HSBC earnings fall short of targets in fourth quarter

But bank sounds upbeat note as it aims to meet key financial targets

Pedestrians stand outside an HSBC Holdings Plc bank branch in Hong Kong. Photograph: Anthony Kwan/Bloomberg

Pedestrians stand outside an HSBC Holdings Plc bank branch in Hong Kong. Photograph: Anthony Kwan/Bloomberg


HSBC sounded an upbeat note after its fourth-quarter earnings fell short of estimates, telling investors that it’s still aiming to meet its key financial targets.

The outlook came after the bank reported worse-than-expected results for the latest period due in part to the global market meltdown. Still, HSBC reaffirmed its intention to turn a positive number for a keenly analysed profitability metric, and said it would be “proactive” in handling costs and investments to meet its goals.

Shares of HSBC were down 2.1 per cent at 1.21pm in Hong Kong, set for the biggest drop in more than a month.

“We will not take short-term decisions that harm the long-term interests of the business,” the bank said in a statement. “Despite more challenging market conditions at the end of the year and a weaker global economic outlook, we are committed to the targets we announced in June.”

Among those targets for 2020 are to accelerate growth from Asia by achieving high single-digit revenue increases each year and turn around its US business with a more than 6 per cent return on average tangible equity. The bank is also complete set up of UK ring-fenced bank; grow mortgage market share and commercial customer base.

HSBC, which gets most of its business in Asia, joins rivals including UBS Group AG in reporting earnings hit by the meltdown in stock markets. Risks from the U.K. economy, global trade tensions and interest rates were particularly notable, the bank said in its outlook.

It was a bruising note for chief executive John Flint to round off his first year leading the bank, and increases pressure on Mr Flint and chairman Mark Tucker to return capital to investors through another round of share buybacks.

Analysts take a close look at whether Flint can show revenue gains that outpace cost increases - known as “positive jaws.” HSBC saw negative 1.2 per cent jaws in 2018 due to lower adjusted revenue in the fourth quarter and sustaining dividends through the long term, it said. But, it also said, it’s committed to delivering positive adjusted jaws in 2019.

“The big miss on jaws was a revenue miss because of weak markets in the fourth quarter,’’ chief financial officer Ewen Stevenson said in a Bloomberg Television interview. “Costs were very much in line with what we thought they would be.’’

Mr Stevenson said that January’s performance was ahead of plans. “I think we’re a bit more cautious as we look out but so far, January very much on track,’’ he said.

Adjusted pretax profit, which excludes one-time items, fell 1 per cent to $3.39 billion in the three months ended December 31st, missing the $4.4 billion consensus average derived from estimates compiled by the bank.

Adjusted revenue increased 5 per cent to $12.56 billion, compared with the $13.5 billion average estimate surveyed by HSBC. Global markets’ adjusted revenue was $1.1 billion, a $202 million decline from the final three months of 2017, the bank said. Adjusted revenue from wealth management in the period dropped 18 per cent to $1.1 billion.

Europe’s largest bank switched CEOs last year, elevating Mr Flint to replace Stuart Gulliver when his long-time mentor stepped down, bringing to an end a seven-year term marked by assets sales, job cuts and a pivot toward Asia. – Bloomberg