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Opinion

Banking: As others retreat, HSBC moves to profit

HSBC moves its chief executive to Asia not a moment too soon, as it seeks to grow earnings while international banks pull back.

Chairman Stephen Green is so keen to convey the message that HSBC is not turning its back on London that he repeats it six times in 45 minutes to the reporters sitting across the table from him at HSBC’s tower in Canary Wharf. The bank’s chief executive, sitting next to Green, insists that HSBC will continue to compete hard with European banks.

But in the next breath Michael Geoghegan admits that it will compete hardest with them in Asia, as weakened western banks retreat from international expansion in the aftermath of state rescues.

This trend has been clearly visible since the start of the year when Citi announced its intention to sell Japanese brokerage Nikko Cordial and RBS put up for sale various Asian retail and commercial banking businesses acquired from ABN Amro. Bank of America and UBS have sold stakes in Chinese banks that, before the western banks’ recent troubles, they had characterized as long-term strategic investments.

In August, in a report on the impact of the financial crisis on Asia, the Bank for International Settlements pointed to evidence of the withdrawal of international banks in the precipitate decrease in cross-border loans to Asian countries with large financial sectors, notably Singapore and Hong Kong, as well as to Korea and Malaysia.

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