Lai See

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 August, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 August, 2009, 12:00am

StanChart beats typhoon with a better headline

It never rains but it pours. And if there's one bank that knows what to do on a rainy day, it's Standard Chartered.

The bank brought forward its press conference to 3pm yesterday from the original 4.45pm to announce its results and a surprise GBP1 billion (HK$13.13 billion) share placement.

StanChart Asia chief executive Jaspal Bindra (below) apologised for the last-minute change, blaming it on the bad weather.

'We got a little bit worried when we saw the typhoon 3 signal, as we didn't want to miss the opportunity to be able to tell you about our very good results,' he said.

'We didn't want to miss the headlines, so we moved it forward.'

The share placement may have come out of the blue, but it looks like another timely example of the bank saving for a rainy day.

In November last year, StanChart became the first bank to raise fresh capital on its own while governments all over the world were bailing out financial companies.

Its GBP1.8 billion rights issue was perfectly timed, as it banked some much-needed money ahead of the difficult winter, four months before HSBC Holdings came out with its own rights issue plan.

Big Elephant goes overweight

In a major stock upgrade yesterday, JP Morgan rated HSBC as 'overweight' from 'hold' with a target price of HK$100, up from HK$52.

But what was more interesting was the rationale.

'We expect a return to the 'old HSBC' - a steady, boring, no-surprises, 17 to 18 per cent roe (return on equity) bank,' the brokerage said.

It reckoned that by the time HSBC gets out of Household International, it will have cost the bank a decade in lost opportunities. But this is nearly history, so let the boring era return.

Payback for HSBC diehards

Forget that dark day of March 9. HSBC has come a long way from its trough of HK$30.55, closing yesterday at HK$83.10, up 172 per cent in less than five months.

Year to date, HSBC shares are up 21.77 per cent, beating even its own subsidiary, Hang Seng Bank, at 18.09 per cent.

The strong rally has brought many diehard HSBC followers above water once again. Assuming they participated in the rights issue in March, we figure those investors with an average cost of HK$106 per share should be about break-even.

AIA identifies with region

American International Assurance (AIA) will go to any lengths to distance itself from bailed-out parent AIG, even as far as calling itself Asia.

The insurance firm, which intends to become an independent entity with a listing in the region, launched the latest stage of its rebranding campaign yesterday. This involved inserting an 'S' in its initials and announcing in full-page newspaper adverts all over town: 'We are ASIA'.

To be fair, the company does have about 20 million customers and a 90-year history in the region.

GCL gives itself pat on back

Another full-page advertisement caught our eye yesterday. At first glance, it looked like GCL-Poly Energy was celebrating the completion of an initial public offering with its global co-ordinator and six bookrunners.

But a closer look revealed that the congratulations were due for raising HK$3.68 billion through the placement of shares in the solar energy company.

It's not common for a company to gush about a big share placement, but we figure GCL-Poly, which made its stock market debut at the peak of the bubble in November 2007, did it to mark becoming the largest solar play in China after acquiring a Jiangsu polysilicon company from its parent for HK$26.35 billion last week.

Lie low, Goldman tells staff

It's tough for some. What's the point of being filthy rich if you can't flaunt it? But the US media has been reporting that Goldman Sachs employees have been told not to make high-profile purchases.

'This is a sensitive time for us, and [Goldman Sachs chairman Lloyd] Blankfein (above) wants to make sure that we're not being seen living high on the hog,' an unnamed executive at the bank was quoted as saying.

Goldman has faced a torrent of unwanted publicity recently, including an article that accused the bank of playing a key role in market bubbles stretching back to the 1920s.

So the message for Goldman employees itching to spend their record bonuses is simple: Lay off the gold-plated Rolls-Royces, and don't fill the swimming pool with Bollinger just yet.