HSBC’s Asia opportunism

October 7, 2009

HSBC CEO Michael Geoghegan isn’t just furniture shopping for the big move back to Hong Kong.

The Wall Street Journal reports HSBC is in “advanced discussions” to acquire Royal Bank of Scotland’s banking assets in three Asian countries. The talks concern RBS’s retail and commercial banking assets in China, India and Malaysia, according to the report, which cited a person familiar with the situation.

In late September, HSBC decided to return its CEO to the place of the bank’s birth 144 years ago, as it refocuses on Asia. Europe’s biggest bank said it would stay based in London for tax purposes and had no plans to move, and Britain’s Financial Services Authority will remain its lead regulator. After the drama of Britain’s 1997 retreat from its lucrative colony, there are clearly still limits on just how Asian HSBC wants to be.

But it is also clear this is a buyer’s market for banking assets, not just in Asia but around the world. On Sunday we reported that Standard Chartered’s talks to buy the RBS assets had collapsed over differences on valuation. One person familiar with the matter said Standard Chartered had been willing to pay about $200 million but RBS wanted more.

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