BNP maps aggressive expansion in Asia Pacific

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 April, 2008, 12:00am

BNP Paribas is mapping out a 'very aggressive and ambitious plan' to cash in on strong growth potential in Asia Pacific, said its head of North Asia Mignonne Cheng.

'This market presents us with tremendous business opportunities and it is only normal that we map out a very aggressive and very ambitious plan for this region,' Ms Cheng told a media conference marking BNP's 50th anniversary in Hong Kong.

BNP plans to double its headcount across the border over the next three years from about 300 now. It wants to triple revenue in that market over the same period.

As the US economy shows signs of running out of steam, leading banks have turned to emerging markets such as China, India and Brazil to pick up some of the slack. For BNP, the target is to double revenue from emerging markets over the next three years to contribute to 15 per cent of group revenue.

The bank said it would also rely on Hong Kong to anchor its presence in the region. Asia and emerging countries accounted for 27 per cent of BNP's revenue in corporate and investment banking operations last year, second to Europe's 49 per cent in regional shares.

'This explains why Hong Kong is so important to us,' said Baudouin Prot, BNP's chief executive, who travelled to Hong Kong to commemorate the bank's milestone.

Hong Kong is BNP's foothold in the north Asian region, employing more than 2,500 along with Taiwan and the mainland. It apparently wishes to ride on the mainland's economic boom, where growth in gross domestic product measured at least 10 per cent for the past five years and most recently at 11.2 per cent in the fourth quarter of last year.

But not even the mainland has been immune to this year's global economic slowdown. So far, the country has been plagued by a surge in inflation brought on by rising raw material prices.

In a research report on April 4, Lehman Brothers analyst Sun Mingchun increased this year's inflation forecast for the country to 5.5 per cent from 4.4 per cent because of the spike in prices in the first quarter.

Mainland authorities have pledged to keep inflation at bay after it peaked at an 11-year high in February, saying they would be prepared to slow down economic growth if they needed to. Last month, the state ordered domestic banks to increase their reserves to 15.5 per cent from 15 per cent of their deposits, in an effort to slow lending.

Despite such concerns, Mr Prot said that such measures would not derail the country's medium- and long-term economic growth.

'When the key issue of the economy is to know whether it is going to grow at 10.5 or 9 per cent, this is a concern that many other parts of the world would like to have,' he said.