Finance

Sat, Feb 22, 2020 – 5:50 AM

Singapore

UNITED Overseas Bank (UOB) has been de-risking its loan book in North Asia and Singapore amid uncertainties brought on by the novel coronavirus outbreak. It sees businesses accelerating their plans to diversify to South-east Asia as a result of the current supply chain…

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Finance

Sat, Feb 22, 2020 – 5:50 AM

HSBC Holdings is embarking on a radical overhaul while it continues the hunt for a permanent chief executive. For investors, the strategic muddle of this bizarre situation should be at least as troubling as the stinging cuts, US$7.3 billion in charges and suspension of buybacks that the bank announced with its earnings on Tuesday.

The London-based lender will cut as many as 35,000 jobs, reduce gross assets by more than US$100 billion by 2022, shave annual costs by US$4.5 billion and slash the size of its investment bank in Europe and the United States in the biggest raft of changes for years.

All this will be overseen by interim chief executive officer Noel Quinn, pending the appointment of a permanent successor to John Flint, who was ousted last August.

Mr Quinn was left to present the plan even as HSBC declined to confirm him in the job. This is bad on two levels:

First, it undercuts the authority and investor confidence that he might otherwise be expected to enjoy, should he eventually be appointed. At the very least, the delay signals that the board has harboured doubts about his suitability.

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Second, going ahead with the revamp may impede the search for a replacement.

A personal stamp

Any chief executive worth his or her salt will expect to put a personal stamp on the company. But the biggest decisions have already been made. This reshaping will have Mr Quinn's fingerprints all over it. That may narrow the options for HSBC chairman Mark Tucker.

Stephen Bird, Citigroup Inc's former top executive in Asia and the leading external candidate for the job, already has ruled himself out, the UK's Sunday Times reported last weekend, citing unidentified sources.

HSBC might argue that waiting was not an option after years of sub-par performance. Mr Quinn said in Tuesday's statement: "Parts of our business are not delivering acceptable returns."

HSBC will shift resources to higher-returning markets, while squeezing the cost base and exiting some business lines. "The current strategy is in no man's land," as one investor told Bloomberg News pre-earnings.

No one could accuse HSBC of sparing the knife this time. The job cuts are equal to about 15 per cent of the workforce, and also an answer to those who, like this writer, have criticised the bank for being overly timid in the past. Still, the overhaul may end up exacerbating some of the vulnerabilities the bank seeks to address.

The restructuring makes the bank even more hostage to the fortunes of Hong Kong and mainland China, two economies struggling with slowing growth aggravated by the coronavirus outbreak. Hong Kong was already the source of 90 per cent of HSBC's profit in the third quarter. The city is going to become an even more glaring presence in its books.

Besides an economy in recession, competition is getting tougher for HSBC in the city, as online lenders backed by Tencent Holdings Ltd and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd prepare to launch this year.

Hong Kong's dominant bank has also had to navigate political minefields, including being the target of the public ire last year after it closed an account linked to pro-democraRead More – Source

Africa

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For several months, Rwanda and Uganda have been accusing each other of destabilisation efforts. But relations seem to be on the mend. Amid mediation efforts led by Angola and DR Congo, Kigali and Kampala have made some progress. Prisoners have been released on both sides. But now, trust needs to be restored between the two neighbours, especially as these diplomatic tensions have concrete economic consequences. Our correspondent reports.

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Africa

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Lesotho's Prime Minister Thomas Thabane is to be charged with the murder of his estranged wife, who was gunned down ahead of his inauguration in 2017. The beleaguered premier announced he would quit by the end of July. Also, in South Sudan, rival leaders agree to form a unity government just two days before a deadline. Meanwhile, the UN accuses the warring leaders of deliberately starving civilians. Finally, Togo gears up for presidential elections whRead More – Source