19pc growth in HSBC pre-tax profit estimated as impairments stabilise

Bank benefited last year from lower impairment charges and better cost control, analysts say

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 February, 2014, 10:44am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 February, 2014, 12:57am

Lower impairment charges from HSBC's North American operations and better cost control are likely to have boosted the banking giant's pre-tax profit by 19 per cent last year, analysts estimate.

They are tipping, on average, a figure of US$24.5 billion for Europe's biggest lender, which will announce its results on Monday.

Any positive rerating of its investment potential would hinge on the prospects for revenue growth and improved interest margin, they said, while unexpected fines and regulatory costs topped the list of downside risks.

HSBC chief executive Stuart Gulliver has pledged to focus on cost control and has achieved total savings of US$4.8 billion since becoming head of the bank in 2011.

But rounds of disposals of business arms and portfolios have raised investors' eyebrows and sparked concern among analysts about a lack of core growth.

"We continue to believe a return of top-line growth is a prerequisite for a sustainable rerating of the stock," UBS analyst Steve Andrews said.

"Unfortunately this has been an area that has seen constant expectations downgrades over the past year."

In the first nine months of last year, HSBC's pre-tax profit grew 15 per cent year on year to US$18.6 billion, with revenue down 3.9 per cent, continuing a decline in growth momentum that began in 2008.

Potential positive news from HSBC rests on its interest margin performance. Mark Phin, an analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, said he expected the bank's net interest margin, a gauge of lending profitability, to show further improvement after "signs of stability" in the third quarter.

Coupled with modest loan growth, Investec analyst Ian Gordon said, stabilisation of HSBC's net interest margin should have contributed to top-line growth last year.

Goldman Sachs said it expected an improvement in impairment charges from North America and Latin America in the fourth quarter after the regions accounted for 64 per cent of the bank's impairment charges in the first nine months of the year.

US unit Household International, the credit card and mortgage lender HSBC acquired in 2002, was a burden for the group for years as the United States' economy slowed, while the bank also recorded a spike in impairments in Brazil and Mexico in last year's first half.

However, its loan loss impairments improved 27.7 per cent in the first nine months.

Gulliver said when the bank announced its third-quarter results that a recovery of the US housing market and increased investor appetite could accelerate the run-down of its US consumer mortgage and lending portfolio.