Soon after rebuffing a break-up plan by its top investor, HSBC fielded questions from disgruntled retail investors on Tuesday and its executives defended their strategy to operate as a global bank at its first meeting in Hong Kong in three years.
The London-headquartered lender is under pressure from Ping An Insurance Group Co of China to explore options including spinning off its mainstay Asia business to increase shareholder returns.
HSBC Chairman Mark Tucker and CEO Noel Quinn were grilled for more than an hour by investors on the bank’s strategy for dividends and growth in the meeting, attended by hundreds of shareholders in the business district.
“Resuming paying quarterly dividend in 2023 is ‘too late’ and the promised level of dividend is ‘too low’, said Jay Chong, an activist shareholder, who is in his 30s and whose family holds more than half a million shares of HSBC.
Hong Kong is HSBC Holdings’ biggest market and a key investor base for the Asia-focused bank. Some investors in the city have been vocal in their support of Ping An’s plan.
About 30 HSBC retail investors staged a brief protest near the conference room entrance at Tuesday’s meeting just before it began, chanting ‘management should step down’ over dividend cancellations and sluggish returns.
HSBC met the retail shareholders a day after rejecting the break-up call as it reported forecast-beating profits, raised a profitability goal and promised chunkier dividends. The bank has argued that a spin off would be costly, time consuming and require billions in technology spending, while also raising regulatory risks
“Our strategy which is now two and half years into execution should put the bank on the path to deliver returns in 2023 at a level we have not achieved in the last 10 years,” Tucker said on Tuesday. “This return should help drive and increase the share price and have a positive impact on the dividend.”
Analysts said Hong Kong’s retail shareholders are unlikely to have the heft to eventually force a vote on a break-up. Big institutional investors have so far not commented.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)