HSBC—one of the two most pivotal banks in the global financial system, according to regulators, alongside JPMorgan Chase—exudes permanence. Its buildings are guarded by lions cast in bronze which passers-by touch for luck. HSBC has never been bailed out, nationalised or bought, a claim no other mega-bank can make. It has not made a yearly loss since its foundation in 1865. While its peers took emergency loans from central banks in the crisis of 2008-10, HSBC, long on cash, supplied liquidity to the financial system.
Yet behind that invincible aura lurks an insecurity: where is home? When Western and Indian merchants founded the bank in Asia in 1865, they considered basing it in Shanghai before settling on Hong Kong. Faced with wars, revolutions and the threat of nationalisation, the bank has chosen or been compelled to move its headquarters, or debated it, in 1941, 1946, 1981, 1986, 1990, 1993, 2008 and 2009.
HSBC believes its itinerancy explains its survival. Countries and regimes come and go. The bank endures. Now it’s decision time again. The results of a ten-month review of its domicile are likely to be announced on February 22nd….Continue reading