ACTIONS speak louder than words, but numbers are even louder. For all the talk of Eastern promise, as demonstrated by Michael Geoghegan’s recent emigration to Hong Kong, yesterday’s impressive results were more about dealing with the mistakes of the past.
It was in the US, home of HSBC’s disastrous Household venture, where the recovery was most pronounced. There, charges for bad loans fell to $4.6bn (£2.9bn), compared to $8.6bn a year earlier, helping push impairment charges across the bank from $13.8bn to $7.5bn. That meant North America contributed a $492m pre-tax profit in the first half, compared to a $3.7bn loss a year ago. So while pre-tax profits in Hong Kong and Asia-Pacific climbed from $4.5bn in the first half of 2009 to $5.9bn in this period, that boost seemed more of a footnote to the good news from the US.
This only serves to show that while HSBC might talk the Asian talk, it still walks with a western swagger, especially when compared to rival Standard Chartered. HSBC still gets a hefty 44.1 per cent of pre-tax profits from Europe, the UK and the Americas, compared to just seven per cent for Standard Chartered. After yesterday’s 5.26 per cent climb, the good news has been priced in to HSBC’s shares. Those wanting to bet on the tiger economies would be better opting for Standard Chartered.