“A study by Standard & Poor’s, one of the world’s leading credit rating agencies, has raised questions over the financial strength of some of the biggest banks ahead of new rules that could require them to raise more funds.
‘The analysis by S&P showed that HSBC is the best capitalised bank in the world, while Switzerland’s UBS, Citigroup of the US and several of Japan’s biggest banks are among the weakest.”: an excerpt from the FT.
No the purpose is not to show that highly paid managers at GIC goffed, or how smart I am. I have been a shareholder of HSBC since the 1980s. Even during Green’s (Christian + McKinsey, a lethal combination that always leads to problems) tenure as CEO, I kept the faith.
Now that the CEO is a man who joined the bank as an International Officer from a minor public school with I think A-levels, and he is basing himself in HK, one can only expect the return to the values that made HSBC great during the tenures of Sandberg, Purvis and Bond. Oh Purvis won the Military Cross in Korea, when he disobeyed orders to withdraw. He claimed he couldn’t hear the radio messge.
Sorry I am digressing. When Temasek bought into Merrill Lynch and Barclays and GIC into UBS and Citi, I realised that they were buying into highly efficient banking machines. There was just enough capital for regulatory reasons and to provide a buffer for some things going wrong. They needed a bit more cushion and GIC, Temasek were providing it. Risky but history was on their side.
When the world recovered from the credit crunch of 2006, 2007, GIC and Temasek would reap the rewards of these finely tuned cash machines. They were the equivalent of the best of the best F1 cars. I thought we had smart boys and gals. And that the risk would pay off.
But then came Bear Sterns, Lehman Brothers and AIG, and the rules changed. The winners were the better capitalised banks. If HSBC had as little capital as Citi, I’d be a poor man. The amounts it had to write-off on US sub prime would have shmed Citi. But it had capital.
So value investing doesn’t always pay off.