The Fastest Growing Bank in Asia Has 73% Upside

Less than a year ago, China unveiled what it considered to be a younger and stronger statue of a bull to rival the one sitting on Wall Street in New York. The fact that it is also larger shows China’s ambition. With an economy averaging growth of 8% to 9% a year, it won’t be long until these ambitions are realized.

London and New York remain the largest financial centers in the world. The next four are all located in Asia: Hong Kong, Singapore, Shanghai and Tokyo.

Of these four, Singapore ranks as the fastest-growing financial center, followed by Singapore and Hong Kong. Seoul and Beijing are also growing rapidly, making Asia the most rapidly-expanding financial market region in the world.

The major financial hubs in Asia will likely see their global influence increase over time. Given the robust growth projections for the region, banks that do not operate in Asia will be at a severe disadvantage when it comes to growing their deposit bases and making loans. Investors who do not follow their lead will also be at a major disadvantage.

So what’s the course of action for investors? First of all, simply put, you absolutely MUST consider Asia as a destination to invest your money. The fastest growing banks in Asia are a good place to start.

The fastest growing bank in Asia is actually a 146 year-old bank based in London. But in early 2010, its CEO relocated to Hong Kong. Rumors abound that it will eventually move its headquarters to Asia, as growth prospects have dimmed in its home country, and developed markets including the U.K. and United States are facing more regulations after the credit crisis nearly ruined their economies.

The “Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corp. Ltd.,” now simply known as HSBC (NYSE: HBC), has a storied history in China. It was originally set up to finance the growing trade between China and Europe. Today, it is the largest bank in emerging markets in terms of total profit. In 2010, a little more than half of the firm’s revenue of $57.3 billion stemmed from developing markets and 39% of total revenue came from Asia.  Last year, total profits were $19 billion, while profit from Asia grew 25% to exceed $11 billion — an impressive 58% of total profits.

Strangely enough, HSBC got caught up chasing the housing bubble in the United States and made an ill-timed acquisition of Household International in 2006. Household specialized in providing mortgages to lower-income borrowers. The subsequent bursting of the bubble hit this business severely and cost former CEO Michael Geoghegan his job. It also created the need to raise an estimated $19 billion to clean up the mess. The bank is in the process of winding down the former Household business once and for all.

HSBC’s leading market share in emerging markets and strong growth in Asia likely saved it from bankruptcy or being taken over by the British government, the last of which happened to rivals Northern Rock and the Royal Bank of Scotland. These markets stayed profitable and appealing expansion prospects are major reasons the bank has refocused its efforts on emerging markets — and Asia in particular.

Avoiding volatile investment banking functions such as credit default swaps and derivatives has also served HSBC well. The bank has traditionally stuck with what it considers mass market financial services such as retail banking that take in deposits and make loans to individuals and smaller businesses.

HSBC continues to beef up its capabilities in these markets and is doing so with acquisitions in Asia. Recent purchases include small banks in Indonesia and China. Few banks have the expertise in this region to make steady headway over time, but HSBC has the luxury of serving 100 million customers around the world and a company history inexorably tied to the region.

Action to Take –> HSBC recently provided overall financial goals for the next five years. The bank plans to increase its return on equity from less than 10% to between 12% and 15%. This will be based on the unwinding of U.S. operations and a renewed focus on Asia. By my estimation, this means earnings will grow from $3.60 in 2010 to exceed $5 per share — and could reach $6 per share — within five years.

HSBC’s price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of 10.3 could also eventually return to pre-crisis levels close to 15, implying a stock price of $90 — 73% above current levels. In the long term, investors can expect average returns close to 15% a year.

Another metric that is likely to provide some comfort is that HSBC’s share price is currently just under the bank’s book value per share. Price-to-book (P/B) was above 2 before the crisis and can definitely return to these levels as HSBC’s Asian exposure is expected to allow the bank to return to its roots as one of the fastest-growing banks in Asia. It also remains one of the largest banks operating in emerging markets, which could allow it to significantly outgrow its large-cap peer group. Many rivals remain too tied to slow-growing and overregulated developed markets; in contrast, HSBC continues to reduce its exposure to these parts of the world.

P.S. — I don’t know if you’re aware of this or not, but a 20-year energy agreement between the United States and Russia is about to expire. The problem is, this deal supplies 10% of America’s electricity. When the Russians refuse to renew the agreement, the U.S. will face an entirely new kind of energy crisis. This disruption could send a handful of energy stocks through the roof. Keep reading…