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Why HSBC’s Asia pivot must mean more than just Greater China

HSBC has been talking about pivoting to Asia for decades. Now, it doesn’t just mean Hong Kong and its immediate surroundings. It is about time.

Chris Wright on Asia 1920px.jpg

As we’ve said before, HSBC’s 'pivot to Asia' strategy is nothing new.

One could take many comments from Noel Quinn and Mark Tucker at Tuesday’s fourth-quarter announcement, mix them up in a hat with comments from Stuart Gulliver and Douglas Flint from a decade ago and find them largely interchangeable.

In fact, it is so intuitive as to be stating the obvious.

Of course HSBC should pivot to Asia. If anything, the question is why it should have pivoted anywhere but Asia.

Reported profits before tax for Asia were $12.8 billion in 2020, representing 146% of group reported profits, which is to say, HSBC would have done much better if it was only in Asia and not anywhere else at all.

But something is different. For much of the past 20 years, 'Asia' in HSBC parlance, has really been a shorthand for Greater China. Sure, it has a century-long presence all over the continent and its logo is familiar from Mumbai to Melbourne, but Greater China, and in particular Hong Kong, has always been the main game to a far greater degree than in, say, Citi’s Asia operations.

Now, though, it feels like when HSBC is talking about Asia, it really means Asia.

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