The news that HSBC is conducting a review of where it should be headquartered has perhaps inevitably been taken as a sign that the uncertainties about whether the UK will remain in the EU.
But is this actually the case?
Looks like HSBC’s motivation may not have anything to do with the threat of a Brexit. Shareholder pressure, increased regulation, higher taxation are reported to be the reasons.
The Board have asked management to conduct a new review. HSBC used to review the question of where its HQ is every three years, that hasn’t done that recently.
Organisations such as HSBC will routinely conduct these reviews as part of their contingency planning. Even if HSBC hasn’t conducted a formal review recently, it would be no surprise to find that the last plan has been kept up-to-date and is ready for HSBC’s management to review it and add the executive summary.
The uncertainty of the UK’s position in the EU isn’t likely to go away until the UK public are considerably more pro-EU than they are at the moment.
But the smart money seems to be on HSBC moving back to Hong Kong where it still has a substantial operation and not elsewhere in the EU, reinforcing the notion that the threat of a Brexit is not the major factor.
Standard Chartered is also said to be contemplating a move from the UK for similar reasons, with analysts saying Singapore would be the likely location.
The costs would not be that high in multi-national banking terms and could soon be recovered from lower taxation and regulatory costs.
One final point for those who to want to wait until a referendum is declared before starting a pro-EU campaign and say that business will then get behind such a campaign,
HSBC’s share price went UP after the announcement.
The directors, as they are obliged to do, are looking at shareholder interests and it seems that the shareholders think that moving from the UK/EU is a good idea.
It serves to illustrate that some fundamental rules still apply, strategic reviews such as these may be triggered by factors in the economic, political and regulatory environments. But the decisions will be based on how the shareholders perceive such a move.
The question is not whether business will get behind a pro-EU campaign, it is whether the shareholders will think that it is in their interests to get behind such a campaign.