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HSBC reports record bank profits

Banking giant HSBC, which has global operations in the UK, Europe, Asia and Americas, has reported a record annual pre-tax profit of £6.86bn ($12.8bn).

Its figure for 2003 is the highest recorded by a UK-based bank, and represents a 33% increase on 2002.

HSBC's surge in profit came after it saw a 54% rise in turnover to £22bn, boosted by its takeover of US loan firm Household International.

However, its share price fell slightly to 874 pence in London morning trading.

Chairman Sir John Bond said "overall, 2003 was a good year for HSBC", which is the world's second largest bank by market value.

Increased demand

Sir John said the results showed the diversity of the company's business, against a backdrop of improvement in most of the world's major economies.

He added: "Our performance also benefited from a strong contribution from recent acquisitions, an expanded geographical reach and our continuing investment in new products and services, in systems, and in our people."

HSBC's pre-tax profits - which increase to £7.7bn ($14.4bn) before goodwill and amortisation is taken into account - come a week after the Royal Bank of Scotland reported its own annual pre-tax profits of £6.2bn.

Some critics have said the boom in banking profits is due to increased consumer borrowing, with big banks pushing credit card and personal loan deals.

Asian leader

Looking at HSBC on a divisional basis, Sir John said the integration of Household International in early 2003, and that of HSBC Mexico (formerly GFBital), had "exceeded our expectations".

In its personal financial services division, the bank said low interest rates and lower unemployment had fuelled increased demand for mortgages and other lending products in many of its markets, but particularly in the UK, US, Canada, South Korea and New Zealand.

Looking at its global markets business, HSBC said it achieved record results in 2003.

In bond issuance, it increased its market share in Europe and the US, and maintained its market-leading position in Asia, outside of Japan.

And for private banking, HSBC's operations saw pre-tax profits grow by 36%, and its ongoing cost reduction plans were continuing to reap dividends, it said.

Future outlook

Turning towards 2004, HSBC said it had already seen growth in both consumer spending and borrowing.

And it predicted improving prospects for economic growth and private sector employment, particuarly in the US and Hong Kong.

It was also confident of improving market conditions in such emerging markets as Brazil, Mexico and the Asian nations.

HSBC also put special emphasis on increasing opportunities in mainland China.

It concluded: "We look forward to the future with confidence... we are second to none in terms of geographic and product diversificiation."

Competitive pressure

Finance director Douglas Flint told the BBC's World Business Report that the company was happy with its position.

Asked whether it wanted to overtake Citigroup as the world's largest bank, he said;

"We've never been focused on absolute size. We respond to the opportunities to grow in the markets where we believe that we have a competitive edge.

"We have the human and financial resources to do pretty much what we want in terms of geographies and customer groups," he said.

He believes it is healthy that the financial sector has a large number of successful competitors.

"The alternative would be a very depressing and difficult position - so we admire Citigroup and compete actively with them all over the world, but we don't think we have to get bigger than them," he added.

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