Date
23 March 2017
In a departure from his usual practice, Stuart Gulliver dispensed with a greeting to HSBC's 'British friends' and told investors and analysts around the world where he was speaking from. Photo: AFP
In a departure from his usual practice, Stuart Gulliver dispensed with a greeting to HSBC's 'British friends' and told investors and analysts around the world where he was speaking from. Photo: AFP

Good afternoon, HSBC! Hello, CK Property (1113)!

In his heart, he might not want to move, but his mouth may have betrayed him.

As HSBC Holdings plc (00005.HK) ponders a plan to move its headquarters from London in what is understood to be a quest for more freedom from regulators, chief executive Stuart Gulliver sparked fresh speculation with an atypical opening to a conference call on the bank’s results.

“Good afternoon from Hong Kong,” Gulliver said, kicking off the media teleconference Tuesday.

Gulliver doesn’t usually state his location during the video conference — which he introduced in 2011 — as sharp-eyed Apple Daily noted.

His usual line is: “Good morning British friends, good afternoon Hong Kong”.

One possible interpretation is he no longer has so many British friends in the wake of the bank’s multiple scandals.

Another is that he is trying to make this greeting the new normal for the global banking giant.

After all, the bank used to call itself the “Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation”.

The deliberate disclosure last month that HSBC was studying a plan to move its headquarters from London (back to Hong Kong is the most popular guess) provided a much needed boost to its shares, which rose over 5 percent in the past two weeks.

Speculators hope a homecoming to the city where the “Hong Kong Bank” is still venerated by many will unlock more value.

The warm reception to the disclosure must not have gone unnoticed by the bank, although many still think it is rather unlikely for HSBC to move back to Hong Kong after departing in 1992 when it bought Britain’s Midland Bank.

Availability of the manpower to manage a global bank is one issue, but more importantly, does the bank, Europe’s biggest, really want to leave its comfort zone and come home to roost in this small city?

Gulliver said Tuesday the bank’s review of its domicile would “take months not years”. He said details will be given of the methodology of the review at an investor update on June 9.

If HSBC does move its headquarters, Gulliver said, only about 250 of its 48,000 staff in Britain would leave London.

Meanwhile, tycoon Li Ka-shing has picked an auspicious stock code for his new real estate flagship, CK Property Holdings Ltd. (CK Property).

The lucky number is “1113”, Ming Pao Daily reported.

It incorporates the codes for CK Hutchison Holdings Ltd. (CKH, 00001.HK) and Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. (00013.HK), which CKH is taking private.

CK Property, which merges the real estate holdings of the former Cheung Kong (Holdings) Ltd. and Hutchison Whampoa, will debut on the Hong Kong stock exchange June 3 with a net asset value of HK$420 billion (US$54.2 billion).

Hutchison’s lucky code of 13 would have been nice for CK Property, putting it in the same band of stock codes as rivals Henderson Land Development Co. Ltd. (00012.HK), Sun Hung Kai Properties Ltd. (00016.HK) and New World Development Co. Ltd. (00017.HK). They are the four biggest property names in Hong Kong.

We shall watch with interest to see who will be the next lucky owner of the code 13, once used for a magic company that can fire on all cylinders.

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BK/JP/FL

EJ Insight writer

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