HSBC, Europe’s largest bank, announces a 4% fall in pre-tax profit

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HSBC, Europe’s largest banks by assets, on Friday reported a 4 percent fall in profit before tax in the first quarter of 2018 as operating costs rose.

The bank’s pre-tax profit for the first three months of the year fell to $4.755 billion from the $4.961 billion a year ago. At the same time, operating expenses were 13 percent higher at $9.4 billion.

Its revenue for the quarter, meanwhile, climbed to $13.71 billion from $12.993 billion a year ago.

The banking giant also said it is planning a share buyback of up to $2 billion — the only one it said it expects to conduct this year.

Although some analysts had expected pre-tax profit to rise, the company pointed to higher costs in the first quarter in explaining the decline.

“We also made strategic hires in our securities joint venture in mainland China, and invested to enhance our digital capabilities in all our global businesses. This targeted spending contributed to a rise in adjusted costs in the first three months of the year,” HSBC’s group chief executive, John Flint, said in a statement.

The bank’s Hong Kong-listed shares, a heavyweight on the benchmark Hang Seng Index, fell 2.51 percent after the stock market resumed trading following a lunch break.

Nevertheless, the first-quarter numbers still “represent a good start for 2018 for HSBC,” Iain Mackay, HSBC’s group finance director, told CNBC’s Sri Jegarajah after the release of the results.

“We’ve got strong progression in terms of revenue across our four global businesses,” he said. “That’s very much driven by our retail bank, wealth management businesses and our Asian business. So, pretty happy with where we started off the year.”

The bank had been expected by some analysts to continue its string of earnings growth seen over the last year. DBS Vickers’ research director Ivan Li had expected the bank to report a 15 percent year-over-year jump in pre-tax profit for the first three months of 2018, helped by its wealth management business and higher interest rates in Hong Kong.

“I believe there are signs that their margins should be recovering, especially in Hong Kong due to the rising HIBOR these days,” Li told CNBC’s Bernie Lo on Friday ahead of the bank’s results announcement.

HIBOR, or the Hong Kong Interbank Offered Rate, is the benchmark interest rate in the city. The indicator tracks interest rates in the U.S. and has been climbing in recent months.

HSBC, headquartered in London, is an Asia-focus bank and is one of the largest lenders in Hong Kong’s mortgage market, Li noted.

“We’ll be interested to see how much the Hong Kong interest rate will benefit them,” he said. “Its peer, Bank of China Hong Kong, has reported quite good quarterly figures end of last month, we expect HSBC to do the same or even a little bit better.”

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