Standard Chartered may have delivered record profits for the first half of 2009, but the shine has been taken off this by the emerging markets bank’s unexpected 1 billion pound share placing. The shares were trading almost 8 percent lower in the afternoon, at 1323p.
Some discount was to be expected given that the issue was not offered back to existing shareholders. But with StanChart’s market capitalisation of around 27 billion pounds, this should only have lopped around 3.5 percent off the price. The fact that it is almost twice that gives a sense of investors’ disaffection.
StanChart says that it wants the cash “to support the development and growth …in its key strategic markets in Asia, Africa and the Middle East”. It is true that the developing world, particularly Asia, appears to be emerging from this crisis much more robustly than western economies.
Moreover, StanChart can argue that, unlike many periods over the past couple of years, the markets are now open and its shares are trading at more than double their March lows. After all, when it raised 1.8 billion pounds through a rights issue last December – to bolster capital – the new shares were offered at 390p apiece, almost a 50 percent discount to the then price.
StanChart may use the proceeds of the latest proceeds for organic growth. But if the bank is contemplating a specific deal,it does seem odd that it is raising funds ahead of that. After all, the beauty of a placing like this is that it is super-fast. If StanChart trusts its instincts to find a good deal, why not announce deal and share placing simultaneously?
Interestingly, HSBC, StanChart’s big, emerging market rival, is keeping its own hands firmly in its pockets. It is using the $17.8 billion proceedings from its mammoth spring rights issue to bolster capital, with the occasional small deal. In an interview with Reuters in Hong Kong today, Vincent Cheng, the bank’s Asia-Pacific chairman, said that acquisition prospects in Asia were too expensive.
There is an old saying that if you have money it will “burn a hole in your pocket.” This risk is that, once StanChart has collected its 1 billion pound placing proceeds, it may feel compelled to do a deal, whether it is a good one or not.
Barclays’ and HSBC’s interim results are a study in contrasts. Barclays has used the credit crunch to make a bet-the-farm move into the investment banking big-league, a bet that has so far paid off. HSBC, in comparison, chastened by its flawed move into the US subprime market, has returned to its conservative roots.
John Varley, Barclays’ chief executive, gives the usual guff about “staying close to our customers and clients”. In truth, Barclays’ 3 billion pounds of profit in the first half owes much more to its investment banking division, enlarged by its opportunistic acquisition of Lehman Brothers’ North American business last autumn, than to its traditional banking businesses.