Against a backdrop of deteriorating economic conditions, HSBC delivered a successful financial performance in the first half of 2012 with underlying revenue growth driven by Global Banking and Markets and Commercial Banking. This was particularly notable in the faster-growing regions of Hong Kong, Rest of Asia-Pacific and Latin America. In addition, we continued to make good progress in delivering the strategic agenda set out by management and the Group Chief Executive's Business Review highlights the key elements of performance in the period. We also benefited from sizeable disposal gains, as already announced transactions within the strategic repositioning of the Group, notably in the United States, completed. Profit before tax for the six months amounted to US$12.7 billion, some US$1.3 billion ahead of the same period last year.
Capital strength was bolstered and the core tier 1 ratio improved to 11.3% versus 10.1% at the beginning of the year and 10.8% a year ago.
A second interim dividend of US$0.09 per ordinary share was declared by the Board on 30 July taking the total dividends declared in respect of the first half of 2012 to US$0.18 per ordinary share, as foreshadowed in last year's Annual Report and Accounts and in line with the previous year.
However, regulatory and compliance events in the first six months of the year overshadowed financial performance. And that has added further to public concern and distrust of the banking industry.
HSBC has made mistakes in the past, and for them I am very sorry. Candidly, in particular areas we fell short of the standards that I, my colleagues, our regulators, customers and investors expect.
We cannot undo the mistakes but I can assure you that Stuart Gulliver and I are determined, and have made it our most important priority, to strengthen HSBC and reinforce our values. Our business practices and actions must stand up to scrutiny wherever we operate.
Over a year ago we set out a strategy designed to make HSBC the world's leading international bank. In order to make the firm more cohesive and better connected we reshaped our global business.
We created global functions with the necessary authority to manage the firm on a global basis with consistent policies, standards and processes.
We articulated a set of HSBC Values to underpin and guide our behaviour. HSBC employs 271,500 people around the world and I believe the vast majority of my colleagues demonstrate the highest standards of integrity in their daily decisions and actions.
And since we know too well that the bad practice of a few can stain our reputation we were, and are, determined to take the appropriate measures to protect and enhance our reputation.
Whether we succeed in gaining the recognition we strive for depends ultimately on the actions we take and the judgement of others. They will judge our financial performance and capital strength but they will judge us too on our reputation for reliability, trustworthiness and integrity.
It is, therefore, extremely frustrating and infuriating when we discover areas where the behaviour of HSBC has fallen short of the standards we expect.
That is why we are embedding a new structure to help us reduce complexity and run the firm more effectively. But structure is not enough. And that is why we are formulating and implementing global standards to ensure our conduct matches our values. We are committed to doing this.
In practice, this means we must adopt and enforce the highest standards throughout our global business.
It means enhancing risk management controls to prioritise behaviour and values, in particular around ethical sales practices.
It means that where we conclude that any customer or potential customer poses an unacceptable reputational risk (or otherwise does not meet our standards) we should exit or avoid the relationship.
We are committed to making the necessary investment in controls and training required to fulfil society's expectations of our industry.
This Group is made up of many legal entities around the world, all with their own traditions and heritage, but we have only one reputation. Each generation of leadership is entrusted, above all else, to guard it jealously. We take that responsibility very seriously.
You will have seen the reports of HSBC's appearance two weeks ago before the US Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations ('PSI'). The hearing related to an investigation by the PSI into risks to the US financial system from inadequate compliance with US regulations around money laundering and financial sanctions. HSBC was a case study.
We had previously disclosed the existence of these proceedings in our Annual Report and Accounts, but the PSI hearing was the first time that details have been disclosed. During the hearing we acknowledged and apologised for past mistakes.
Our compliance and operational controls should have been stronger and more effective, most particularly in Mexico as we integrated and expanded the bank we acquired in 2002. As a consequence, we failed to identify or deal adequately with unacceptable behaviour.
The PSI report acknowledges we fully co-operated with the inquiry. That is only as it should be and rightly we were held accountable for our failings.
As the PSI is purely an investigatory body we expect related enforcement actions from other US authorities over the coming months. We shall, of course, continue to co-operate with all the authorities.
We learn lessons continually. As those who seek to exploit the financial system constantly adapt their approach we need to be tireless and more innovative in our own efforts to stop them. And we must demonstrate that we have learned from earlier mistakes.
The banking industry is operating in a hostile climate so we must double our efforts to convince our regulators, customers and investors that we are striving for the highest possible standards. Only that way can we allay public fears and regain trust in our industry.
Last year Stuart and I set out our hopes and aspirations for HSBC. This year they remain the same: to make HSBC the world's leading international bank.
All this is taking place during a period of unprecedented transformation, transition and economic and political uncertainty. Never has the strain on management, our business and our customers been more evident.
The transformation required by the continuing regulatory reform agenda around capital, liquidity, central counterparty infrastructure, the ring-fencing of certain activities in the UK, preparation of recovery and resolution plans in multiple countries, addressing the extraterritorial reach of national legislation, understanding the impact of national discretions and exemptions, and addressing possible remuneration policy changes, to name but some of the areas of endeavour, is simply enormous.
The transition to a new regulatory architecture in the UK where the FSA is to be replaced with a Prudential Regulatory Authority and a Financial Conduct Authority, supplemented by a new Financial Policy Committee still defining its role and its macro-prudential tools within a Bank of England, itself about to transition to a new leadership and potentially a new governance model, adds further to the uncertain backdrop. The future influence and role of the European Banking Authority, to say nothing of what may come from a European Banking Union still in early stage design, adds yet more complexity to planning for the future.
Alongside this industry introspection, we are seeking, both for ourselves and with our clients to understand and address the economic and financial risks of a slowing global economy with a financial system increasingly domestically focused and with monetary and fiscal tools to stimulate growth all but exhausted in the developed world.
And finally, the political challenges in addressing society's expectations around social benefits, healthcare and pensions as well as the unsustainable fiscal positions in many countries, not least within Europe, command our attention, as market sentiment regarding the likelihood of successful outcomes will hugely influence and shape the consumer and business confidence necessary to rebuild economic growth.
There is clearly much to do and our industry, and HSBC within it, has a critical role in supporting economic growth with well-targeted, risk-justified and properly priced credit, investment and related financial services.
We are eager to fulfil this role and, on the positive side, within the first half of 2012 our lending to business, including small businesses, grew. Importantly, given many weak domestic economies, trade finance and related services expanded as businesses reached out to new markets with our support. This is both consistent and clearly aligned with the efforts being made around the world by governments to facilitate economic growth.
However, on the other side of the equation, we closed the half year with close to US$150 billion deposited with central banks. While enormously supportive of HSBC's own balance sheet strength and liquidity, it is also symptomatic of a financial system that is failing to intermediate the funds it attracts to productive investment. The extent to which this reflects an underlying lack of demand for credit, an unjustified risk aversion, an inability to assess confidently risk/return dynamics or regulatory pressures to prioritise the build-up of capital and liquidity is subject to fierce debate; in reality all are factors.
Economic activity over the next six months and beyond will be planned against a backdrop of unusually difficult conditions in which to assess risks and uncertainties. Most critical will be the market's assessment of the feasibility of initiatives being designed to address the current eurozone banking and sovereign debt crises and the consequential effects on the financial system and the global economy should these fail. On top of this, the multiple investigations around LIBOR and equivalent rate settings magnify uncertainty as the scale and depth of the issue is unknown at this stage. HSBC will also need to take concrete steps to resolve its own issues, particularly in the US.
While resolving these problems as expeditiously as possible will be critically important, we must also continue to seek ways to support our customers in their pursuit of personal and corporate ambitions and objectives. We have the resources, both human and financial, to help our customers in these challenging times and we are committed to deploying them. And we have a clear strategy to which we are committed, which is being pursued actively by an energised management team and which we believe will build sustainable value for all our stakeholders.
This period has required ever greater efforts from our staff to deal simultaneously with the ongoing business needs of our customers as well as the regulatory reform and transition agenda, all in challenging economic conditions. I would like on behalf of the Board to express sincere appreciation for all their endeavour.
D J Flint, Group Chairman
30 July 2012
Group Chief Executive's Business Review
During the first six months of 2012, HSBC has recorded underlying revenue growth and continued to make substantial progress in certain key areas:
· strong revenue growth in Hong Kong, Rest of Asia-Pacific and Latin America, the same regions currently driving world economic growth;
· Global Banking and Markets has had a strong six months, during a period of uncertainty in the financial markets and macroeconomic environment; and
· we have continued to make headway in delivering our strategy, helping us to control our costs and to achieve additional revenues from the closer integration of our four different global businesses.
Our performance, however, has been affected by provisions for UK customer redress programmes and certain US law enforcement and regulatory matters, and our conduct has come under close scrutiny. We recognise that in the past we have on occasions failed to live up to the expectations of regulators, customers, and the communities in which we operate.
It is right that we be held accountable and I apologise for our past shortcomings. We are profoundly sorry for our mistakes, and are committed to putting them right. With a new strategy and senior leadership team in place since the start of 2011, we are introducing new processes and structures to help us manage risk and ensure compliance more effectively in the future.
Under the new strategy, HSBC is now run and managed as a genuinely global firm, making it easier to set, monitor and enforce standards. We are implementing high global standards across the Group. This includes working to ensure that the highest standards required in any part of the business will apply to every part of the business. We are also requiring all HSBC affiliates to independently complete due diligence on other HSBC affiliates with which they have a correspondent banking relationship; and developing a sixth filter - a global risk filter - to sit alongside the five outlined in our strategy, which will standardise our approach to doing business. Our central compliance team, whose role in the past consisted primarily of giving advice, can now control and enforce these standards. And we are driving a change in culture so that our conduct matches our values. For example, we now judge senior leaders both on what they achieve and how they achieve it.
Alongside this we continue to invest in people, processes and technology. We increased our spending on compliance to over US$400m last year.
Our customers and the communities in which we work expect us to carry out our business responsibly and to the highest ethical standards. Our shareholders, too, want us to match a strong economic performance with integrity, because both affect the value of their investment. With these steps, we believe we are heading in the right direction. This is a fundamental part of achieving our strategy and remains a top priority for the Board and senior management team.
Group performance headlines
· Reported profit before tax was US$12.7bn, US$1.3bn higher than in the first half of 2011. This included US$4.3bn of gains from the disposals of businesses, notably from the sale of the Card and Retail Services business and from the sale of 138 non-strategic branches in the US. These results also included US$2.2bn of adverse movements in the fair value of our own debt attributable to credit spreads, compared with an adverse movement of US$143m in the first half of 2011.
· Underlying profit before tax was US$10.6bn, down US$0.4bn, due to higher operating expenses, reflecting an increase in notable items, particularly provisions for customer redress and certain US law enforcement and regulatory matters. This was partly offset by higher revenue.
· On an underlying basis, total revenues were 4% higher than in the first half of 2011, led by Global Banking and Markets with increased income across a number of businesses. Commercial Banking also experienced strong revenue growth, across most products and particularly in the faster-growing regions of Hong Kong, Rest of Asia-Pacific and Latin America - targeted as priorities in our strategy. This was somewhat offset by lower income in Retail Banking and Wealth Management due to the continued run-down of our consumer finance portfolios in the US.
· We saw strong revenue growth from faster-growing regions. Underlying revenues grew in Hong Kong by 13%, in Rest of Asia-Pacific by 13% and in Latin America by 8%. Furthermore, we experienced double digit revenue growth in the priority markets of mainland China, India, Brazil and Argentina.
· Underlying costs were US$1.9bn higher than in the first half of 2011 reflecting a number of notable items, including UK customer redress provisions of US$1.3bn, provisions for certain US law enforcement and regulatory matters of US$0.7bn and restructuring costs of US$0.6bn. Excluding these items operating expenses were marginally lower, reflecting the impact of sustainable cost saving initiatives which were partly offset by wage inflation, investment in compliance infrastructure and business expansion projects.
· The reported cost efficiency ratio remained at 57.5%. On an underlying basis, the cost efficiency ratio increased as a result of higher notable cost items.
· Our ratio of customer advances to customer accounts remained strong at 76.3%.
· Return on average ordinary shareholders' equity was 10.5%, down from 12.3% as a result of a higher tax charge.
· The core tier 1 ratio increased during the period from 10.1% at the end of 2011 to 11.3%, driven by profit generation and a reduction in risk-weighted assets ('RWA's) following the business disposals.
Progress on strategy
We continue to execute our strategy, which is based on two key trends: the continuing growth of international trade and capital flows; and wealth creation, particularly in faster-growing markets. In May 2012, we updated investors on the significant progress made to date.
We have announced 36 disposals and closures since the beginning of 2011, exiting non-strategic markets and selling businesses and non-core investments, making HSBC easier to manage and control, and releasing around US$55bn in risk-weighted assets. Several of these transactions have now completed, including the sale of the Card and Retail Services business and 138 non-strategic branches in the US, the Private Client Services business in Canada, retail banking operations in Thailand and the general insurance manufacturing business in Argentina.
We have begun to simplify HSBC, removing layers of management, clarifying reporting lines and making the organisation easier to manage. The number of full-time equivalent employees is now 271,500, down from a peak of 299,000 in the first quarter of 2011. Our organisational effectiveness programme led to a decrease of more than 17,500, while business disposals accounted for the majority of the remaining reduction. Since May 2011, we have achieved US$1.7bn of sustainable cost savings, including US$0.8bn in the first half of 2012. This is equivalent to US$2.7bn on an annualised basis, and we are confident that we will deliver towards the upper end of our target range of US$2.5-3.5bn of sustainable savings by the end of 2013.
We have maintained our focus on the closer integration of our global businesses. This was illustrated by the collaboration between Global Banking and Markets and Commercial Banking, where we have increased revenues by 16% in the first half of 2012. Further opportunities for collaboration have been identified and initiatives are in progress in order to achieve our medium-term revenue targets.
Wealth Management revenue, however, fell in the first half of the year, primarily due to the non-recurrence of a 2011 gain arising from a refinement to asset valuation methodology. In addition, revenue from investment products decreased, primarily from lower volumes of securities trading by customers. This was partly offset by increased revenue from the sale of life insurance products and foreign exchange due to a rise in customer activity. We have a strong client base with around 4.3 million Premier customers and remain committed to our medium-term targets. We have taken a number of actions in order to achieve them, including developing our infrastructure and capabilities.
The challenging macroeconomic context only serves to underline the importance of continuing to manage HSBC with proper discipline. In order to achieve this, we announced three immediate priorities at our strategy day in May. These are to simplify the business further, to continue to restructure and to grow the business. Focusing on these priorities will be essential in positioning HSBC for future growth.
Economic conditions in Europe and other Western economies will continue to be subdued. Our assumption is that European leaders will take the necessary measures to preserve the euro but, even so, we expect the eurozone's economy to contract this year. In the US, we anticipate sub-par growth this year and next.
We continue to believe that emerging markets will grow at a reasonable pace. China will play an important role in this phenomenon as the world's second-largest economy and the main trading partner to other faster-growing economies. We remain confident of a 'soft landing' in China, where its
leaders' readiness to use levers such as rate cuts to stimulate the economy means that growth is likely to hit or exceed 8% over the full year.
HSBC's expertise and geographic footprint across both developed and faster-growing economies mean that the Group is well-positioned to help our customers and shareholders benefit from the continued redrawing of the world's economic map. By delivering on our strategy, we are determined to help our customers make the most of the opportunities on offer.
S T Gulliver, Group Chief Executive
30 July 2012
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