Standard Chartered is stepping up hiring and investment to take advantage of rivals retreating from its core Asian markets, after a strong first six months set it up for a 10th straight year of record profits.
The London-based bank plans to add 1,000 to 1,500 jobs and increase investment spending by about $100 million in the second half of 2012, its finance director Richard Meddings told Reuters on Wednesday.
The bank has ridden on Asia's rise through the last decade, allowing it to continue hiring and posting earnings growth when much of the industry was shrinking.
StanChart said its pretax profit in the six months to the end of June was $3.95 billion, up 9 percent from a restated $3.64 billion a year ago. It was above the average forecast of $3.7 billion from analysts and in line with the company's guidance in June.
"The second quarter was very tough for everybody, so for them to achieve such growth is very decent," said Dominic Chan, an analyst at BNP Paribas in Hong Kong.
Chief Executive Peter Sands said recession and problems in western economies had slowed growth in Asia, but he was confident growth in the region would continue, albeit with "some bumps in the road".
"We have had a strong July, but we are watchful of the significant and growing challenges in the external world, and we are managing risk tightly," Sands said.
The bank, which started life financing trade between Europe and Asia and Africa, is picking up trade finance business as European rivals shrink or pull back closer to home, and it plans to build up corporate finance teams in China and Africa.
By 0934 GMT, Standard Chartered's London shares were up 3.65 percent at 15.18 pounds, outperforming a 0.1 percent rise by the European banking index. The shares are up more than 7 percent this year, compared to a flat bank sector, to value the bank at $55 billion, making it Europe's fourth biggest.
NO LIBOR PROBE
Sands said he was not aware of any investigation into the bank as part of worldwide regulators' probe into Libor and Euribor interest rate rigging. The bank had not suspended any staff in relation to the issue.
Rival Barclays was last month fined $453 million for manipulating interest rates, and more than a dozen other banks are being investigated as the probe widens.
"We have our risk radar turned on full given the turbulence in the external environment," Sands told reporters on a conference call.
The bank's pretax profit growth was the slowest in a decade - its compound annual rate has been 20 percent over that period - hit by a slowdown in the consumer bank and what it described as "economic and political paralysis" in one of its biggest markets, India.
Even with the slowing growth, StanChart has outperformed most of its peers. Arch-rival HSBC , which is in the midst of a major cost-cutting and business overhaul programme, reported on Monday a 3 percent fall in underlying profit.
Standard Chartered's income also grew 9 percent in the half-year, just short of its target of 10 percent, but it said it was confident of achieving that for the full year.
Its return on equity, a key measure of profitability, improved to 13.8 percent, and Sands said it was on track to hit a target of about 15 percent in the medium term.
Income growth exceeded cost growth by 2 percent, and Meddings said income growth would match or slightly exceed cost growth for the full year, even after higher investment.
Staff costs rose by 4 percent, partly due to wage inflation in hot Asian markets. Its staff number held flat at about 86,900.
The wholesale bank, which includes its investment banking operations, was StanChart's star performer, reporting a 16 percent rise in earnings.
This, in turn, pushed up earnings at the two Asian financial hubs of Singapore and Hong Kong by 17 percent and 10 percent, respectively.
In China and India, the bank expects to reach 100 branches in each country by early 2013, up from about 90 branches, StanChart said.
(Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman, Helen Massy-Beresford,John Stonestreet)