HSBC’s first-half profits declined by 3.5% year-on-year to $12.6bn, due largely to its volatile markets business, in which it mainly hedges foreign-exchange exposures.
Nobody paid much attention to the figures, however, because chairman Douglas Flint sparked a debate about red tape supposedly choking enterprise and investment in the banking sector.
Thanks to the ongoing post-crisis regulatory clampdown, according to Flint, there is “an observable and growing danger of disproportionate risk aversion” creeping in to the sector.
What the commentators said
Flint is “right that the clampdown on banks is messy and unnecessarily costly”, reckoned Jonathan Guthrie in the FT. There has been a lack of co-ordination among regulators as they “are vying to punish misconduct” and erect bulwarks against future abuses.
But while he may have a case there, said James Moore in The Independent, he offered “ no solutions… just complaints”. The result comes across as the usual special pleading by a very well-paid banker.
After all, continued Moore, it’s interesting to note that for all the costly changes Flint bemoaned, HSBC still managed to report costs a tad lower than last year’s.
And let’s keep the big picture in mind: it’s barely six years since banks’ behaviour almost sank the world economy. Since then we’ve seen a series of “ugly scandals, many of which HSBC is in the thick of”.
The industry is now hoping to delay the implementation of the Vickers Commission, which wants banks to ring-fence the investment banking operations from the retail arm. Flint has written to Chancellor George Osborne asking for more time.
Given that UK banks have already generously been given until 2019 to comply with the Vickers proposals, Osborne “should have no truck with this”, said The Guardian’s Larry Elliott.