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Asia a bright spot for BankAmerica

ASIA is a bright spot in the gloomy 1992 results picture of many European and US banks, with BankAmerica Corp no exception.

While the group did not publish a detailed breakdown of earnings by country, the group's head of regional operations suggested that profits contribution from Asia saw higher growth than from other areas of the bank's business.

According to Mr John Rindlaub, group profits generated in Asia rose 26 per cent over 1991 while those produced in Hongkong jumped 40 per cent.

Having become the second-biggest US banking group in terms of assets following a costly April takeover of Los Angeles-based Security Pacific Corp, BankAmerica on Tuesday announced 1991 earnings of US$473 million for the fourth quarter and $1.49 billion for the year.

The result was in line with analysts' expectations, affected by merger expenses of $190 million.

Earnings for 1991 were $285 million in the fourth quarter and $1.12 billion for the year, but figures were not comparable due to the merger.

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In Asia, Hongkong was the largest contributor to regional earnings in 1992, Mr Rindlaub said.

''In 1992, we really benefited from the substantial spreads in the business,'' he said, referring to the differential between the cost of funds and lending rates.

Other key contributors were Singapore, India, South Korea and Taiwan.

More than 10 of the group's businesses in Asia earned more than $10 million, Mr Rindlaub added.

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In Asia, a higher percentage of the group's revenues were generated by fee business than from net interest margins on lending, particularly in foreign exchange, trade finance and global cash management.

Trends in Asia served to underpin future growth prospects.

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While the 1980s were driven by the Japanese, the 1990s were expected to be driven by the Chinese.

''The margin of opportunity will revolve around the PRC, Hongkong and Taiwan, plus the Chinese communities around the region in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and elsewhere,'' he said.

The newly industrialised economies of Southeast Asia were becoming less dependent on exports as domestic markets had become a more important factor in economic growth.

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Another important region-wide trend was the emergence of a substantial middle class.

''By 2000, there will be more middle-class consumers in Asia than in the United States and Europe combined,'' Mr Rindlaub said.

''This consumer base will have a huge impact on driving business activity in the 1990s.'' The bank planned to open a representative office in Hanoi by the end of March, having recently received the necessary approval from the US Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control.

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Approval from the Vietnamese authorities was expected shortly.

One of the projects the bank planned to pursue this year was the establishment of a processing centre for group foreign exchange and trade finance activities.

Locations under consideration included Hongkong, Shenzhen, Shanghai and the US.

Many factors needed to be considered, but the quality of data transmission lines was a key element.

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