HSBC announces $1 bn share buyback as annual profits double
HSBC on Tuesday announced bumper 2021 profits and plans to repurchase shares worth up to $1.0 billion as the Asia-focused bank continues its recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and major restructuring.
The lender endured a tumultuous 2020 like the rest of the banking sector as the virus outbreak rocked the economy just as it embarked on a restructuring programme to slash 35,000 jobs to refocus on its most profitable areas in Asia and the Middle East.
Pre-tax profit soared 115 percent to $18.9 billion in 2021 from the prior year, helped by lower bad loans and operating expenses.
Net profit more than tripled to $12.6 billion, up from $3.9 bilion last time around.
- 'Good momentum' -
"We have good momentum coming into 2022 and are confident that we can continue to execute against our strategy," Chief Executive Officer Noel Quinn said in the statement.
"We also remain cognisant of the potential impact that further Covid-19- related uncertainty and continued inflation might have on us and our clients."
In a boon for investors, the bank announced plans for a $1.0 billion share buyback, adding to a $2.0 billion buyback announced last year.
HSBC also ramped up its staff bonus pool by almost a third to $3.5 billion, citing the "strong" financial performance and the "extraordinarily competitive" labour market.
HSBC made 65 percent of its profit in Asia last year, down from as high as 90 percent previously, as the group was partly hit by a slowdown in China's recovery.
Early last year it published a new strategy laying out plans to redouble its attempt to seize more of Asia's market.
HSBC is also hopeful of a significant boost to income thanks to the prospect of higher interest rates to fight surging global inflation.
However its reliance on China could also be a vulnerability. Both the mainland and Hong Kong are among the last few remaining places rigidly sticking to a zero-Covid strategy.
That strategy has crumbled in Hong Kong this year during a wave of infections forcing the reimposition of economically painful restrictions and a deepening of the financial hub's international isolation.
Quinn, however, played down the impact.
"We do not believe the current Covid situation in Hong Kong threatens the long-term growth in Hong Kong," he told reporters on a conference call.
After strong growth for much of last year, China's recovery also slowed in the last quarter.
- 'Closely watching' Russia -
Tuesday's results were published against the backdrop of spiking geopolitical tensions, as Russia prepared to send troops into two breakaway regions of Ukraine.
Western nations are readying economic sanctions against Moscow in the event of such a move.
Asked about fallout, Quinn told reporters that HSBC had "very modest" exposure with 250 staff in Moscow serving international clients.
"We'll watch closely for the next few weeks," he added.
"Any military action would be a concern... in terms of collateral damage on market confidence."
HSBC added Tuesday that its reported profit after tax jumped $8.6 billion to $14.7 billion last year.
Fourth quarter profit before tax rose $1.3 billion to $2.7 billion.