HSBC Takes The Slow Boat To China
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HSBC Takes The Slow Boat To China

A much-anticipated strategic update continues the bank’s frustratingly slow pivot toward Asia, only with lower shareholder returns.

By Rochelle Toplensky
Wed, Feb 24, 2021 3:16amGrey Clock 2 min

Another year, another familiar-sounding strategic update at HSBC. The behemoth’s need to reiterate its pivot to Asia underlines what a slow, awkward process it is.

The London-headquartered, China-focused bank announced full-year results on Tuesday. As at peers, revenues were hit by lower interest rates globally and chunky allowances for pandemic-related loan losses. Unlike at investment-banking rivals, the bump in trading revenues from HSBC’s own trimmed-back business was a meagre offset. A much-anticipated new strategy amounted to more of the same—except for lowered shareholders returns.

The shares fell in early trading, extending a year of underperformance. For much of the past decade the stock has traded at a premium to most European peers because of HSBC’s strong business in Hong Kong and mainland China, both profitable, fast-growing markets. But that gap has narrowed considerably in the past year, likely for two main reasons: Investors want faster organizational change, and they are concerned that HSBC’s trademark business model of bridging East and West is getting more difficult.

The bank broadly delivered on its 2020 targets. However, return on tangible equity or ROTE fell to just 3.1% from 8.4% a year earlier, and dividends were suspended at the British regulator’s request. The pandemic seems a valid excuse. The real disappointment was in its guidance for future returns. Target ROTE has been reduced and delayed, even with an additional $1 billion in cost cuts. Dividend expectations were pared back too: The growing quarterly payment has been replaced with a 40% to 55% payout ratio, possibly topped up with buybacks or special dividends.

Strategically, the bank is still focused on shifting more assets from Europe and the U.S. into Asia, as well as increasing its wealth management business and making its operations more digital. The direction of travel makes sense, but the pace remains frustratingly sedate, particularly as competition in the region is picking up. Discussions continue about long-mooted exits from retail operations in France and the U.S.

The speed of change might accelerate under Chief Financial Officer Ewen Stevenson, who was put in charge of the new overhaul. A relative outsider, he joined HSBC in 2019 from RBS, now known as NatWest, where he led a far-reaching revamp of what was once the largest bank in the world by assets.

HSBC’s shares are also weighed down by geopolitics. Management says little on the topic of Sino-American relations, except to highlight a long history of successfully bridging international divides. That discretion may be the best way to juggle conflicting priorities, but does little to assuage investor concerns that its dual identity may eventually become untenable.

The bank has no good answers to geopolitical questions, giving it all the more reason to address organizational ones. For a company that makes much of its position in exciting high-growth Asian markets, HSBC’s expected returns are surprisingly modest. For its shares to regain their old lustre, that needs to change.


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These stocks are getting hit for a reason. Instead, focus on stocks that show ‘relative strength.’ Here’s how.

Wed, Jun 12, 2024 4 min

A lot of investors get stock-picking wrong before they even get started: Instead of targeting the top-performing stocks in the market, they focus on the laggards—widely known companies that look as if they are on sale after a period of stock-price weakness.

But these weak performers usually are going down for good reasons, such as for deteriorating sales and earnings, market-share losses or mutual-fund managers who are unwinding positions.

Decades of Investor’s Business Daily research shows these aren’t the stocks that tend to become stock-market leaders. The stocks that reward investors with handsome gains for months or years are more often  already  the strongest price performers, usually because of outstanding earnings and sales growth and increasing fund ownership.

Of course, many investors already chase performance and pour money into winning stocks. So how can a discerning investor find the winning stocks that have more room to run?

Enter “relative strength”—the notion that strength begets more strength. Relative strength measures stocks’ recent performance relative to the overall market. Investing in stocks with high relative strength means going with the winners, rather than picking stocks in hopes of a rebound. Why bet on a last-place team when you can wager on the leader?

One of the easiest ways to identify the strongest price performers is with IBD’s Relative Strength Rating. Ranked on a scale of 1-99, a stock with an RS rating of 99 has outperformed 99% of all stocks based on 12-month price performance.

How to use the metric

To capitalise on relative strength, an investor’s search should be focused on stocks with RS ratings of at least 80.

But beware: While the goal is to buy stocks that are performing better than the overall market, stocks with the highest RS ratings aren’t  always  the best to buy. No doubt, some stocks extend rallies for years. But others will be too far into their price run-up and ready to start a longer-term price decline.

Thus, there is a limit to chasing performance. To avoid this pitfall, investors should focus on stocks that have strong relative strength but have seen a moderate price decline and are just coming out of weeks or months of trading within a limited range. This range will vary by stock, but IBD research shows that most good trading patterns can show declines of up to one-third.

Here, a relative strength line on a chart may be helpful for confirming an RS rating’s buy signal. Offered on some stock-charting tools, including IBD’s, the line is a way to visualise relative strength by comparing a stock’s price performance relative to the movement of the S&P 500 or other benchmark.

When the line is sloping upward, it means the stock is outperforming the benchmark. When it is sloping downward, the stock is lagging behind the benchmark. One reason the RS line is helpful is that the line can rise even when a stock price is falling, meaning its value is falling at a slower pace than the benchmark.

A case study

The value of relative strength could be seen in Google parent Alphabet in January 2020, when its RS rating was 89 before it started a 10-month run when the stock rose 64%. Meta Platforms ’ RS rating was 96 before the Facebook parent hit new highs in March 2023 and ran up 65% in four months. Abercrombie & Fitch , one of 2023’s best-performing stocks, had a 94 rating before it soared 342% in nine months starting in June 2023.

Those stocks weren’t flukes. In a study of the biggest stock-market winners from the early 1950s through 2008, the average RS rating of the best performers before they began their major price runs was 87.

To see relative strength in action, consider Nvidia . The chip stock was an established leader, having shot up 365% from its October 2022 low to its high of $504.48 in late August 2023.

But then it spent the next four months rangebound—giving up some ground, then gaining some back. Through this period, shares held between $392.30 and the August peak, declining no more than 22% from top to bottom.

On Jan. 8, Nvidia broke out of its trading range to new highs. The previous session, Nvidia’s RS rating was 97. And that week, the stock’s relative strength line hit new highs. The catalyst: Investors cheered the company’s update on its latest advancements in artificial intelligence.

Nvidia then rose 16% on Feb. 22 after the company said earnings for the January-ended quarter soared 486% year over year to $5.16 a share. Revenue more than tripled to $22.1 billion. It also significantly raised its earnings and revenue guidance for the quarter that was to end in April. In all, Nvidia climbed 89% from Jan. 5 to its March 7 close.

And the stock has continued to run up, surging past $1,000 a share in late May after the company exceeded that guidance for the April-ended quarter and delivered record revenue of $26 billion and record net profit of $14.88 billion.

Ken Shreve  is a senior markets writer at Investor’s Business Daily. Follow him on X  @IBD_KShreve  for more stock-market analysis and insights, or contact him at .