HSBC: A bank worth investing in?

HSBC has taken a bit of a beating over the past few years, just like all the other banks, but I think this one has done a solid job of steering through the crisis. 

Earnings and dividends may be down substantially from the peak years of 2007/8, but things are not remotely as bad as they are at some of the other banks.

And there are new plans for growth.  The recently announced 3-year plan to improve returns and position the company for new growth is now in full swing, and over the next few years, we’ll find out if it’s working or not.

So does the world’s second largest bank add up as an investment?

Minimising risk

The first thing I look for in any investment is safety, and HSBC is about as safe as a bank can be.  It’s huge and very internationally diverse, with operations in most parts of the globe.  It’s the number two bank in the world with its sights set on being number one, it has been profitable every year for a very long time, and it always pays a dividend.

The earnings are generally quite stable so it’s relatively easy to estimate what sort of earnings the company may make in the future and what sort of dividend it’s likely to pay.

Maximising returns

But there’s more to investing than safety – most people want good returns as well, from dividends, earnings growth and an increasing share price.  Speaking of share price, you can see a chart of the last ten years below:

hsbc 10 year chart

That’s not a great return for ten years, although the dividend would have been some consolation.  The point is that the market is now offering the chance to buy the same company, with about the same level of earnings and dividends, but for a substantially lower price than ten years ago.


The table below shows the long-term results that HSBC has generated.

hsbc results table

The growth rate over that period is something like 2%, although you can see clearly that this includes a period of high growth up to 2007, followed by a decline in earnings during the recession and banking crisis.

This is a relatively poor growth rate, with the median for large companies being closer to 7% or 8%.

Because of that, HSBC is unlikely to be of interest to growth investors.


In the last ten years, HSBC has earned around 57.5p per share, and by a fluke of luck, current earnings are at almost the same level.  The price on the chart above is 578p, which means that HSBC is trading at just over ten times the average earnings of the last ten years.

For a large, global market leader, this is a relatively low figure.  The median of the FTSE350 stocks that I track is 18, so HSBC is comfortably ‘cheaper’ than average.

You can also say that for every pound a new investor pays, HSBC has generated, on average, just under 10p of earnings.

Dividend yield

The dividend yield is currently around 4.5%.  This is very likely to be a sustainable dividend that should also grow in line with earnings.  It compares well with the average yield available from the stocks that I track, which have a median yield of 3.2%.

Better than its peers?

I keep track of about 200 large companies from all sectors, and HSBC is definitely an above-average opportunity in that group.  The emphasis is on income rather than growth, so if an investor were in the market for a reasonably high-yield, low-risk share, then I’d say put HSBC on the list of stocks to review.

Better than a simple index tracker?

With all my large-cap investments, I like to compare each stock to the FTSE 100 because that’s the easiest and safest large-cap investment to make.  You can see a comparison of HSBC and the FTSE 100 in the table below.

hsbc benchmark table

You can see from that table that the yield remains the key difference.  With HSBC’s income some 36% higher than the FTSE 100’s, an income investor would have to wait a long time for an index tracker to grow its dividend enough to catch up.

If the focus isn’t on yield but is instead on capital growth (including dividend reinvestment), then HSBC is still probably better than the average large-cap, it’s still probably a better bet than the index (as part of a diversified portfolio), and it’s unlikely to keep shareholders up at night.

Overall, I would give HSBC a ‘B’ grade at current prices.

Author: John Kingham

I cover both the theory and practice of investing in high-quality UK dividend stocks for long-term income and growth.

8 thoughts on “HSBC: A bank worth investing in?”

  1. Have you looked at Standard Chartered? That’s my personal favourite, and I think it’s a truer ‘safer’ bank. Whereas HSBC bought dodgy companies like Household which blew up in the sub prime crisis, STAN genuinely stayed out of the fracas.

    There’s little doubt that both would be hit by a blow-up in China, mind. (I suspect that’s one of the biggest risks out there currently, though I don’t think it’s a big one nor does it stop me investing).

    1. I haven’t looked at Standard Chartered yet, but they are my number 2 ranked bank so I expect the review to be reasonably positive like HSBC’s.

  2. Hhhmmm, a bank. Banks, insurers, retailers, property builders and developers are on my NOT FOR INVESTING list.

    Banks are full of overvalued assets, they have started to sell them (as they need money) and realise loses. Banks make money based on the yield curve, the stepper the better. They borrow money for short term at smaller interest rates and lend at higher interest rates on longer term. When the yield curve is flat banks can’t make money.

    Unfortunatelly for them in the last year the yield curve has become less step and doesn’t help the banks at all. In 2006-2007 when the yield curve became flat, all banks went into financial engineering to make a profit, slicing and dicing NINJA mortgages and the increased profits in the investment arm covered the minimal profit from retail.

    Now, there is another problem, banks don’t have so many clients like before, I can’t see a queue of people going to ask for a loan. It is the effect of the balance sheet recession, when people stop borrowing ans start repaying their loans.

    HSBC has good and bad markets, Australia & NZ is a bad one as the yield curve is allready flat. Hong Kong is an important market for HSBC but very riskier market because of the peg between HK$ and US Dollar.

    If the peg is broken this year, many people say it cannot stay like this as it make the life of people who live in HK a hell, because of the high inflation and the bubble in property market. At the of the day, there are election this year and the last word on the peg belongs to politicians, who are populist people. In my opinion the peg has its days numbered.

    With the peg broken, initialy HSBC will make profits as the HK$ will rally against the US Dollar & Sterling Pound as it has some assets in HK$. But I believe the joy will be short lived, interest rates will go up to calm down inflation, the property bubble will evaporate leaving HSBC to count the loses on the foreclosures of the properties the y have lended on.

    I would stay away, it is only an opinion.

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