HSBC: The art of bigging it up

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When a ‘major deal’ is more misnomer than mind-blowing.

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Who doesn’t love a nice splashy headline, whether it’s an IPO that storms the market, or a print that makes a bond trader’s pulse race faster?

It’s why so many people still fork out a tenner to buy the latest Guinness World Records, despite it being little more than a glossy doorstop.

People like excess and eye-candy. Big-and-frothy works whether you want to impress investors, attract customers or compel people to visit your city.

Tourism boards will pretty much do whatever it takes to drum up business: Hong Kong still beseeches all-comers to see the Tian Tan or ‘Big Buddha’ on Lantau Island, once the largest, sadly now the second largest, outdoor bronze seated Buddha in the world.

Tenuous

But if it’s tenuous in the financial realm you want, look no further than a little item hiding away in plain sight on page 34 of HSBC’s latest annual report. Next to a photo of a young chap smiling intensely at a customer sits the proud headline: ‘Landmark deal for HSBC Qianhai Securities’.

What could it be? Something damned impressive, surely. The London-based, Asia-leaning lender is rightly proud of Qianhai, which in 2017 was named the first Chinese broking joint venture to be majority owned by a foreign bank.

Your attention duly snagged, you read on, to find that in January 2019, HSBC Qianhai Securities helped a unit of China State Construction and Engineering Corporation, the world’s largest construction firm by revenues, to complete a “major deal”.

But then comes the qualifier – and my it’s a corker.

Biggest mainland IPO of last year maybe? Nope. Perhaps a blowout loan or debt sale that broke all records? Again, no dice. The deal, it turns out, marked “the first time a Chinese state-owned enterprise had acquired a controlling stake in a privately owned company listed on the ChiNext Board of the Shenzhen Stock Exchange through a share transfer agreement”.

Has the next Guinness World Records gone to print yet?