HSBC To Keep Headquarters In London

UK banking giant HSBC has announced it is to keep its headquarters in London.

Concerns about stricter UK regulations led Europe's biggest bank to launch a review into whether to move elsewhere, with Hong Kong seen as the most likely alternative.

But the bank said it had decided unanimously against the move and that London "offered the best outcome for our customers and shareholders".

The decision was seen as a vote of confidence for the UK.

The bank has had its headquarters in the UK since 1993 but makes most of its money overseas, and Asia accounts for the majority of its profit.

Douglas Flint, the chairman of HSBC, told the Today programme: "London offered the best of both worlds for us. HSBC at its heart is a bank focused on trade and investment flows.

"The UK is one of the most globally connected economies in the world with a fantastic regulatory system and legal system and immense experience in dealing with international affairs," Mr Flint said.

"The government's made very clear its commitment to ensuring that that UK remains a leading international financial centre ... We've ended up with the best of both worlds - a pivot to Asia led from London."

HSBC is understood to have paid about £30m to advisors to help it reach the decision to remain based in London.

HSBC shares rose 1.1% in afternoon trading in London to 445.3p, but have fallen 17% this year. The bank's Kong Hong-listed shares closed 4% higher on Monday.

However, analysts at Investec said HSBC's decision was "regrettable" because it faced tighter regulations and the cost of the UK bank levy.

"We see HSBC's announcement as a missed opportunity," said Investec analyst Ian Gordon.

HSBC had been paying £1bn a year through the UK banking levy before the government changed the tax last year.

Mr Flint said "it was important that there was a change in the scope of the levy".

"A levy based on an international balance sheet was a disincentive for a global group, and we made that point ever since the start of the levy. It was good to see that the scope of the levy changed to being a domestic impost, and that was important," the HSBC chairman said.

However, Mr Flint denied that HSBC had forced the government's hand in changing the banking levy.

"We had no negotiation with the government. The government was well aware of our view, and indeed the view of many other people who commented upon it, but there certainly was no pressure put, or negotiation."

He added that the regulatory regime had "not been softened".

HSBC's decision was based on "a generational view" and not on "short-term dynamics", Mr Flint said.

"It [the decision to stay] was based on a very thoughtful perspective on how economics will play out over the next 20 [to] 25 years," he said.

HSBC said that London had an "internationally respected regulatory framework and legal system" and added that it also was "home to a large pool of highly skilled, international talent".

It was therefore "ideally positioned to be the home base for a global financial institution such as HSBC".

Part of the review was considering whether the increased regulation of the banking industry in the UK - in particular the increased tax burden - warranted moving elsewhere.

But in the last Budget, the Chancellor George Osborne introduced a gradual reduction in the bank levy on balance sheets - a move which particularly affected HSBC, because of its large balance sheet.

In 2014 it paid £750m of the £1.9bn raised by the government through that particular tax.


February 2016