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Best bank

HSBC If you had invested $100 in HSBC stock at the end of 1998 and realized that investment at the end of last year, your total return would have been $211. The total shareholder return for a similar investment in a group of HSBC’s peers would have been just $126. The HSBC group might be renowned for conservative capitalization, for being better at containing costs than growing revenues and for a refusal to overpay for entry into certain glamorous business segments, but shareholders have reaped the benefits.

HSBC is one of a tiny group of truly global banks and one that has produced good returns for shareholders by getting the basics right for its large corporate customers, pursuing long-term relationships based on lending, structured finance and leasing, payments and other transaction services. It has dealt similarly with small and medium-size enterprises. And while many of its competitors have been mired in scandal following the exposure of expensive misdeeds and mistakes during the bubble years, HSBC has kept its corporate nose comparatively clean.

In personal financial services, the bank provides a case study in successful brand building.

In truth, HSBC’s reputation for cautious conservatism is overstated.

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