HSBC Holdings unveiled higher-than-expected full-year profits yesterday and signalled a major push into the 'new economy' with its hsbc.com Web site.
Pre-tax profits for 1999 grew 21 per cent to US$7.98 billion (HK$62 billion), amid continuing economic recovery in Asia, and the bank said it might soon lower specific provisions, taken in 1998, against further financial fallout in the region.
'HSBC's results for 1999 were significantly better than those achieved in a challenging 1998,' group chairman Sir John Bond said.
'They reflect the resilience of our customer base and improvement in Asia's economies.' Overall provisions for bad debts fell 21.4 per cent to US$2.07 billion.
Operations in Hong Kong, which include the 62.14 per cent-owned Hang Seng Bank, performed strongly, reporting a 25.8 per cent increase in pre-tax profits to US$3.05 billion.
Its charge for bad and doubtful debts fell by 21.7 per cent to US$585 million, although it said it was taking a new specific provision against an unnamed Korean borrower in Hong Kong.
The company said that evidence of recovery in the region might mean an earlier US$290 million special general provision could soon be released.
HSBC's European operations, which include a major British commercial banking group, a Swiss private client operation and a German corporate bank, were the largest contributors to profit, recording a 15.2 per cent increase to US$3.32 billion.
HSBC said it was embracing the Internet and - as part of a US$2 billion investment in technology - was devising a new system with IBM to provide products to customers worldwide.