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HSBC sees expansion in personal lending
( 2003-12-10 14:38) (China Daily HK Edition)

HSBC Holdings, the world's second-biggest bank by market value, said yesterday its business was resilient in the third quarter as revenue growth quickened in personal lending.

Growth in personal loans picked up near the end of the quarter, particularly in the United States and Britain, HSBC said. That more than made up for a squeeze on lending profitability because of low interest rates, the London-based bank said.

HSBC wants to expand in personal finance after buying US consumer finance company Household International, the bank's biggest takeover, for US$14.8 billion in March. Investors want to see whether the move into riskier lending pays off.

Personal loan growth was strongest in the United States through Household, and credit quality at Household improved in the third quarter and into the fourth, HSBC said.

In Britain, the bank increased unsecured lending on credit cards, a business HSBC wants to expand using Household's credit-checking system.

"We have gone more in to (credit card lending) and it has increased balances, net interest revenue and profits," Finance Director Douglas Flint told analysts on a conference call.

HSBC is the third of Britain's biggest five banks to issue a year-end trading statement. With operations in 79 countries, HSBC's business is more international than those of UK rivals such as Royal Bank of Scotland and Barclays, which have benefited from booming UK consumer lending.

"It's a reasonably positive statement as have been those we have had from Barclays and Royal Bank," said Richard Pierson, who helps manage about 5 billion pounds (US$8.7 billion) at Fram-lington Investment Management and holds HSBC stock.

The bank said its net interest margin narrowed modestly in the third quarter with interest rates at low levels worldwide. Excluding Household, the net interest margin fell to 2.5 per cent from 3 per cent in the first half from a year earlier.

The trend will continue until interest rates rise, Flint told analysts.

HSBC said credit quality was stable in the third quarter with an improvement in Hong Kong, though it warned of provisions against "a small number" of western European companies.

HSBC said in August that first-half pre-tax profit rose 21 per cent to US$6.1 billion. Investors were concerned that the figures were inflated by short-term market trading profits.

The bank said yesterday that dealing profits were strong in the third quarter, though not as strong as the trend in the first half.

Cost and revenue benefits from buying Household and Mexican bank Bital were "at or better than expectations in most areas", HSBC said.

HSBC will announce full-year results on March 1.

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