HSBC says it wants to lend but businesses won't borrow

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The Independent Online

While Barclays Bank faced a storm of criticism, HBSC had an altogether easier ride yesterday.

The bank's admission that there had been a disaster at its US sub-prime lending business heralded the world's descent into a financial crisis from which it has yet to recover.

But while HSBC yesterday admitted a sharp rise in loan losses – impairment charges rose to $13.9bn (£8bn) up by $3.8bn and profits fell by half to $5bn – it managed to escape the sort of criticism engulfing its neighbour whose headquarters are literally five minutes walk away. Partly it is because HSBC has always had a reputation of being stingy when it comes to bonus payments (although its directors are certainly handsomely rewarded).

Addressing the issue of lending to British businesses, the bank said that it had advanced £1.2bn of new lines of credit in the first half of the year of which only £500m had been drawn upon. Overall, the bank remains cautious about conditions for the future, and noted that unemployment was rising in both the US and the UK faster than expected. However, the HSBC's Asian businesses remain strong and the chief executive, Michael Geoghegan, said the value of its Chinese holdings had risen sharply.

"We stayed in when others got out," he said. "We are now reaping the benefit." While Barclays has ambitions to be a truly global bank, HSBC is already there and is being sustained by its strong position in the fastest growing parts of the world economy. Unlike Barclays, which will resume paying dividends this year, but did not pay any at the interim stage, HSBC is still making payments (of $0.16 a share this time). It even had some crumbs of comfort over the US disaster. "The run-off is proceeding well," said Geoghegan. "And at some point, as the US recovers, there may yet be an appetite for a business offering a yield like this."

It appears that the juggernaut is still rolling and, despite economic jitters, picking up speed.