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Market timing: Transparently stupid

HSBC’s decision to tell the world in advance when it is will carry out a large FX transaction to pay its non-dollar based shareholders their dividends is transparent. But is it wise?

Every quarter, when HSBC announces its interim results, it also declares the size of the dividend in dollars it will pay its shareholders. At the same time, the global banking group details when it will set the exchange rate to convert these dollars into the sterling and Hong Kong dollars that the majority of its shareholders require.

HSBC announced on March 6 that its fourth interim dividend for 2005 would total $0.31 per share. The bank also stated: “The dividend will be payable in cash, in US dollars, sterling or Hong Kong dollars, or a combination of these currencies, at the exchange rates quoted by HSBC Bank plc in London at or about 11 am on May 2, and with a scrip dividend alternative.”

With close to 11.5 billion shares in circulation, the size of the dividend payout was about $3.5 billion. How much of this was earmarked to be paid out in cash to UK shareholders in sterling is unknown – despite its desire to be transparent, HSBC will not tell. What is clear is that cable caught a very strong bid on the morning of May 2.

Of course, this might have been caused by the fact that the dollar seemed to have started its much anticipated free fall against other currencies.

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