HSBC is in talks with two companies about the possible acquisition of their Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF) operations, according to chairman David Eldon. 'If there are some MPFs in the market, we would be happy to take a look,' he said. Mr Eldon said the MPF market was in a consolidation period and it was difficult for companies to make profits if they did not have the scale of operations. 'But we do have the scale, efficiency and are sure we can handle it in a better way,' he said. On mainland expansion, Mr Eldon said the group would soon secure approval to offer foreign currency services to customers in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen. 'We hope to hear soon . . . the applications are already on [central bank] governor Dai's [Xianlong] desk and just waiting for a signature,' he said. On Tuesday, Citibank announced it had become the first foreign bank to win approval to offer foreign currency services to customers in Shanghai. As part of its World Trade Organisation accord, China was meant to let overseas banks offer foreign currency services to domestic customers immediately upon its accession in December. Meanwhile, Mr Eldon said Hong Kong's unemployment rate was near its peak as the latest increase in percentage terms was less than the previous rise. The unemployment rate is 6.8 per cent. 'It is a positive sign for Hong Kong's economy,' he said. He remained cautious about a full economic recovery in the United States, saying US interest rates were likely to return to an upward trend. Turning to his role as a member of the Exchange Fund Advisory Committee, Mr Eldon said the committee had not received any proposals from Hong Kong Monetary Authority management on salary cuts.