HSBC banks on UK
For all HSBC's mutterings that it's fed up with having the UK as its home base - because of the incremental tax it pays here and what it perceives as an anti-bank climate - there is no evidence from today's strategy review that it is growing any cooler on having a big presence in the UK.
In fact, if anything, the opposite is implied by its assessment of where best to allocate its capital and expertise over the coming decade. The UK is categorised by HSBC as a "strategic market", which is HSBC's highest accolade, partly because it has a massive presence in retail banking here and partly because it wants to be "the UK's leading bank for international businesses".
Interestingly, and in spite of the superior growth rates of emerging economies, HSBC expects the UK to still be the sixth largest economy in the world in 2050, only a fraction smaller than Germany, but bigger than Brazil, Mexico and France.
The British economy is expected by HSBC to grow faster than the US, Japan, and France over the coming 40 years - and a bit slower than Germany (but, of course, massively slower than China, India, Brazil, Mexico and Turkey). Some of that British momentum, compared to the eurozone and Japan for example, is presumably due to an expected faster rate of population growth in the UK - which is not universally popular.
But even so, income per capita in the UK in 2050 is predicted to be $49,000, 6.5% below German income per head and almost 20% greater than French per capita income.
For HSBC, the important trends are expected annual growth of world trade of 8.9% in the coming 10 years and the persistence of huge financial imbalances between the saving and exporting nations (China, India, Germany, and so on) and the consuming and borrowing nations (the US and much of Europe).
Interestingly, HSBC expects the UK to be a rare example of a country moving from deficit into surplus, by 2020 (or rather it buys into the analysis of the consultants McKinsey and the World Economic Forum to that effect - although there is a bit of a mystery here, because HSBC attributes the forecast to McKinsey, but it's not in the relevant McKinsey document).
The point, for HSBC, of analysing the world in these terms is that it wants to be the leader in financing those swelling trade flows between emerging economies and developed ones, and also in the related businesses of shipping China's and India's and Taiwan's surplus capital to the US and Europe.
Which means that what it calls Global Banking and Markets (and others call investment banking) together with its Commercial Banking arm will be the focus of future expansion.
That looks rational for one of the world's genuinely global banks. But it is slightly disturbing for the rest of us, perhaps, because the bank is assuming that the leaders of the G20 most powerful economies will fail in their avowed aim of stabilising the global economy by reducing China's funding surplus and America's funding deficit, the imbalances that were a fundamental cause of the great crash of 2007-8.
HSBC's success in that sense seems in part to be predicated on the idea that the global financial economy won't become a much safer place.
Like all sensible businesses, HSBC say it will reallocate capital to where it sees superior growth or where it has substantial market shares. So it will only stay in retail banking in places, like the UK for example, where it is big enough to be a price leader, rather than a follower.
The new chief executive, Stuart Gulliver, recognises that current returns are too low, partly because the bank's running costs are too high. So it plans to reduce annual costs by between $2.5bn and $3.5bn over the next three years - though it hasn't said how.
There is one cost that particularly rankles with HSBC - the special banking levy imposed by the British government. What it finds particularly galling, I am told, is that it pays the levy on uninsured deposits outside the UK, which most would see as a stable form of funding that contributes to the perception of HSBC as being a relatively safe bank.
Given that Treasury said the levy was designed in part to encourage banks to finance themselves in a more prudent way, it is a bit odd that the levy is costing HSBC around £370m this year, almost exactly the same as Royal Bank of Scotland and Barclays, and £110m more than Lloyds, in spite of HSBC's funding arrangements being widely seen to be much more prudent and stable than those of the other UK banks.
It is perhaps understandable therefore that HSBC hopes the Treasury will look again at the structure of the levy. Although - as I've said and elucidated before - HSBC's not-very-veiled threat to leave the UK if the levy isn't reformed doesn't look credible.
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