HSBC bank's first-half profits drop 5.4 per cent amid geopolitical tensions, growth concerns

LONDON – HSBC, one of the world’s largest banks, warned Monday that fragile growth in the global economy and rising geopolitical tensions will keep it from taking on greater investment risks.

In its earnings update, HSBC said its net income fell 5.4 per cent to $9.46 billion in the first half of the year. The bank, which earns nearly two-thirds of its profit in Asia and is closely watched as a barometer of growth in the region, saw its pre-tax profit fall there by 15 per cent.

Earnings from the investment banking business declined globally by 12 per cent to just over $5 billion.

Chairman Douglas Flint said that with world economies still recovering from the 2008 economic crisis, it was not the time to take chances.

“At a time of residual concerns over the sustainability of economic growth in many major markets and with heightened geopolitical tensions apparent, the board supported management’s view that this was not the time to expand risk appetite to offset the effect of lower revenues.”

HSBC, which has operations in 74 countries and territories, also said it is being challenged by increasing regulation, and the costs of implementing it. Recent obligations include performing “highly granular multiple stress tests” that are inconsistent between major jurisdictions and so require duplication of effort.

“The demands now being placed on the human capital of the firm and on our operational systems capabilities are unprecedented,” he said.

The bank said cost-cutting has made it leaner than when Stuart Gulliver took over as chief executive in 2011. It has cut tens of thousands of jobs and dumped more than 60 non-strategic businesses.

Gulliver said the bank is now stronger and has a solid platform to grow. It said the U.K. should particularly maintain a firm recovery.

“There are indications that interest rates could start to rise as early as the fourth quarter of 2014 in the UK and the first half of 2015 in the US, which given the size of our commercial surplus has positive implications for our revenues,” he said in a statement.