January 27, 2010 / 6:16 AM / 11 years ago

HSBC CEO makes HK homecoming in Asia push

* HSBC CEO begins job at new HK office

* Relocation represents renewed focus on Asia

* Move returns bank to roots, as it aims for China IPO

By Clare Jim

HONG KONG, Jan 27 (Reuters) - HSBC’s (0005.HK) chief executive started work on Wednesday in his new Hong Kong office, in a highly symbolic move as Europe’s largest bank returns to its roots in the fast-growing Asian market.

CEO Michael Geoghegan’s relocation from London, announced in September, brings HSBC’s power base back to its place of birth 144 years ago and emphasises the increasing importance of Asia, and China in particular, to its future growth. [ID:nLP422830]

“It helps refocus the development of the group back to Asia,” Paul Lee, an analyst at Tai Fook Research in Hong Kong, said of the CEO’s relocation, calling it a “positive move”.

HSBC, which has fared better in the global financial crisis than rivals such as Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc (RBS) (RBS.L), appears to have a full agenda for Asia this year.

It expects to be one of the first companies to list on a new international board that many expect to launch in Shanghai this year. The bank hopes to raise $3-$7 billion in that listing, people familiar with the matter have told Reuters. [ID:nLC432876]

In a nod to the region’s growing importance, the bank held a board meeting in Taipei in November and said it was preparing to boost its China presence by about 20 percent this year, adding 15-20 new branches to its existing network of about 100.

Geoghegan said in September his move to Hong Kong, where HSBC was originally known as the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corp, would allow the bank to be faster on its feet in the region.

POTENTIAL M&A

It would need to be.

HSBC is involved in several potential M&A deals in Asia, sources have said, eyeing the remaining units that RBS is selling in the region and a $900 million stake in Thailand’s Siam City Bank SCIB.BK. [ID:nTOE60H001]

“At least in the foreseeable future, the engine of growth will be here in Asia rather than in Europe or the U.S.,” said Tai Fook Research’s Lee. “You need a top decision maker stationed in the region to act fast and make deals.”

Geoghegan arrived for work at 9 a.m. sharp, and dozens of employees applauded as he entered the bank’s regional headquarters in downtown Hong Kong, a Tinker-Toy style tower designed by British architect Norman Foster.

He posed near the bank’s signature bronze lion statues for photographers before heading to his office for business.

HSBC (HSBA.L) shareholders gave the homecoming a guarded thumbs-up, bidding the company's Hong Kong-listed shares up as much as 1.8 percent in early trade. By 555 GMT, the stock was up 0.8 percent against the broader market's .HSI 0.5 percent gain.

HSBC competes in China with western banks such as Citigroup (C.N) and Standard Chartered Bank (2888.HK)(STAN.L), as well as local giants ICBC (601398.SS)(1398.HK) and Bank of China (601988.SS)(3988.HK). (Additional reporting by Doug Young and Don Durfee; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)

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