Family loses faith in HSBC over profits from woe strategy

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 08 August, 2011, 12:00am

MacArthur Chan's mother was once a big fan of HSBC. She has been invested in the giant bank's shares since the 1970s. Hers is a typical story of how a Hong Kong housewife can leverage a modest household surplus into a small fortune.

Given his mother's successful investment in the bank, it was natural for him to likewise buy HSBC shares when he started working in the late 1980s.

But both mother and son have since lost interest in the stock. This despite the fact that the lender's chief executive, Stuart Gulliver, announced a radical retrenchment plan last week to get the bank back to familiar levels of profitability.

In its interim result announcement last Monday, Gulliver said the bank would lay off 30,000 staff members globally - about 10 per cent from a workforce of 296,000 - by 2013.

HSBC will also exit markets and plans to cut down annual costs by up to US$3.5 billion by 2013.

'What HSBC chief executive Stuart Gulliver told us is how many staff will lose their jobs and how much money it wants to save. But he did not tell about new, profitable business lines and revenues,' Chan says. 'I am not sure the bank can make more money just by laying off staff. If so, all companies would simply fire staff.'

Chan is now more interested in buying mainland banks and infrastructure stocks. 'As investors, what we care is about whether the stock can make money. This is what HSBC failed to deliver to us - its share price been dropping since 2007,' he says.

Chan says he made a 'fortune' buying China Construction Bank at IPO. By comparison, the share price of HSBC has dropped from the HK$140 level in 2007 to a low of HK$33 in 2009, to its present level of about HK$76.

One female investor has grilled HSBC executives over the bank's performance at consecutive annual shareholder meetings over the past two years. She says she spent HK$1.4 million buying HSBC at HK$140. She has lost 46 per cent on that position.

HSBC has long been a core holding of investors' retirement portfolios, and - such is the special place the stock occupies in the hearts of Hongkongers - through the years it has served as a present for wedding anniversaries and as a gift for newborns.

The stock was worth HK$5 in 1986 when Chan first purchased HSBC, rising to a peak of HK$140 in 2007 - a 28-fold rise. In the same period, local property prices rose about sixfold, according to data from Centaline Property Agency.

Barclays Capital and JP Morgan have a target price of HK$100 for HSBC. UBS has a target price at GBP6.55 (HK$83.16).

The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) has a target price of GBP6.40 per share for the group.

RBS recently downgraded the stock to hold from buy. In synch with the sentiments of retail investors like Chan, RBS' August 1 report gave this verdict on HSBC: 'Still a long way from home.'