HSBC warns loan losses may hit RM55b as profit halves

The Asia-focused lender missed estimates after reporting 1H profit that halved to RM23.5b because of higher credit provisions

LONDON • HSBC Holdings plc is speeding up the shakeup of its global business after warning that the economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic may trigger loan losses of as much as US$13 billion (RM54.6 billion) this year.

The Asia-focused lender missed estimates after reporting first-half (1H) profit that halved to US$5.6 billion because of higher credit provisions. The bank said it is looking at further measures to boost performance, including investing more in Asia and cutting back in the US.

“We do need to take costs down, as a result of the revenue pressures from the coronavirus”, said CFO Ewen Stevenson in an interview with Bloomberg TV after HSBC lifted its estimated bad debt charge to the range of US$8 billion to US$13 billion for the year.

The shares were down 5.6% at 10:01am in London yesterday, taking their decline to 46% for the year so far.

HSBC has been seeking to pivot away from Europe and the US to expand its business in the fast-growing Chinese market. The lender, which has been singled out by Washington for its backing of Beijing, said it will continue to shift its capital towards Asia, which provided nearly all of its earnings.

CEO Noel Quinn said the tensions between “China and the US inevitably create challenging situations for an organisation with HSBC’s footprint”.

Quinn said HSBC had to accelerate its turnaround plans in light of the pandemic and warned the lender would need to be more radical. The company cut more than a third of its 224 US branch network as it pushes ahead with restructuring plans.

“Our operating environment has changed significantly since the start of the year,” said Quinn. “We will also therefore look at what additional actions we need to take,” he said. Stevenson also said more than 4,000 staff had left in the 1H of the year, the first of 35,000 jobs expected to be cut over the next three years.

Last month, Quinn told more than 200 of the lender’s most senior managers that they needed to boost returns, people familiar with the matter have said. In a bid to hasten change, Quinn is pushing for more authority to be delegated to regional managers, the people said, requesting anonymity to discuss private talks.

The bank said the UK’s gloomy economic outlook was responsible for about 40% of the US$3.8 billion provision taken in the second quarter (2Q). Jefferies International Ltd said in a note to clients that the “impairment charge has disappointed and management unhelpfully have widened the range” of the estimated hit for the full year.

HSBC’s investment bank recorded a 79% gain in its foreign-exchange, rates and credit income division in the 2Q compared to a year earlier. Fixed income, currencies and commodities revenue hit US$2.1 billion, the latest results from a global lender that underline the diverging fortunes of trading businesses and domestic economies. — Bloomberg