SINGAPORE: Standard Chartered, the British emerging markets-focused bank, plans to continue hiring aggressively in Asia despite rising costs and thinning margins, it said on Friday, as it believes growth in the region will outpace that of the rest of the world.
“We are in an economic super-cycle,” Chief Executive Peter Sands said at the opening of the bank’s new Singapore office, which includes a three-level trading room for 790 people that it described as Asia’s largest.
Stanchart also reiterated its commitment to hire another 2,000 people in Singapore by the end of 2012, adding to its staff of over 6,000 in the city-state.
“Our sense of optimism about the opportunities across Asia and our commitment to investing and building our businesses across Asia hasn’t changed at all,” Sands told reporters.
Despite galloping economic growth in Asia, the region’s banks are struggling to raise earnings as stronger loans and increased corporate activity are offset by tough trading conditions, falling interest margins and rising staff costs.
DBS, Southeast Asia’s largest lender, for example saw net interest income decline five percent during the third quarter ended September despite a 15 percent rise in loans from a year ago.
The Singapore bank, however, managed to post a 28 per cent rise in net profit due to higher fee income and lower bad debt provisions.
Stanchart said in December costs were rising faster than income as it sought to hire and retain staff across its main Asian markets.
The British bank, which employs over 80,000 people globally, added 7,000 employees to its headcount last year and expects to make “significant hirings” in 2011, Finance Director Richard Meddings said last month.
Stella Tang, Division Director for Financial Services at executive search firm Robert Half in Singapore, said the current low interest margins and weak trading conditions have not stopped banks from hiring aggressively.
“There’s a general bullishness about Asia. M&A activity is rising, businesses are expanding and consumer spending is up ... The banks are looking at the overall macroeconomic picture,” she said.
Singapore is the world’s fourth largest centre for foreign exchange trading and the top Asian hub for private banking. The city-state of five million people is also a major Asian centre for asset management and oil and commodities trading.
Stanchart said its new Singapore trading room, more than double the size of its previous space, reflected its growth ambitions.
According to industry sources Stanchart currently has more than 350 traders in the city-state, putting it on a par with the likes of Deutsche Bank and Citigroup which have historically been the largest players in Singapore.
The figure does not include sales, research and support staff who also sit in dealing rooms.
In Hong Kong, Asia’s top financial centre and the main gateway to China, HSBC operates the single largest trading facility with space for over 450 people.
“Stanchart remains an outstanding business positioned for ongoing growth in emerging markets. However, we argue this is already reflected in a premium valuation,” investment analysts at Barclays said in a 12 January report.
The report said Stanchart’s wholesale bank, which includes trading and investment banking, could see growth slow this year as “own account earnings” or trading profits decline. But it expects the consumer bank to rebound as interest rates and lending margins improve in key markets such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Korea.
Stanchart’s wholesale bank has been the star performer over the past two years, accounting for about 80 percent of group pretax profits.