and Chinese officials over the national security law, telling international banks to stop doing business with them.
China’s national security law, however, forbids businesses in Hong Kong from adhering to foreign sanctions regimes, leaving many in an unclear regulatory tight spot.
“Investor and business sentiment in some sectors in Hong Kong remains dampened and ongoing tensions could result in an increasingly fragmented trade and regulatory environment,” HSBC said in its statement.
The bank also highlighted the uncertainty over Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union as another potential headwind.
Talks for a post-Brexit trade deal have made little headway with a 31 December deadline fast approaching.
“There is a risk of additional ECL (expected credit losses) charges, particularly in the UK in 4Q20, if the UK and the EU fail to reach a trade agreement,” the bank said.


Fishing rights top Brexit talks agenda

Updated 30 November 2020

Fishing rights top Brexit talks agenda

  • A no-deal scenario is widely expected to cause economic chaos

LONDON: Last-ditch Brexit trade talks continued in London on Sunday with fishing rights remaining an “outstanding major bone of contention,” according to British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier told reporters that “work continues, even on a Sunday,” as he arrived for the second day of talks.

Barnier had arrived in London on Friday following a spell in self-isolation after a member of his team contracted coronavirus and ahead of the resumption of talks with British counterpart David Frost on Saturday.

Both men warned that a deal could not be reached without major concessions from the other party.

There are only five weeks to go until the end of the current transition period, during which trade relations have remained largely unchanged.

The two key sticking points remain post-Brexit access to British fishing waters for European vessels and the EU’s demand for trade penalties if either side diverges from common standards or state aid regulations rules.

Raab told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday that this could be the final week of “substantive” talks, with time running out to agree and ratify a deal.

“There’s a deal to be done,” he said.

“On fishing there’s a point of principle: As we leave the EU we’re going to be an independent coastal state and we’ve got to be able to control our waters,” he added.

Barnier told envoys last week that London was asking that European access to UK waters be cut by 80 percent, while the EU was willing to accept 15 to 18 percent, according to a Brussels source.

A British official called the demands “risible,” according to the domestic Press Association, adding that the “EU side knows full well that we would never accept this.”

“There seems to be a failure from the Commission to internalize the scale of change needed as we become an independent nation,” said the source.

However, Raab was cautiously optimistic over the “level playing field” issue, saying “it feels like there is progress toward greater respect” for Britain’s position.

A failure to reach an agreement would see Britain and the EU trading on World Trade Organization terms, with tariffs immediately imposed on goods traveling to and from the continent.

As it stands, Britain will leave Europe’s trade and customs area on Dec. 31, with no prospect of an extension.

A no-deal scenario is widely expected to cause economic chaos, with customs checks required at borders.

Concern is particularly acute on the border between EU member Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland, where the sudden imposition of a hard border threatens the delicate peace secured by 1999’s Good Friday Agreement.

The talks have already dragged on much longer than expected and time is running out for ratification of any deal by the European Parliament by the end of the year.