HSBC sees full year profits more than double

HSBC headquarters HSBC survived the financial crisis without receiving direct government support

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HSBC, Europe's biggest bank, has reported pre-tax profits of $19bn (£11.8bn) for 2010, more than double the $7.1bn figure for 2009.

Losses from bad debts fell to $14bn in 2010, from $26bn in 2009.

However, analysts said the results had fallen short of expectations, sending shares down 4.65%.

HSBC also said that chief executive Stuart Gulliver was paid £6.2m last year, including a £5.2m bonus, down from a total package of £9.8m in 2009.

He will take all of his 2010 bonus in the form of restricted shares which will only be released to him over time.

"It is a lot of money," said BBC business editor Robert Peston. "And it will upset those who see most banks as part of the economic problem, rather than part of the solution."

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Some will see HSBC 2010 profits rebound as a sign that better times for most banks will follow”

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However, he added that HSBC was one of the world's very biggest businesses, with a market value greater than the combined value of Barclays, Lloyds and RBS.

Equity target

Mr Gulliver, recently appointed as HSBC chief executive, said the bank had made "a good start to the year".

It said it had been profitable in every customer group and region for first time since 2006, but some analysts said there was some cause for concern.

"The underlying pre-tax profit is significantly disappointing," said Cormac Leech, an analyst at investment banking firm Canaccord.

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Richard Hunter, an analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown Stockbrokers, pointed to a "triple whammy" that had dented sentiment.

This included a lower proposed return on equity, which is a measure of profitability, and a worsening cost income ratio, which reflects how much the bank has to spend in order to generate revenue.

"Given that these high hopes have been somewhat dashed again, it remains to be seen whether the current market view of the shares as a buy remains intact," Mr Hunter added.

HSBC said it would pay a dividend of 12 cents per share for the last quarter of 2010, up from 10 cents a share at the same point last year.

The company said it also intended to pay a dividend of nine cents a share for each of the first three quarters of 2011, up from 8 cents in the equivalent quarters of 2010.

Economic recovery

New finance director Iain Mackay said the reduced return on equity target reflected tougher banking regulations as well as "a somewhat unstable and uneven economic recovery over the coming years".

HSBC chairman Douglas Flint also expressed concerns over new regulations that will mean banks have to hold sufficient capital to stop them requiring government bail-outs in any future financial crisis.

Mr Flint said the rules would mean it would be a "near impossibility for the industry to expand business lending at the same time".

Globally connected

HSBC is headquartered in London but sees Asia as an increasingly important market.

"As a globally-connected bank with a growing presence across the world's faster-growing regions, HSBC also benefited from higher trade volumes and strong momentum in emerging economies, especially in Asia," said Mr Gulliver.

However Mr Hunter suggested that HSBC was seeing "further pressure on margins, particularly in its important Asian region".

Unlike rival banks Lloyds and RBS, HSBC survived the financial crisis without receiving direct government support.

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