DealZone

Asia’s allure

August 4, 2009

HSBC, perhaps the most Chinese of the big European banks, says it is in talks to set up an investment banking joint venture in China. Australia and New Zealand Bank and Asia-focused Standard Chartered have lined up opportunistic buys in Asia, picking up the pieces of imploded RBS. Even beaten-down Citigroup is talking about acquisitions … in Indonesia.

ANZ said it agreed to pay a smaller-than-expected $550 million to buy some Asian units from RBS. StanChart, just nine months after launching a 1.8 billion pound rights issue, unveiled a surprise 1 billion pound ($1.7 billion) share placement to give it firepower to grasp opportunities as Asia’s economies recover. The bank said it was in talks about small acquisitions in China and India likely to cost between $100 million and $200 million. We’re told those talks involve RBS assets.

HSBC’s move would allow it to expand into China’s domestic securities and debt markets, areas it is presumably well-placed to exploit, given its dominant role in Hong Kong finance. Asia chief Vincent Cheng said HSBC Hong Kong has enough capital for acquisitions, has looked into some RBS Asian assets but has found, in general, that Asian assets are too expensive. So it will focus on organic growth.

Bank of America-Merrill Lynch said just days ago it was moving to boost its position in China with the hiring of veteran banker Wang Bing to head its corporate finance business there. Last week, we reported that Bank of America planned to set up a wholly owned subsidiary in China to bolster its corporate, investment banking and wealth management businesses.

Since Asia’s biggest asset is its position as manufacturing base for the world, the banks’ moves can be seen as a leading indicator of confidence in recovery. Or they could just be bold bets.

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