Finance

Nisha Gopalan is a Bloomberg Gadfly columnist covering deals and banking. She previously worked for the Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones as an editor and a reporter.

Pop the champagne. HSBC Holdings Plc, riding a share surge, is promising another great giveaway that might ring in even more price gains.

Dreams Realized
HSBC shares have outperformed in the past month amid hopes of a buyback
Source: Bloomberg

Once the dividend play of note, HSBC has become the buyback king. On Monday, after reporting a larger-than-estimated jump in second-quarter profit, the London-headquartered bank announced plans for a buyback of as much as $2 billion before the year is out. Armed with a strong core equity Tier 1 ratio of 14.7 percent, plus a clean bill of health at its U.S. operations, HSBC can afford to be generous.

That generosity has the happy coincidence of boosting profitability too, not to mention getting as-yet-unconvinced analysts on board.

By reducing the number of shares in circulation, the buyback puts HSBC within striking distance of its 10 percent return-on-equity goal. (The bank no longer gives a time frame for when it might achieve this, however.) HSBC posted an ROE of 8.8 percent for the first half, compared with 7.4 percent in the same period of 2016.

The buyback, on top of the $3.5 billion already undertaken over the past 12 months, adds some gloss to a payout strategy that was beginning to wear thin. Despite CEO Stuart Gulliver's comments that the bank has paid out more in dividends over the past year than any other European or American lender, HSBC no longer has the allure of progressive dividends. On Monday, it continued its projections of "sustained dividends," but the rising share price has taken a toll on payout yields.

Dimming Allure
HSBC's dividend yield is heading south
Source: Bloomberg

The challenge of finding a successor for Gulliver, who retires next year, also still looms. In March, for the first time in its 150-year history, HSBC chose an outsider, AIA head Mark Tucker, to replace HSBC veteran Douglas Flint as chairman. Tucker, and the new CEO, will be steering a much stronger bank, but one whose "pivot to Asia" program has a way to go. And Brexit is approaching. 

Even so, Monday's good news outweighed the bad by a wide margin. Revenue increased for a second quarter, and crucially, expenses look to be under control. So-called adjusted jaws, a figure that measures growth in revenue versus growth in costs, came in at 0.5 percent, compared with a negative 0.6 percent in the first quarter.

They're results that justify the number of Chinese investors rushing headlong into HSBC's stock of late. Lured by dividends that are more attractive than domestic banks, mainland buyers now own 4.3 percent of HSBC's shares through the trading link that connects Hong Kong with Shanghai. That's up from 2.3 percent four months ago, when such data first became available.

With interest rates in the U.S. on the rise, and this buyback in the cards, HSBC investors can expect their good fortune to continue.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Nisha Gopalan in Hong Kong at ngopalan3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Katrina Nicholas at knicholas2@bloomberg.net