February 21, 2017 / 6:20 AM / 8 months ago

HSBC share run stumbles on writedowns, tough outlook

HONG KONG/LONDON (Reuters) - HSBC’s (HSBA.L) full-year profit slumped 62 percent and fell far short of forecasts on Tuesday as the bank took hefty writedowns from restructuring and flagged near-term brakes on revenue growth.

A taxi drives past a branch of HSBC bank in London, Britain, February 9, 2015. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett/File Photo

Shares in Europe’s largest bank slid more than 7 percent after its revenues fell by a fifth from 2015, bringing an eight-month stock rise to a halt. Investors have driven HSBC’s shares higher, betting on its ability to benefit from U.S. rate hikes.

HSBC made profit before tax of $7.1 billion in 2016 compared to $18.87 billion for the previous year, well below an average analyst estimate of $14.4 billion in Thomson Reuters data.

Despite the fall, HSBC announced a new $1 billion share buy-back, taking buy-backs since the second half of 2016 to $3.5 billion, as the bank returns cash to shareholders after the sale of its Brazil business last July in a $5.2 billion deal.

But the worse than expected profits took their toll on the bank’s bonus pool, which it cut by 12 percent to $3 billion, and sets the stage for results this week from Lloyds (LLOY.L), Barclays (BARC.L), RBS (RBS.L) and Standard Chartered (STAN.L).

While HSBC is expected to benefit in the long run once interest rates rise worldwide, the one-off charges showed the toll its restructuring is taking on short term profits.

“The Brazilian disposal highlights the key problem for HSBC -- not only is the quality of the bank’s earnings weak, as evidenced by yet another messy set of numbers...but the quantity is lacking as the lender is still trying to shrink itself back to health,” said Russ Mould, investment director at online investment manager AJ Bell.

HSBC’s core capital ratio -- a measure of its financial strength -- was 13.6 percent, against expectations of 13.8 percent, and the bank signalled a number of factors that would pressure its revenues in 2017, including a $500 million increase in regulatory capital costs, lower interest rates in Britain and adverse foreign exchange rates.

SWISS MISS

A $3.2 billion impairment in its private banking business led HSBC to report a $3.4 billion fourth-quarter loss, against analysts’ expectations for a profit, as the accounting valuation of the unit caught up with years of declining performance.

HSBC effectively built out its Swiss private bank from its $10 billion purchase of Republic National Bank of New York and Safra Republic Holdings in 1999.

But major compliance failures at those operations ate into the bank’s bottom line and hurt its reputation, leading to a radical restructuring which mean the private bank is now viable as a slimmed-down operation providing advice to wealthy clients referred from the lender’s other business lines.

“What this doesn’t mean is that we are selling the private bank... it means we have restructured the private bank and that’s now behind us,” CEO Stuart Gulliver told Reuters.

The bank also disclosed it was under investigation by Britain’s Financial Conduct Authority into its compliance with money laundering regulations.

Gulliver told reporters that he could not estimate the impact of this, but that it reflected the bank finding more “bad actors” among its clients as it improves controls.

“It’s quite normal for a bank of our size and scale with 37 million customers to find among them instances of money laundering that we have self-identified or the regulator has identified,” Gulliver said.

Gulliver also said HSBC did not yet have a shortlist of candidates to replace Chairman Douglas Flint, but said the successor will be identified by the end of 2017.

BRIGHTER LATER

The disappointing results halted HSBC’s rapid share price climb as investors saw brighter prospects as interest rates rise, helping it earn better returns on its deposits.

HSBC’s shares were among the best-performing European bank stocks since Britain’s June 23 “Brexit” vote, climbing 53 percent in London against a 28 percent increase in the STOXX Europe index of 600 banks .SX7P.

That reflected the fact that HSBC is among the global banks best positioned to take advantage of U.S. rate rises, thanks to more than $400 billion of excess deposits that are currently stuck in low-yielding investments.

“HSBC are sitting on this bucketload of riches that they don’t know what to do with...even a one percentage point boost in the earnings from those deposits could see overall profits lifted 20 percent without them having to do anything,” Rob James, analyst at Old Mutual Global Investors, said.

Additional reporting by Michelle Price; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman/Keith Weir/Alexander Smith

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