Top HSBC investor offers support to Knight Vinke

Wed Jun 17, 2009 1:56pm EDT

* LGIM becomes first major investor to support Knight

* Chambers offers praise for Knight's work in bank sector

* HSBC has rebuffed new approaches at recent meetings-source

By Raji Menon

LONDON, June 17 (Reuters) - The largest shareholder in HSBC (HSBA.L) has offered for the first time public support for activist investor Eric Knight and urged the bank to answer questions he has raised over the bank's strategy.

Knight Vinke, the activist investment firm run by Knight, has been pressing HSBC management anew to conduct a wholesale strategic review of the business, and has raised questions over directors' bonuses and its U.S. business.

"Eric has asked some very sensible questions, well at least some of his questions are sensible, and the market deserves a response," said Legal & General Investment Management chief executive Peter Chambers.

"Eric has done more work for the banking industry than anybody else I know," he told journalists at a briefing.

A person familiar with the situation said HSBC had continued to rebuff Knight Vinke's arguments in meetings conducted during the last two weeks, and which involved LGIM.

A Legal & General spokesman declined to say whether Chambers' comments had been prompted by any particular development.

"HSBC's strategy is clear and well understood by the market. It is built on the foundation of maintaining financial strength and we continue to focus on execution for the benefit of all our stakeholders," an HSBC spokesman said.

According to Thomson Reuters data, LGIM holds 3.23 percent of HSBC and is the largest investor ahead of Barclays Global Investors and private Saudi group Saad.

Knight Vinke has always insisted it had support from major shareholders but none had offered public backing until now.

In March, HSBC launched Britain's biggest rights issue of 12.85 billion pounds to help it overcome big losses in the United States and exploit the woes of weaker rivals. [ID:nHKG49918]. (Additional reporting by Joel Dimmock; Editing by Jon Loades-Carter) (For the Hedge Hub blog: blogs.reuters.com/hedgehub) (For Global Investing: here))