HSBC Hong Kong shareholders mull legal action over dividend suspension

Hong Kong is HSBC’s single most important market, and it is one of three note issuing banks there. (AFP)
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Updated 06 April 2020

HSBC Hong Kong shareholders mull legal action over dividend suspension

  • Europe’s biggest bank by assets has a large number of small shareholders in the city
  • Hong Kong is HSBC’s single most important market, and it is one of three note issuing banks there

HONG KONG/LONDON: HSBC shareholders in Hong Kong are calling for an extraordinary meeting with the bank’s management and considering legal action against its decision to scrap dividend payments.
HSBC and other top British banks on Wednesday announced the suspension of dividend payouts after pressure from the regulator to conserve capital as a buffer against expected losses from the coronavirus crisis.
Founded in Hong Kong about 150 years ago as Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corp, Europe’s biggest bank by assets has a large number of small shareholders in the city who have long benefited from the bank’s stable dividend payments.
Some of the Hong Kong shareholders have created a Facebook page, which had more than 3,000 members as of Sunday, to discuss possible action against the London-headquartered bank’s dividend halt.
“At this stage, we must call an EGM (extraordinary general meeting) to let the management explain to us,” H.T. Chan, a 46-year-old retired driver who is part of the Facebook group, told Reuters. “For legal action, it depends on what they respond in the EGM. Hopefully, we can call this meeting.”
Shareholders of a company with at least 5 percent of the total voting rights may require it to convene an EGM, according to Hong Kong laws.
As of Sunday, the newly formed HSBC Shareholders Alliance in Hong Kong had registered members with combined ownership of about 2 percent of the bank’s stock, Ken Lui, the convenor of the alliance, told reporters on Monday.
“Our goal is to gather 5 percent of shareholding to call for an EGM ... we are very optimistic as we have only set up this alliance four, five days ago.”
In a letter to Hong Kong shareholders after the dividend halt, HSBC Chief Executive Noel Quinn said the bank’s board would review the position once the economic impact of the pandemic was better understood.
“We profoundly regret the impact this will have on you, your families and your businesses. We are acutely aware of how important the dividend is to our shareholders in Hong Kong,” he wrote.
Analysts and investors saw little chance of the shareholder group reversing the dividend decision.
“I see the debate about the banks’ dividends as a very short one: regulator tells them what to do and they comply – end of story,” said one London-based institutional investor.
The bank’s retail investors have a good chance of forcing the EGM to happen, said Ed Firth, analyst at KBW in London.
“Whether HSBC holders getting an EGM will result in any change is far less likely,” he said.
“On the margins they may be able to establish that the Bank of England was responsible for the cut which might be relevant for future legal actions, but it looks reasonably marginal,” he said.
Hong Kong is HSBC’s single most important market, and it is one of three note issuing banks there.
A spokeswoman for HSBC said on Sunday the bank was not able to comment on any legal proceedings not yet started.
“I am following the majority action. This is a significantly essential issue as you have promised substantial and persistent dividend-paying, but you fail to do that,” said Kingsley Chow, a 39-year-old unemployed man relying on dividend income.
“Our first demand, at least, you have to open (an) EGM to explain to us face-to-face, not just an apology letter!,” he wrote on the Facebook page, referring to Quinn’s letter.


Oil world tries to read Chinese post-pandemic demand

Updated 25 October 2020

Oil world tries to read Chinese post-pandemic demand

  • The economic outlook for Asia will help decide some pretty pressing short-term policy issues
  • China’s refineries are getting back in top gear, and are looking to increase crude purchases in anticipation of economic recovery

DUBAI: While all eyes are on the US presidential election, the energy sector is keeping a watchful scrutiny on what is happening on the other side of the world, in China and the rest of Asia. Who the Americans choose will of course have enormous influence on energy policy for years to come, not least because Donald Trump versus Joe Biden is, in many ways, a runoff between the traditional oil and gas industry and the alternative renewable future.

But policymakers in the Middle East and in the broader OPEC+ alliance led by Saudi Arabia and Russia are looking eastward to determine more immediate priorities. The economic outlook for Asia, and of China in particular, will help decide some pretty pressing short-term policy issues.

At what official selling price should big producers such as Saudi Aramco and Adnoc mark their exports to China in the coming weeks? What stance should OPEC+ take toward compliance and compensation for the rest of this year? And, crucially, should it press ahead with plans to put an extra 2 million barrels per day (bpd) of oil on global markets in January, as the historic April cuts deal envisaged?

An added variable has been thrown into the works with higher-than-expected output from Libya, which has resumed production and exports from its war-torn facilities and could, according to some energy experts, be producing another 1 million barrels by the end of the year.

That is hardly a deluge of crude by global standards, in a world that consumes above 90 million bpd, though it is enough to complicate the already-delicate calculations of OPEC+ analysts.

But the big imponderable is China. The country blew hot and cold on oil imports since the April crisis, snapping up cheap oil one month and easing back on imports the next. It was hard to read the signals coming out of China.

Were the pauses in imports due to a slower rate of recovery from the pandemic economic lockdowns? Or was China simply chock-full of crude, to the extent that it had filled its strategic reserve and had nowhere else to store it?

Evidence of the latter came in the form of the flotilla of crude tankers waiting to unload off the coast of the Shandong oil terminal. At one stage, there were as many as 60 million barrels afloat awaiting discharge off China’s coast.

The people who make a living from tracking these things say that there has recently been evidence of a slow unloading from these ships, but that there is still an awful lot of crude afloat, waiting to come onshore.

There have also been signs that China’s refineries are getting back in top gear, and are looking to increase crude purchases in anticipation of economic recovery. One of the biggest, Rongsheng Petrochemical, recently snapped up 7 million barrels through Singapore, in a move taken by some to be the starting gun on an aggressive Chinese buying spree.

The economic logic suggests that if that is going to happen, it will take place pretty soon. According to the International Monetary Fund’s latest review, China — the only major economy forecast to grow in 2020, with 1.9 percent growth — will soar to 8.2 percent expansion next year. The country’s early and rigorous lockdown, and high levels of economic stimulus since then, are clearly paying off.

Whether the Chinese lift-off comes in time to affect OPEC+ calculations over the planned January increase remains to be seen. From where oil policymakers are looking at it at the moment, it looks like a good bet that China, at least, will need plenty of crude next year to fuel its post-pandemic recovery.