Is HSBC the Go-To Bank for Global Investors?

You want a big bank? Very few are bigger than London's HSBC (NYSE: HBC  ) . You want diversified? This bank's profits come pretty equally from Europe, North America, and Asia, and there is growing balance in its split between personal, commercial, and investment banking. You want a good dividend? This bank has that, too.

This has been a decent year for larger banks, and the first-half results HSBC reported last week were no exception. The company offers more than a few different iterations on "profit," but let's just go with pre-tax profits, which were up about 18%. Net income attributable to shareholders was also up about 15% to $8.7 billion.

Growth was well-balanced throughout the world, as pre-tax profits grew about 25% in Europe, 15% in North America, and about 17% for all of Asia (10% in Hong Kong and 29% in the rest of Asia). Moreover, HSBC management talked about investing more resources into the fast-growing Chinese market and the now-recovering Japanese market.

Growth was also balanced along business lines. Personal finance was something of a laggard, with 10% profit growth, and it still constitutes about 50% of total profits. But deposit-gathering looked OK, and credit trends have thus far not been a problem. Profits in investment banking were much stronger (up about 37%), and the company continues to try to close the gap between itself and other large bank/investment bank hybrids like Citigroup (NYSE: C  ) , Bank of America, and JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM  ) .

HSBC definitely makes an appealing investment. It's no longer unique in terms of its emerging-market exposure, but it's still seeing good growth in places like the Middle East and China, and it has a longer history in many of these markets than its rivals. And while HSBC's returns aren't the best, you could make the bullish argument that this simply provides room for improvement.

The roadblock for me on this stock is fairly simple. Why buy HSBC when Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and Bank of America all seem cheaper? Moreover, going with less-global banks in countries like Korea, Brazil, India, and Australia will get you better growth and better valuations. I'd be more than happy to own these shares at a better price, but not until then.

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Fool contributorStephen Simpsonowns shares of JPMorgan Chase, but has no financial interest in any other stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares). The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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