HSBC Holdings, Europe’s biggest bank, says it hopes to boost its stake in China’s Bank of Communications. On the face of it, this should raise no eyebrows. HSBC has been in China in one way or another since the height of the British Empire. This is its area of expertise, and it’s not surprising the bank would seek to lead the charge into China, even in a period of global financial market meltdown and economic retreat.
What is more interesting is the rationale being employed by HSBC executives. “Our U.S. business has contracted and there is room for us to seek opportunities in the Asia-Pacific region,” HSBC’s executive director and chairman for Asia-Pacific, Vincent Cheng, told reporters. “We will increase our stake in BoCom if opportunities arise.”
Traditionally conservative HSBC was badly burned in the U.S. mortgage party. The bank said on Monday it would close most of its U.S. consumer finance business as it seeks to put an end to its troubled 2003 purchase of Household by writing off most of the value of the subprime business. “With the benefit of hindsight, this is an acquisition we wish we had not undertaken,” HSBC Chairman Stephen Green said. HSBC bought Household for $14.8 billion — its biggest acquisition ever and one noted for its high-risk exposure to subprime lending.
HSBC said it would take a $10.6 billion goodwill charge for its U.S. business, leaving its main focus in the world’s biggest economy on corporate and commercial business, private and premier banking, and credit cards.
Now it wants to up its bet on China by raising its stake in BoCom to 20 percent, the maximum permitted by the government. Its current 19 percent chunk is worth $6.7 billion. BoCom says it would be willing to have HSBC take up to 40 percent by August 2012 if the government approves.