Lai See

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 December, 2010, 12:00am

Bailout memories hover as Citi plans ambitious client boost

Good to see that Citi plans to give HSBC and Standard Chartered a run for their money in consumer banking. The United States bank has set itself the ambitious target of doubling its client base from one million to two million over the next three to five years. HSBC has about four million clients.

Nevertheless, Hong Kong is Citi's most profitable operation outside the US. Of course, Citi is under some pressure to boost its performance in Asia given the appalling state of its domestic operations. But all this talk of ramping up its operations in Hong Kong just leaves us wandering whether the bank is hurtling towards its next bailout.

By some counts Citi has been rescued four times by the US government over the past few decades. HSBC has not been bailed out once.

Struggle for survival

We have been flicking through a report by Britain's Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and Bridge, 'the CIPD-owned leaderships and organisation transformation specialists'.

The report claims that growth in many successful firms across the region is being 'turbo-charged by a new breed of insight-led human resources teams who have positioned themselves at the heart of business strategy, and are leapfrogging best practices among Western counterparts by adapting a uniquely Asian approach to HR 'next practice''. It continues for 39 pages in this faintly nauseous vein.

One of the components of this 'next-generation' approach is authenticity, which is apparently exemplified by Standard Chartered Bank and the humility of its top executives. 'So there is no arrogance, there was no cheering when many of our competitors were struggling. The initial reaction that most senior people had was to try and help governments.' It is true chief executive Peter Sands and Mervyn Davies helped devise the bank bailout programme for British banks, but those with longer memories will recall that in the late 1980s Standard Chartered was itself a basket case and was desperately casting around for white knights to save it.

Betting open soon on euro

Those of you bearish on the euro have a new vehicle for betting against it. As of next month, Worldspreads - the spread betting firm in London - is offering punters the opportunity to gamble on how long they think the euro will last. You can either bet it will last for under 710 days or that it will last for longer than 720 days. Worldspreads says the euro will have 'failed' when the first country announces it is withdrawing from the currency. How long before some bright spark opens a book on the life expectancy of the Hong Kong dollar?

Rising from the Ashes

England's initial dominance over Australia in the first two cricket tests has prompted some head scratching in various quarters. One of the more curious analyses has come from Merrill Lynch in Australia.

Its report pays no regard to the relative merits of the individuals involved. Instead it has found an uncanny correlation from plotting relative British and Australian unemployment against success in the Ashes series' over time.

Success in the Ashes is inversely proportional to relative unemployment. So when Australia's cricketers were caning the English sides, the British economy was doing better than Australia's. The wheel of fortune has since turned and with Britain's economy doing markedly worse than Australia's, resulting in higher unemployment, success in the Ashes series looms according to the theory.

Analyst Andrew Barrelle says that given the present state of unemployment in the two countries England should win the series either 2-0 or 3-1. An England win of 3-0 or 4-0, he says, would spell serious problems for Britain, with the unemployment rate rising by 1-2 per cent. A price worth paying some might think.

A socialist approach

It's good to see that Americans are serious about tackling their horrendous deficit. A Bloomberg poll has found that Americans want Congress to bring down a federal budget deficit that many, including the 'tea party', believe is 'dangerously out of control'. But they insist that any spending cuts should not affect them personally.

While they say they strongly support balancing the budget over the next 20 years, when offered a list of more than a dozen possible spending cuts or tax increases majorities opposed every one of them except imposing a bigger burden on the rich.

It sounds dangerously socialist to us.