HSBC card unit expects tough conditions in US

HSBC Holdings' credit card unit in the United States was expected to face a difficult environment over the next two years because of deteriorating economic conditions and pressure from regulatory authorities, said chief executive Michael Geoghegan.

'As the business runs off we expect to see elevated loan impairment charges over the next two years. However, we are confident that the business will mature and run off gradually over time,' Mr Geoghegan (right) said at a conference hosted by Morgan Stanley.

'The business clearly faces headwinds. We may have to think about it again ... Unless there is a further deterioration in assets, the unit could ride out the storm,' he added.

HSBC said the US card business was profitable last year and had generated enormous profit contributions since 2003. HSBC currently has 36 million active card users in the US out of a global portfolio of 100 million cardholders.

Given the worsening operating environment, Mr Geoghegan said pre-emptive measures had been taken, such as trimming marketing expenses to minimise operating costs.

HSBC said at its annual results meeting this month that it would close US consumer lending units that generated US$53 billion of provisions for bad loans on its mortgage business. The closure will result in up to 6,100 employees losing their jobs.

Mr Geoghegan said the bank was not seeking capital support from any government even though that was a fundraising channel for many of its competitors. He said business performance in January was strong and ahead of expectations, while February was in line with projections.

'Undoubtedly 2009 will be challenging, particularly in developed economies. While Asia's heavyweight economies, such as China and India, are holding up well,' said Mr Geoghegan.

He said there was no change in the target range for returns on equity of between 15 and 19 per cent in the coming years after achieving 13.3 per cent last year.