'Crisis over' hopes after HSBC posts £5bn profit

Scandal-hit banking giant begins to pick up pieces following fierce cost-cutting

HSBC has moved to put allegations of money laundering for Mexican cocaine gangs in the past as it posted a storming set of results that gave hope the banking crisis could finally be over.

The bank – one of the biggest in the world, which also owns First Direct in the UK – made profit of £5.4 billion in the first three months of this year alone.

That is double what it managed in the same quarter last year, and much better than City banking experts had predicted.

While the profits will again lead to big bonuses for top executives, and reignite anger over the amount of money that banks seem able to pocket, the figures suggest the global economy is at least improving.

Chief executive Stuart Gulliver said: "We're moving into calmer waters but there are still challenges ahead."

The bank predicts that the global economy will "accelerate" next year, despite a fall in the fortunes of the eurozone. The British economy will be flat, warns the bank, a blow to Chancellor George Osborne and the Government's chances of being re-elected.

HSBC is fighting to restore its reputation after an extraordinary series of money laundering claims last year. The bank paid US authorities £1.2bn to settle the matter. Fresh accusations of illegal activity, notably in South America, have since emerged.

HSBC's profits come on the back of fierce cost-cutting – there have been thousands of job losses – and a chunky fall in write-offs from bad debts. Loan impairment charges dropped 51 per cent to $1.17bn, with the most notable falls in bad debts in the US.

That suggests both that banks are lending more cautiously and that firms are better able to service their borrowings. Costs in the first quarter were down 10 per cent from a year ago, and now consist of about 53 per cent of income. The bank is aiming to get the percentage below 52 per cent by the end of the year.

Even taking out one-off gains, profits were still up more than a third. Ian Gordon at Investec described the bank as "solid and dependable".

The numbers pleased investors, who pushed HSBC shares up 21.1p to 735p.

Since taking over in early 2011, Mr Gulliver has been trying to streamline operations, reduce complexity and cut divisions that are unprofitable. HSBC has sold or closed 52 businesses since he became chief executive.

"We have strengthened our capital position and remain one of the best-capitalised banks in the world, allowing us both to invest in organic growth and grow dividends," said HSBC.

Richard Hunter of Hargreaves Lansdown Stockbrokers, said: "Set against a mixed bag of trading updates so far from its peers, HSBC has delivered a statement which not only ticks all of the boxes but propels the bank to premier status in the sector."

HSBC said last month that it would eliminate about 3000 jobs in the UK. Mr Gulliver warned that further job cuts in Britain could not be ruled out.HSBC has shed 40,000 jobs since the start of 2011.

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