LONDON - HSBC Holdings is expected to report the West's biggest banking profit for last year, fuelled by the East, while its rivals are struggling with faltering European and US growth.
Europe's biggest bank is not entirely untouched by the slowdown, so its fourth-quarter profits on Monday will show a hit from lower investment bank income due to the euro zone debt crisis and potentially higher US bad debts, just as its third-quarter figures did.
But the bank should be far more resilient than rivals such as Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds, who slumped to big losses last year.
HSBC could also stoke a row over high pay for bankers at a time when thousands of people losing their jobs are blaming the industry for current economic ills.
Chief Executive Stuart Gulliver was paid 6.2 million pounds (S$12.3 million) in 2010 and an unnamed employee was paid 8.4 million pounds. Pay details for 2011 will be in the annual report, also released on Monday.
Gulliver is likely to get an annual bonus of about 3 million pounds, albeit below the maximum 3.75 million pounds stipulated in his contract, the Sunday Telegraph reported. He is expected to ask for it to be paid in deferred shares, the paper said.
HSBC is tipped to report a pretax profit of US$22.2 billion (S$27.9 billion) for 2011, up 16 per cent from the previous year, according to the average of 13 analysts polled by Thomson Reuters. That would include up to US$4 billion of gains on the value of its own debt.
It is expected to fall short of its record profits of US$24.2 billion in 2007, but top all other western banks that have reported for last year, including US rival J.P. Morgan , which made a $19 billion profit.
The world's most profitable banks in recent years have been China's ICBC, which made US$32 billion in 2010, and China Construction Bank, which made US$26.4 billion.
Gulliver is reshaping HSBC to cut annual costs by $3.5 billion, lift profitability and sharpen its focus on Asia.
Investors will also be watching bad debts in the United States, which jumped by almost US$1 billion in the third quarter, the first rise in two years.
At the update in November, Gulliver warned the outlook for the global economy had deteriorated and was "very challenging", as problems in the west had hurt growth elsewhere.
Gulliver has struck 18 deals in the past year, trimming risk-weighted assets by more than US$48 billion with the sale of its credit card business and some branches in the United States and deals in Russia, Poland, Latin America and elsewhere.
HSBC has also warned that new regulations might force it to leave Britain, saying they could cost it US$2.5 billion a year. It has delayed a decision on whether to move back to Hong Kong or elsewhere until this year or next.
The UK government has since said requirements for banks to hold more loss-absorbing capital will only apply to UK operations, heeding HSBC's complaint.