HSBC says U.S. remains key market, following retail exit

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By Lawrence White

© Reuters/TOBY MELVILLE Activists demonstrate outside HSBC annual meeting venue, in London

LONDON (Reuters) – HSBC said on Friday the United States remains key to its growth plans, a day after announcing the sale of its mass market retail U.S. banking business in a country where it has long struggled to make strong profits.

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HSBC’s business in the United States will focus on internationally-oriented corporate customers, chief executive Noel Quinn told the lender’s annual shareholder meeting in London.

“The U.S. is key to our international network and an important contributor to our growth plans,” Quinn said.

HSBC announced on Thursday its long-awaited U.S. retail exit as it shifts its business more towards Asia, where it has had greater success making money.

The lender is also seeking to sell its French retail banking operations as part of the same strategy, and has entered final negotiations to sell that business to private equity firm Cerberus, Reuters reported in March.

A small group of protesters outside the meeting criticised HSBC for not forgiving poor countries’ debt to allow them to better cope with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, something charities have called on the private sector to do.

G20 governments have frozen many low-income countries’ loan repayments under the Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) during the pandemic.

Nearly 550 private sector bonds issued by 62 low- and middle-income countries total some $691 billion in principal and will cost around $330 billion in debt servicing over the next five years, a report said this week.

HSBC did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the protests.

(Reporting By Lawrence White; Editing by Rachel Armstrong and Gareth Jones)