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Standard Chartered: Too good to be true?

Robert Peston | 19:38 UK time, Wednesday, 13 October 2010

It really wasn't so long ago when Standard Chartered was the Clouseau of banks.

Standard Chartered, Hong Kong

 

When I was a banking editor some 20 years ago, the rule about Standard Chartered is that if it could go wrong, it would.

So I have had to pinch myself periodically over the past seven years, as its profits have risen in a straight line and its shares have soared.

Today Stan Chart's market value at a shade under £40bn is greater than Barclays' and Royal Bank of Scotland's.

Which is quite extraordinary when you consider that Stan Chart's balance sheet is less than a fifth the size of their balance sheets.

For this price differential to be rational, Stan Chart has to be able to safely sustain supra-normal growth in lending and fat profit margins for a very very very long time.

How likely is that?

Well, Standard Chartered is - by dint of its history - big in those parts of the world, such as India, Hong Kong, other parts of Asia, much of the Middle East and Africa, that have emerged relatively unscathed from the 2008 crash.

And Stan Chart has almost no business in the debt-hobbled West.

So it plainly has some big advantages over Barc and RBoS.

But just last weekend, and before Stan Chart launched its £3bn rights issue this morning, the bank's chief executive Peter Sands warned in Washington that regulators' determination to force all banks to accumulate capital could have a seriously depressing impact on the prospects for global growth - because banks would be forced to rein in lending to raise their respective ratios of capital to assets.

If he's right, that will have a negative impact even in the buoyant parts of the world that Stan Chart is lucky enough to call home from home.

But there is a more germane concern about both the rate of growth in places like India and China and the Standard Chartered share price - which is that they may both be manifestations of a new bubble.

That's the bubble pumped up by the unprecedented creation of new money in the UK, US and eurozone - which is leaking out via a new kind of carry trade, a search for capital gains rather than the search for yield of 2002-7.

Money is pouring into Asian assets, such as Stan Chart's shares, because they seem to offer growth potential at a time when western assets offer neither yield or decent prospects of capital appreciation (and are wasting as a result of competitive devaluations).

So here's the question. Is Standard Chartered's £3bn fund raising an example of safety first by a prudent bank, or a hubristic precursor to the acceleration of lending in markets that are becoming a bit too bubblicious?

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Robert,
    Not sure about that. S&C became a better performer about thirty years ago - before your time. They did go through an accident prone period, where they had some glitches. But that probably applies to several Banks.

    Barclays made a hash of handling its SA subsidiaries when the anti-apartheid movement was gathering pace. RBS has never really decided what it was going to do with NatWest and some NW branches I visited in the 1990's did not appear to know who RBS were. Sproggett & Silvester {aka A&L} were just that until recently but through the first decade of the 21C they were really solid. Lloyds were looked upon as being hopelessly rooted in the 1950's even as the credit crunch was hoving into view.

    Plus, I think, you are failing to realise (like a lot of posters here) that Barclays and RBS are very oversold.

  • Comment number 2.

    We do seem to be seeing the regulators seeking greater capital security. This is the right thing to do if co-ordinated across the globe but we know the clever bankers will think of all sorts of new regulatory compliant products that have the effect of negating the regulators and arbitraging the capital rules if there are any weak links.

    There is no doubt that there is money to be made in Asia at present. We need UK company's to be ambitious globally. So good on SCB for being successful overseas and paying returns to UK pension funds and HMRC.

    If only there were more. Too bad we seem to be little Englanders too often. News from HK is that the market is now pricing AIA near the Prudential offer (without a premium for control). Soon we will hear the wails of missed opportunity for the deal that did not happen.



  • Comment number 3.

    Too good to be true indeed. Have SC's staff learnt new tricks from the old established banks in the west?
    More likely that they just want a quick buck or three whilst the going is good.
    They know it wont last.
    Remember remember the Renminbi needs revaluing.

  • Comment number 4.

    Too big to regulate and too big to make safe now. This is all about the power of a small number of large organisations prepared to threaten government policies and interests. There is much talk of breaking up the banks into more competitive smaller entities. Perhaps Mr Cable has not noticed that Lloyds - Hbos are cutting IT jobs because they are integrating/sharing their IT. Is he seriously going to ask them to separate when so much has been done to rationalise and synergise the two companies?

  • Comment number 5.

    I wonder, if Standard Chartered should perhaps slip off of the slippery pole - would the UK taxpayer have to bail it out? Isn't it lovely to have so many international banks in the UK!!!!

    Robert (above) is starting to look at where exactly some of the synthetic credit is being 'invested'. One does wonder, and does no more than wonder, if the investments are as good as they seem? The initial business might seem sound, but when the price has been inflated to adsorb some of the excess credit can it truly provide the required return.

    Money and credit must have a suitable price. Money is still far too cheap and this perverts the proper assessment of investments fro everyone including banks. To return to a rational system, the excess money/credit must be deflated - no matter how much the Bank of England is in denial!

  • Comment number 6.

  • Comment number 7.

    So I have had to pinch myself periodically over the past seven years, as its profits have risen in a straight line and its shares have soared.

    Didn't Madoff show a straight line somewhere in his graphs too?

  • Comment number 8.

    If you remember Robert about 2 or so years ago Standard Chartered provided the blue print for the not late lamented Member for Kirkcaldy to dig himself out of the clarty he dug for himself. So maybe they know what they are doing? Discuss.

  • Comment number 9.

    7. At 9:06pm on 13 Oct 2010, copperDolomite wrote:
    So I have had to pinch myself periodically over the past seven years, as its profits have risen in a straight line and its shares have soared.

    Didn't Madoff show a straight line somewhere in his graphs too?
    ------------------------------------------------------------------------
    As long as they were not exponential ;-)

  • Comment number 10.

    RP 'Money is pouring into Asian assets, such as Stan Chart's shares, because they seem to offer growth potential at a time when western assets offer neither yield or decent prospects of capital appreciation (and are wasting as a result of competitive devaluations).'
    -----------------------------------------------------------------------
    Wouldn't have anything to do with near zero interest rates for savers in the UK and some other countries?

  • Comment number 11.

    Evening Robert,
    so, let me see, Deutsche Bank raise euro 10 Billion, Chinese banks told to increase tier1 capital to 15%, Standard Chartered in £3 Billion capital raising... and they are all doing this to be prudent and comply with a future Basel 3 ruling?
    I don't think so.
    This is traditional capital raising disguised. The money is being raised to allow for take over activity on some very distressed assets.
    The common "we're all in this together world approach" has now become every bank for itself in their greed. Expect another round of tears as the far east has enormous bubbles being formed in property and commodities not to mention the race for the bottom in currencies to keep their growth rate artificially high. Don't forget that the hot money will leave just as fast as it arrived when the asset stripping has been completed.
    The Western nations need to raise their interest rates now to stop this distortion of the capital markets....but hang on, let's print another $3 Trillion at 0% interest rate, that should fix it....madness, sheer madness, but nobody wants to listen.

  • Comment number 12.

    Robert, where is the list of "British" companies that are too big to fail? It sounds like SC might just have joined. If so, does that mean their profits are private, but losses public?

    Banking and finance appears to be all smoke and mirrors. There isn't even a physical printing press any more, just digits on a computer. How long can we keep the trick going?

  • Comment number 13.

    Robert's sounding scary again.

  • Comment number 14.

    I would like you to listen to this Robert

    http://www.blogtalkradio.com/peter-joseph

    Lecture no 3 a profile of collapse.

    Everyone has to start learning and understanding what is really going on in this world before it's too late. This is far too important for us all to let your ego deny it.

  • Comment number 15.

    On 20 Sep. 2010, Singapore's Today newspaper wrote an article under the heading “StanChart moving HQ to Asia?”. Today 14 Sep.2010, same newspaper reported that the State-owned investment firm Temasek Holdings “will subscribe to its portion of StanChart's rights offer”.

    Looks like Standard Chartered Bank will no more be UK's concern as it moves to Asia. Singapore possibly?

  • Comment number 16.

    Post 14
    If you prefer a hard-hitting video, watch Peter Joseph's "Zeitgeist The Movie part 3 Don't mind the men behind the curtain"...

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_dmPchuXIXQ

    This has been a sensation on the internet but you'd hardly know it.
    The mass media gives us descriptions and not explanations.

  • Comment number 17.

    Seems to be a lot of doubt on this board about the success story, I guess mostly due to the hard lessons of too good to be true found elsewhere.

    However, just because something appears to be very good, doesnt necessarily mean that there is anything sinister here. I am of the opinion that things are going well, because they are going well.

    When the credit crunch hit, many western banks had to write down vast amounts on their loans, impairing their capital. Standard Chartered did not. Banks can only compete in the market place and make loans, if they have sufficient capital. Net result, Standard Chartered was able to increase its volumes and its margins whilst its competitors were capital impaired.

    As Robert Peston points out, there is certainly a flow of money from west to east. This of course means that the environment that SC operates in is one where the economic conditions favour full repayment of debts. And these countries such as India and China still have a lot of growing to do to gain parity with the West.

    Standard Chartered may come a cropper of course, but there appears plenty of wave to ride before it hits the shore.

  • Comment number 18.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 19.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 20.

    I declare an interest. I used to work for SCB. I was there in the bad old days when we found and slipped on every banana skin. but, we learned and adopted a "never again" approach to risk. We had our bad time and it became part of the culture to strongly manage risk. We were in the lead in bringing in new risk adjusted pricing and capital allocation. It drove business. a conscious effort was made to avoid UK business, to expand into traditional areas of the past - the old commonwealth, but always to manage credit, liquidity and capital - the cornerstones of good business (and banking).
    I left a while ago but I have no reason to believe that culture has changed - so I will be taking up my rights.

 

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