HSBC CEO moves to Hong Kong

LONDON/HONG KONG Fri Sep 25, 2009 12:46pm BST

HSBC Holdings Chief Executive Michael Geoghegan attends a news conference in Hong Kong September 25, 2009. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

HSBC Holdings Chief Executive Michael Geoghegan attends a news conference in Hong Kong September 25, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Tyrone Siu

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LONDON/HONG KONG (Reuters) - HSBC Holdings (HSBA.L) (0005.HK) is swinging its power base back to its place of birth 144 years ago by moving its chief executive to Hong Kong as it increasingly focuses on Asia.

HSBC, Europe's biggest bank, said on Friday it will stay based in London for tax purposes and had no plans to move, and the Financial Services Authority will remain its lead regulator.

But CEO Michael Geoghegan will move to Hong Kong from February.

"It's about building this business in Asia. We know the business is coming our way and we intend to be here to take it," Geoghegan told reporters on a conference call.

"West is coming east and we want to be at the gate into China and be in China itself, and the most logical place to work on that strategy is Hong Kong," he added.

He told reporters in Hong Kong it will allow the bank "to be faster on our feet" in the region.

HSBC wants to be one of the first overseas companies to list its shares in Shanghai, and Chairman Stephen Green said it remains in talks with the authorities there to do so. He declined to say when it is likely to happen.

The bank will look to raise between $3 billion (1.9 billion pounds) and $7 billion as part of a Shanghai listing, probably next year, people familiar with the matter have told Reuters.

By 12:15 p.m. HSBC's London listed shares were up 1.5 percent at 713.6 pence, valuing the bank at just over $200 billion.

"It's significant in the medium term. It shows very much that being close to China and the Chinese government is the most important thing to HSBC going forward," said Simon Maughan, analyst for MF Global in London.

"It's about where the growth is coming from."

The prize could include a leading role in trade finance and other business if China's currency and debt markets open up.

HONG KONG LIONS

HSBC was formed as the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation in Hong Kong in 1865 to finance the growing trade between China and Europe, and it opened a branch in Shanghai in April the same year.

It moved to London in 1993 as a condition of the previous year's takeover of Midland Bank, in a move seen as a major blow to Hong Kong.

But the bank is revered in Hong Kong, where it is known as "big elephant" and is one of three note issuing banks there.

It makes a quarter of its normalised profits in Hong Kong and 30 percent of its shareholders are based there, compared to 45 percent in Britain.

"The bank grew up in this town. This feels so absolutely right to all of us," Green said at a press conference in Hong Kong. "You asked about the health of the lions. I think they're in very robust health."

He was referring to two bronze lion statues -- named Stephen and Stitt after early general managers in Hong Kong and Shanghai -- sitting astride the Hong Kong entrance.

HSBC, which operates in 86 countries, has investments worth about $22 billion in China, including a 19 percent stake in Bank of Communications and a 16.8 percent stake in Ping An Insurance.

The bank also announced several other changes in its management structure.

Geoghegan will also become chairman of The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corp. from February, replacing Vincent Cheung.

Peter Wong will take over as chief executive of that business, taking over from Sandy Flockhart, who will become chairman of personal and commercial banking. Stuart Gulliver, head of the investment banking business, will become chairman of Europe and the Middle East.

(Additional reporting by Alison Leung in Hong Kong; Editing by Hans Peters)

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