James Moore: HSBC may be coining it in now, but it still has key questions to answer

Outlook Remember when the banks were getting pilloried for making too much money? They've been so busy losing it recently that it seems like a very long time ago.

But HSBC is a little bit different. It said that it made pots of the stuff, more even than the City had expected, in the first quarter of the year.

As such it took one on the chin from the Robin Hood Tax Campaign. The bank might actually take that as a back-handed compliment. It is looking decidedly chipper, and even some of the more cynical analysts (cynical in that they take what the banks tell them with a healthy degree of scepticism) were moved to offer favourable comment.

When it comes to banking, HSBC is ahead of the curve. Actually, it may not even be on the same curve as the rest, including Britain's other bailout-free "global" bank, Barclays.

It is deposit-funded, it has its fingers in a good number of the world's sprightliest economies, it pays dividends consistently and while its executives expect to be paid ridiculous sums of money for overseeing these happy circumstances, they don't get their hands on most of their money until they have retired.

Costs and bad debts are down, revenues are up, and even the dour chief executive Stuart Gulliver was moved to say he sees calmer waters ahead of him.

So everything is rosy in the garden now? Well, up to a point. Perhaps we shouldn't be worrying about how much money HSBC is making so much as how it is making it.

Its past involvement in money laundering demonstrates that. The US authorities hit the bank hard – probation and nearly $2bn (£1.2bn) in fines. HSBC has reacted. Its corporate centre will in future keep the outlying parts of the empire on a much tighter leash. A lot of the more far-flung businesses have been jettisoned. It wants to play nice and prove that while it is too big to fail, it is not too big to manage. We'd better hope that is the case: some in the US wanted to hit HSBC harder, booting it out of the country. But they couldn't do that without causing massive disruption to the global financial system.

The Robin Hood campaign would like banks to pay a financial transaction tax. The only problem is HSBC may well react to that by walking out of Britain. That is a gun it has long held to the heads of the UK authorities.

The watchword for the World's Local Bank these days does seem to be conservatism (with a small c). So we probably won't see HSBC traders losing billions along the lines of JP Morgan's "London Whale".

A good thing too. Because while HSBC may not be a particularly risky bank, at least at the moment, there are certainly risks in having it around.

Sport
Louis van Gaal would have been impressed with Darren Fletcher’s performance against LA Galaxy during Manchester United’s 7-0 victory
football
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
Voices
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
News
Isis fighters travel in a vehicle as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province
i100
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
fashionLatex dresses hit the catwalk to raise awareness for HIV and Aids
Travel
travel
Life and Style
The veteran poverty campaigner Sir Bob Geldof issues a stark challenge to emerging economies at the Melbourne HIV/Aids conference
health
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and John Malkovich talk Penguins of Madagascar at Comic-Con
comic-con 2014Cumberbatch fans banned from asking about Sherlock at Comic-Con
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
filmGuardians Of The Galaxy should have taken itself a bit more seriously, writes Geoffrey Macnab
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Trainee Recruitment Consultants - Banking & Finance

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Graduate Recruitment Resourcers - Banking Technologies

£18000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: Huxley Associates are looking...

Graduate C# Developer (.NET, ASP.NET, HTML, SQL, RDBMS, Windows

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Graduate C# Developer (.NET, ASP.NET, HTML, SQL,...

C# .NET Graduate Developer (SQL, Finance, Algorithmic)

£38000 - £40000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: C# .NET ...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform