HSBC Holdings will run down its $33 billion U.S. credit card business if it cannot find a buyer, the bank's chief executive said on Monday, as a part of its efforts to slash costs and cut back on retail banking.
CEO Stuart Gulliver said he was upbeat in the medium term on the economy in the United States but that the card business there did not make strategic sense.
"If we can't find a buyer we will put it into rundown," Gulliver told reporters on the sidelines of a World Economic Forum event in Jakarta, adding the review of the card business was still ongoing.
Europe's largest bank said last month it aimed to slash up to $3.5 billion in costs and cut back in retail banking as it strives to lift its profitability after a major review by Gulliver, who took over as CEO at the start of the year.
More focus will be put on emerging markets such as Indonesia, which Gulliver said was "one of our priority countries" and a target for investment.
"The cost of re-engineering has to come from other parts of the world, and from being smarter," Gulliver added.
The U.S. cards business is profitable, but its customer base is not linked to the rest of the group, making it hard to cross-sell as is possible in other retail banking markets that it is still focusing on, including the UK, Hong Kong and emerging markets such as Indonesia.
The bank said last month it had plenty of capital and liquidity and was not a forced seller, but it was hard to pump more capital into a business that wasn't strategically important.
There are unlikely to be many buyers for such a large credit card portfolio, however. Barclays and Capital One were the likeliest potential buyers for at least parts of the business, according to several industry members.
HSBC is already in the process of running down its U.S. consumer loans business over several years.
As part of last month's review, Gulliver said he would look at selling, closing or trimming retail operations in 39 markets where it is sub-scale or unprofitable.
HSBC's London-listed shares were up 0.9 percent at 619.5 pence at 1132 GMT, outperforming a 0.6 percent rise in the European bank index.
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