Interactive Investor

HSBC returns to form in Q1 but CEO quits

It was only a couple of months ago that shares in one of the FTSE 100's biggest companies were in bad shape. They're up 20% since and at a five-year high. ii's head of markets explains what's behind the latest leg of the rally.

30th April 2024 08:46

by Richard Hunter from interactive investor

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    Global banking behemoth HSBC Holdings (LSE:HSBA) has returned to form in the opening quarter of the new financial year, buoyed by an ongoing strategic reshuffle while continuing to reap the benefit of its vast and sprawling presence.

    The retirement of CEO Noel Quinn was unexpected, but the share price impact muted. While the existing CEO will remain in place until a successor is found, there will inevitably be questions over the bank’s strategy.

    Streamlining over the last few years, including exiting from less profitable regions, has been a central plank. However, there have also been increasing calls for the Asian business to be spun off, which HSBC has firmly resisted, and it is possible that this debate may resurface once the new CEO is named.

    Meanwhile, among the bank’s immediate strategic objectives are to grow its international businesses while also diversifying its revenues, especially in the likes of its wealth businesses in Asia. Apart from the longer-term potential for the key Chinese market, the group has also identified areas such as India and Vietnam as being some of the fastest-growing economies at present, while the building economic connections between Asia and the Middle East, notwithstanding any geopolitical conflicts, are also emerging opportunities for HSBC with its sprawling footprint.

    The group will therefore be pleased to note that its increase in revenues for the quarter has been driven in part by higher customer activity in its Wealth businesses, which account for some 35% of overall revenues as well as being a key growth aspiration area for the future. Wealth balances overall grew by 10% to $1.8 trillion, putting into perspective a drain of $41 billion in customer balances, mainly in the Hong Kong region.

    Overall, the bank has beaten estimates after what was a messy fourth quarter last year. Pre-tax profit slipped slightly to $12.7 billion, while net profit of $10.2 billion exceeded the expected $9.7 billion. Revenues grew by 3% to $20.8 billion, where increased trading income in the Global Banking and Markets unit added to the stronger performance within Wealth.

    Net Interest Income suffered slightly on the basis of a nominal customer exit with deposit migration, although the reported figure of $8.7 billion was above estimates of $8.55 billion. In addition, there was an outsize contribution from non-interest income, which rose by 14%, or $900 million in the quarter.

    Return on Tangible Equity (ROTE) came in at 16.4%, outstripping its peers which have reported over the last week, and although the number was lower than the 18.4% reported in the corresponding period, it was markedly higher than the 12.8% reported in the fourth quarter.

    The sale of the Canadian business was completed with a gain of $4.8 billion, resulting in a special dividend payment as expected of $0.21 per share. This adds to the current dividend yield of 7.3% which is the highest in the sector by some margin and of obvious interest to income-seeking investors.

    In addition, the bank announced a new share buyback programme of up to $3 billion, with shareholder returns remaining sharply in future strategic focus. Meanwhile, an impairment of $1.1 billion has been made as part of the planned sale of the Argentinian unit.

    As ever, the size and strength of the balance sheet gives the bank both protection and insulation from external economic pressures. The CET1 ratio, or capital cushion of 15.2% is comfortably above requirements, with a range of between 14% and 14.5% expected for the remainder of the year.

    Operating expenses, which rose by 7% this quarter, are expected to moderate to growth of 5% as the group continues to invest in technology, while also fending off the impacts of inflation. Guidance overall is unchanged, including Net Interest Income of at least $41 billion and ROTE in the mid-teens.

    The shares have reacted favourably to this latest show of strength, and have risen by 16% over the last year, which compares to a gain of 3.5% for the wider FTSE 100.

    HSBC’s sheer scale and power not only provide an economic shield, but also enable investment in further growth, shareholder returns and fresh areas of fee income such as within its various wealth management businesses. The market consensus has recently ticked up, such that the general view now stands at a 'cautious buy' on prospects.

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